'Sweat the small stuff' to save energy

Attic doors, hatches should be sealed to prevent leaks


You've probably heard the expression, "Don't sweat the small stuff."

But where energy is concerned, there is "small stuff" that can cause you to sweat.

Though you can do a lot to make your home more energy-efficient, the hole in your ceiling that gives you access to the attic can help make your house uncomfortable and expensive to operate.

The U.S. Department of Energy has noted that attic hatches, pull-down stairs and knee-wall doors often are not insulated and thus become one of the biggest weaknesses in the protection your home has from the elements.

Just a quarter-inch gap around the attic access door could leak the same amount of air that is supplied by the average bedroom heating duct. If this leak isn't better sealed, it's going to cost you money on your energy bill while increasing your home's heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer.

Many homes have attic access doors that lead from the insulated space rather than the garage, porch or other non-insulated area. If your home has this indoor access, make sure it seals tightly. Some energy experts recommend using latch bolts to hold the door tightly in place.

If you're working with a builder on a new home or remodeling, contact the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clearinghouse at 1-800-363-3732 and get a copy of their "Attic Access" technology fact sheet. It's also available online at www.eren.doe.gov/buildings. Check under publications for their technology fact sheets.

This is one more reminder of the need to keep the walls, ceiling and foundation around your home's living space airtight. Cracks and openings can let in unwanted air while letting your interior cooled or heated air escape.

Even the best-built house could settle, creating some of these openings. Further, think about all the penetrations through your home - wires for the cable TV, pipes for plumbing, electrical wires and other breaks in the walls.

Caulking and weatherstripping are two of the easiest and lowest-cost do-it-yourself jobs a homeowner can tackle. Hardware and building supply stores have products that can be easily applied and be effective in keeping your home's thermal envelope intact.

Here's a related suggestion that can help a lot, too. If you're going to check your house for areas that need to be better sealed, use this opportunity to look for places that may need more insulation. Over time, insulation can settle and fall below minimum recommended levels for your climate.

If your builder started with a 3 1/2 -inch fiberglass batt that had an R-11 insulation value at full thickness but had to compress it to 2 inches to fill a wall space, the result is insulation that has only an R-7 rating.

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