Is your home inadvertently exposed to winter weather and cold fronts? Is your energy bill higher than expected? Does your house feel chilly, no matter how much you crank the HVAC system? You might have a draft in your house that’s minimizing your ability to heat and protect your home during the winter.
With the change in seasons from hot humidity to dry chillness, your windows and doors may have slightly changed shape. Wood—like used for door and window frames—actually expands with moisture and shrinks with dryness. This makes cracks more common during changing seasons, especially when moving from hot to cold temps.
These cracks can let the cold winter air into your home. This can make you colder and less cozy, and it can even hurt your energy efficiency and skyrocket your electric bill.
That’s why it’s always a good idea to check around your house to see if your home is dealing with a chilly, expensive draft. Here’s how to detect and fix those drafts and prepare your home for the incoming cold weather.
How to detect a draft
Most drafts come in through cracks in windows or doors. Start by looking at the caulking around the wood frames as well as the glazing that holds glass windowpanes together. Are there any cracks, gaps, or injuries?
Visible cracks are usually a sign of potential drafts.
You’ll also want to look under your doors. How large is the gap between the door and the floor? If you can see light coming through underneath, the opening is likely too big and could be letting in too much air from outside.
From the house’s interior, stand near the door or window—especially if you noticed a visible crack. Do you feel a soft breeze? Does it feel like air is making its way through? If you can feel cold or circulating air near windows or doors, you’re dealing with a draft.
You’ll also want to stand near your fireplace. Do you feel cold air coming down through the chimney? How strong is this airflow? Although chimneys are, by definition, used to circulate air between the interior and exterior of the house, you don’t want the draft to impact the rest of your home. If it’s chillier by your fireplace, you’ll need to address the all-too-common “chimney draft.”
Stand inside your home near a door or window. Hold a lit candle in your hand; the flame should be exposed (not guarded by the container of the candle). If the candle flickers or goes out, it means that there’s drafty airflow near that door or window.
Note: Be cautious when using candles, especially near a wood window and door frames.
Most heat is lost from the attic and basement. It’s easy for these less-used rooms to fall colder than other parts of the house. This is also where cracks start to form first, and where the house is neglected the most. Unfinished basement floors and attic ceilings are also frequently cold because they’re the closest parts of the house to the external elements.
Walk into your attic or basement. Does it feel significantly colder than the rest of the house? Do your feet feel cold on the floor? If it feels like there is more than a 10-degree difference, you have cracks and drafts somewhere in your attic or basement.
Some drafts can even come through your electrical fixtures. Take a look at any electrical holes in the walls, like outlets and light fixtures. Are there any cracks or marks? If these aren’t completely sealed, you might get a small draft that can be slowly eating away at your energy efficiency.
If your HVAC system isn’t working properly, not only will it not send hot air through your ducts, but it can also lead to chilly, drafty airflow. You may not even notice your HVAC system isn’t working properly until it’s too late.
If you’re not sure if you have a draft, call in a professional inspector. They can help detect drafts from windows, doors, attics, basements, electrical fixtures, air ducts, and more. They’ll also give you recommendations for making your home more efficient.
How to fix a draft
So you suspect you have a draft. What do you do to seal it up, warm up, and get your home working at optimal efficiency again?
Doors and windows
Tip: Choose a high-quality latex caulk. It should be able to clean up with water, so you can easily apply it and fix any mistakes.
Whenever the fireplace isn’t in use, close the flue. This helps “shut off” your chimney from cold air.
Cover the exterior with an insulated fireplace draft stopper. These can add a beautiful touch of décor to your home while also maintaining energy efficiency. If you don’t want to purchase a fireplace draft stopper, you can use a piece of thick foam insulation (that you could decorate yourself) to cover your fireplace.
Attics and basements
Add insulation underneath your basement floors and in attic ceilings. Foam insulation and weather stripping can be added to your attic drywall, and floorboard insulation can be put beneath your basement flooring. Think of insulation as a drink cooler around your ice-cold beer. You’ll also want to seal off any exhaust fans and small holes.
Two-for-one: Sealing up drafty holes can also keep pests out!
Most light switches and outlets are under-insulated, so they can actually become tunnels of wind through your house. Remove the electrical wall plate around the plug or switch to see if there is a gap between the device and wall. If so, you can use low-expanding foam insulation to fill the cavity to stop any wind. You can also install draft-proofing gaskets.
Unless you know electric fixtures well, though, we recommend consulting a professional electrician to do this step for you.
When the HVAC system isn’t in use, close all of the air ducts around your house. This helps prevent any stale, cold air from traveling through. If your heating system is on but you’re still getting cold air, consult a professional. You may need to add insulation around your heater to protect it from overheating and low energy output.
You may also need to replace your air filters to make sure they’re working effectively. If these are clogged, your HVAC has to overwork to heat the house, which can cause damage to the system.
Keep your home warm and your energy bill low by detecting and stopping drafts quickly. Stay comfy and cozy this winter!
Have you had a draft in your home? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments!
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