Understanding typical energy loss problems can prevent expensive waste. Evaluate these five areas of your home to save on heating and cooling expenses. Minor upgrades, often of the do-it-yourself variety, can offer a big financial return.

Rim Joist

Inspect and seal your rim joist area. Your rim joist area is located where the framing of your home sits upon your home’s foundation. Improving this area is considered one of the best opportunities for a good return on your energy-saving dollars. The stack effect describes how air flows through a home, from bottom to top, just like a chimney stack. Warm air rises and pushes up into your attic. This warm air needs to be replaced, so it pulls unconditioned air from below, typically from gaps around your rim joist area. This area can often be accessed from the basement, at the top of the perimeter walls, between the floor joists that support the floor above. Clean and vacuum the area, spray foam or caulk any gaps, and install fiberglass insulation to seal the area tight. You may notice a dramatic change in the temperature of the first-floor perimeter flooring immediately. You will likely notice a difference in your utility bills the next time they arrive.


Inspect and seal exterior projections. Walk around your home and inspect everything that might compromise your exterior finish. You will likely find gaps around wall penetrations like exterior taps, furnace exhaust piping, and utility lines. All gaps should be sealed tight with exterior-grade caulking. Brick and masonry homes may need to have their mortar joints repointed. Damaged or missing siding, flashing, and trim should be repaired or replaced. Because of the minimal cost and labor involved in tuning up your home’s exterior, it is considered the second most cost-effective energy upgrade you can make. As well as helping with energy savings, a well-sealed home will lower your risk of sustaining costly water damage.

Attic Insulation

Inspect and upgrade your attic insulation. The insulation and vapor barrier in your attic acts like a lid to keep your heat trapped inside. Modern homes have a plastic semi permeable vapor barrier sheet underneath many inches of insulation. Many older homes lack this vapor barrier and typically have less than half of the recommended amount of insulation installed. Install a vapor barrier if it’s not already in place, and top up your insulation to local construction standards. Ensure areas above the top floor lighting fixtures and attic hatches are well sealed. These areas often allow expensive conditioned air to escape, even in modern homes. Inspect your attic for moisture. Increasing attic insulation may necessitate increasing attic ventilation to prevent moisture problems. Ensuring your attic is up to modern standards will have the biggest effect on your heating and cooling dollars compared to any other home energy improvement.

Windows and Doors

Inspect and seal your windows and doors. While doors and windows can be upgraded to increase their insulation value, the real culprit is air leakage and poor sealing. Weatherstripping is a maintenance item that needs to be replaced or maintained every few years. Removable caulking is an inexpensive way to help seal old windows from the interior. Use incense, infrared, or a temperature gun to help identify air leaks that need to be sealed. Inspect during different temperature and wind conditions to make sure your heating and cooling dollars are sealed in tight.


Inspect your heating and cooling systems. Well-programmed thermostats can have a dramatic effect on your heating and cooling bills. Modern units can be controlled by an app on your smartphone. Furniture sitting on top of an air register should be moved. Constricted air flow is often the cause of expensive inefficiencies. Ceiling fans can help improve airflow and distribution. Dampers on ducts, registers, vents, and chimneys can be used to help control airflow. Air filters should be evaluated every month and changed after a maximum of three months. Dust and debris in your furnace, air conditioner, and radiator can make them operate less efficiently, and will often result in a short service life. Improper installation and configuration of flue piping and ductwork can increase your operating costs and lower performance. Have a professional technician maintain your system seasonally. The cost of a professional often pays for itself over the lifetime of the systems being serviced.

Inspect these five areas seasonally, under varying conditions, to look for possible improvements and identify maintenance needs. Expensive improvements, like upgrading to high-efficiency equipment, installing modern windows and doors, and upgrading insulation, can take years to pay for themselves. Inexpensive improvements, like sealing around rim joist areas and exterior penetrations, improving weather stripping, and installing programmable thermostats, can pay for themselves almost immediately. Ensuring your heating and cooling dollars are not wasted will not only help keep you comfortable, it will help make the world a better place.


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