The "Golden Key" to Fixing a Cold, Uncomfortable and Drafty Home

The "Golden Key" to Fixing a Cold, Uncomfortable and Drafty Home May Not Be What You Think.

The "Golden Key" to Fixing a Cold, Uncomfortable and Drafty Home May Not Be What You Think.

We meet with many homeowners who have cold and drafty rooms during the winter and think the best solution starts with an expensive window and door replacement project. Unfortunately, many people end up spending a great deal of money on replacement windows and doors to alleviate this problem only to discover that they still have a cold and drafty house after the new windows and doors are installed. This is not surprising when reviewing the advertising produced by the window and door replacement industry touting the benefits of these products. And while, it is true, that the new windows and doors on the market today are true marvels of thermal resistance, it does not mean that your home will cease to be cold and drafty after installing them. Which is just what one of our new clients discovered after she had new windows installed in her daughters bedroom. "Her room was so cold and drafty at night that we needed to find a way to keep her room comfortable", she related "we ended up buying top of the line replacement windows only to realize that her bedroom was still cold and drafty after the installation". 

What this homeowner did not realize is that the single biggest contributor to the cold and draftiness of her daughters bedroom was not the windows. The "Golden Key" to fixing her daughters cold and drafty bedroom was to be found in the attic. All the building performance experts agree on this. "No longer does an old house, or even a new house, have to be cold, drafty and difficult to heat," says Fred Lugano in Fine Homebuilding Magazine. In "the attic are the keys to lower heating bills and a more comfortable house" he expounds.

In order to better understand why all the leading experts agree that the attic is the "Golden Key" to eliminating a cold, uncomfortable and drafty house you must be aware of two basic concepts of building performance. The first concept to know about is the "stack effect", in which, the warmer air inside your home is forced to rise to the uppermost portions of your house. Next, you need to understand that there exists a "building envelope" which is the physical separator between the interior and the exterior environments of anybuilding. So, as the warm air in your home forcibly rises it will meet the upper envelope, or in this case, your upper ceilings. If this envelope, or ceiling, has been penetrated (can lights, bath fans, attic access panels are great examples of penetration) and left unsealed, the warm air will be forced to escape. This, in turn, produces a "giant vacuum effect" throughout your home which will forcibly suck the cold, outside air into your home through the weaker and more susceptible parts of your lower building envelope (like rim joists, doors and windows and anywhere else that is not properly sealed.) This "giant vacuum effect" sucking cold, outside air into the home is the cause of the drafts in your home and not your doors and windows or some other perceived phenomenon.

If you want to test this in your own home wait for a next cold day when there is not a breath of wind outside. Next, put your hand near your doors and windows. That frigid rush of air you feel will not be a breeze from any wind outside but the force of cold, exterior air being sucked into your house by the "giant vacuum effect". The best way to eliminate this and stop the drafts is to seal the penetrations in the upper building envelope of your home which will prevent the warm air from forcibly escaping and causing the "giant vacuum effect" in the first place.

The "Golden Key" to fixing a cold, uncomfortable and drafty home is to seal the unsealed penetrations in the upper building envelope. Unsealed penetrations that a homeowner can see in the upper ceiling are things like attic access panels or stairs, can lights, bathroom fans, electrical boxes, HVAC registers, and entertainment cables or equipment. In the unseen attic space, there may also be dryer vents, chimneys, soil stacks, kitchen vents and walls that also need to be sealed.

The US Department of Energy agrees that the most cost effective way to improve energy efficiency and comfort in a typical home is to first seal the penetrations and then make sure you have adequate and correctly applied insulation. Adequate insulation in the Chicago area has a thermal value R-49. If it is not installed correctly, however it will significantly reduce its thermal value and effectiveness. The good news is that by doing these things it is estimated that you can save up to 20% on heating and cooling costs (or up to 10% on your total annual energy bill).

Now that you have the "Golden Key" you can make better educated decisions regarding your home and better determine how to best spend your hard earned dollars. For further information regarding the additional things you can do to increase the comfort level of your home like sealing your rim joists, weatherstripping your doors and windows and sealing your ductwork go to www.energystar.gov or contact me at Get Dwell, www.getdwell.com or 847-922-3418 and I would be happy to help.

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Pam DeFiglio January 31, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Very informative! Especially as I was just considering putting a thermal window in the bathroom because it's cold and drafty there--right under the can lights. Bingo! Thanks.
RonnieTheLimoDriver January 31, 2012 at 11:39 PM
You can find out a lot more about insulation, air sealing, etc as well as solutions to common problems here at http://www.buildingscience.com/ . Many of the attic air sealing and insulation projects can be do it yourself jobs if you don't mind crawling around in your attic. I sealed and insulated my entire attic this fall and my heating bills are much lower, even adjusting for mild winter. Im interested to see the impact in the summer.
NS February 01, 2012 at 02:37 AM
Wear a sweater?


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