Every year, once Labor Day hits, we all get serious about winter. Of course, everyone and anyone involved in heating or energy is right out straight this year. This is especially true with energy auditors. They are running from house to house with their imaging cameras and blower doors, and they charge you $250 to $600 depending what part of the state you are in and what level of audit you are purchasing.
There was a piece on the TV news the other night about an energy audit. A young man with a really cool-looking thermal imaging camera was showing the homeowner how the corners of her house were really cold and that was where all the heat loss was. It was a good piece and the homeowner was happy with the service and found out that she needed to add insulation to her attic.
I was conflicted by the report. I suppose I am jealous of the really cool thermal-imaging camera. I have owned four or five thermal-imaging cameras over the years. The ones I had had gotten smaller and they are now getting quite tiny. It is nice to see. They do a fine job of showing those cold spots and exemplifying them to the homeowner.
The problem is that I sold all my cameras. The reason I sold them was not that they weren’t really cool, but rather that they showed me the obvious. Anyone in the business knows where the cold spots are, with the exception of a few spots that might not be insulated properly within a wall cavity.
The auditors with their thermal cameras do a useful job, but I think we can simplify the process, especially for those of you who cannot line up an auditor until next April.
Look in your attic. If you have an attic that you can get into or at least poke you head through a hatch, check how much insulation is there. If it is under 10 inches, get more installed ASAP. This is simple and you can pretty much be assured that it will pay for itself within the heating season. I think 14-16 inches of fiberglass or cellulose are where attic insulation should be. And it should be blown in, not be in batts, if you have a choice.
If it is cold or windy outside, check around your windows and doors for drafts. Duh! Unfortunately, we all seem to think this is only doable with high-tech equipment. Uncontrolled ventilation of your home is expensive. You cannot make it too tight — trust me on this one.
Insulate your basement walls. The box sill area, where the floor framing meets the outside wall, should be sealed with caulk or foam and insulated. Additionally, the basement wall should be insulated to at least a foot or two below grade. This is done on the inside of the basement.
If you have waited this long to get the oil system cleaned and tuned — shame on you. Call and schedule the cleaning today (or at least on Monday). This should be done at the end of the heating season, but regardless, it still has to be done, at least once a year.
The gee-whiz high-tech stuff is great and shows you all those minute details. Unless you are going to be doing a major energy rehab on your home or your home is already highly insulated, these four points are probably going to cover the big things the auditor will tell you.
One more thing: Since we all love gadgets, buy yourself a remote readying laser thermometer. They sell them at Home Depot and Lowe’s as well as many hardware stores. You can read the temperature of your walls for under $50 and amaze your friends. They are also great for cooking.
Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.