More and more, builders are promoting Energy Efficient Homes and that’s a good thing except when they cut corners or do things that the average home buyer doesn’t know or understand. I want to discuss a few here.
Many attics are rated as R-38. Depending on the material used that is about 10” to 12” of insulation material. (See http://www.energystar.gov/?c=home_sealing.hm_improvement_insulation_table .) If your attic is 1,000 SF, that’s 20’x50’ of ceiling area and if you have a pull down stair installed that is 10 SF or 2’x5’, you are losing over 25% of your insulation value! It’s even worse if you have blown-in insulation and it is not evenly distributed. Think of being nice and warm under a down quilt and someone pulls the blanket off your feet. The fix is to distribute the insulation evenly, properly cover any ‘high hat’ lighting, and insulate the attic stairs. Look for any other obvious gaps that are not properly covered or insulated.
In the article “Ducts in the Attic? What Were They Thinking?”by David Roberts and Jon Winkler, they discuss the effects of installing ductwork in attics. This, according to their research, is a very poor idea especially in warmer climates. Builders are installing energy efficient Heat Pumps or Air Conditioners, to the ‘wow’ of home buyers but are cutting corners by using the attic as a chase. The builder is saving less than a thousand dollars and costing the consumer much more over the long run, especially if the ducts leak. The unit will have to run harder and longer shortening its life. If you are remodeling make sure your HVAC guy reads this article. If you already have ducts in the attic have a professional check them out for kinks & sharp bends, undersized runners and torn or improper connections. Think 20% to 25% energy loss.
Then there are the obvious. We all feel the cold air coming through window AC units or just the windows themselves. I wrap all my window units from the outside and cover the inside and there is still a draft. When the temperature is in the single digits it makes a big difference.
Make sure your heating units are in good shape and serviced. They are running full tilt some nights and you don’t need problems when you’re asleep or you may stay asleep if the CO gets too high. I am not a big fan of the inexpensive CO detectors and have a hand held that I use to check the whole house often. If you do have a ceiling or wall mount CO detector, a remote alarm that will warn you in the bedroom if the basement heater is leaking can save your life.
I tell clients that having a fireplace is nothing more than building a fire IN your house. The obvious cautions apply. Make sure the flue is cleaned as often as necessary. I usually do ours mid-winter when we get that freak warm spell. Don’t stack firewood too close to the stove and make sure a proper hearth is in place.
Be safe, enjoy the winter. It only lasts a short while.