Let’s look at some air leakage and infrared images: Infrared is easy. We take a picture of temperatures on a surface and assign a color to different temperatures. Blue is cold and red to white is hot. Simple.
This photograph is an attic hatch. The blue starbursts you see around the orange hatch is a picture of the cold air that has streamed across the warm surface of the hatch and cooled the hatch off. The blue outlines where the hatch itself is sitting like a door in its frame. You push the hatch up and you are in the attic. Only this hatch has no rubber gasket between the hatch and the frame. Because of this air is actively leaking around the frame. This is a really easy fix with some neoprene rubber gasket material or some latex painter’s caulk if you don’t plan on going up into that attic anytime soon.
Here is another. This is cold air leaking around the base of a light sconce. You can see the same feathering. This light is mounted on the inside of the house but it is located on an outside wall. The light is also mounted on an electrical box that is in the wall. That electrical box has a number of holes in it. When it is cold warm air travels through the fixture, through the electrical box and out to the cold air. To fix this leakage is a bit more of a trick and requires some expertise with electrical work. A professional may be needed here.
This image is of four wires up in the attic and they are descending into the building’s interior walls where it is most white in the image. The blue around the outside of the picture is the insulation up in the cold attic. The white is heated air from the inside of the house that is travelling through the switch on the wall below up through the wall and out to the attic right at this location. The electricians had to make a hole to send their wires up into the attic but nobody ever caulked the hole around the wires. So now there is a tiny chimneys at work 24 hours a day all year transporting expensive heated air from the switch up the wire and out to the cold attic. This is a very easy fix that most reasonably adventurous people can handle. You go up in your attic, find where the wires enter the building and seal things up with spray foam or caulk that you can get from a building supply center.
After work in the Attic is done your new and tightly sealed attic can look as good as this. This is an attic which after sealing became over 30% more airtight. It was a bit of work moving the insulation out of the way and then air sealing things but it was well worth it for years of heat and energy savings. It is also really great for the environment too as you are using less energy to heat your house.
This is just a sampling of the kinds of simple air sealing you can undertake in your home. Where to start? Get an audit from a qualified auditor first. If you want to tackle the easy work yourself, make sure you sign on with an auditor who is good at and willing to coach you through some of the “low hanging fruit” there are some out there.
We coach folks wanting to take on DIY work all the time. It is fun and rewarding.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, make sure you have someone who is a qualified and certified professional check ALL your work. Some air sealing can cause trouble and even some safety issues for you and your house. You want someone who can help you navigate around those potential problems. Make sure that any air sealing is followed up with an audit and a safety check of your heating equipment. If you tighten up your house you can create a situation where your heating equipment which requires air to make its heat will be starved of air. In this case it could take its needed air from its own chimney bringing dangerous carbon monoxide back into your house. Again, these are reasonably easy problems to avoid when you have a certified auditor or weatherization specialist in your corner.