Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Your Home is a Shell

Before I ended up as PRI’s Volunteer Coordinator I was an energy auditor and packager for a local non-profit. Working in the energy efficiency field, I saw firsthand how aggressive marketing can convince people to buy items they don’t need. I cringe when I recall the countless phone calls I received from homeowners convinced that in order to cut energy costs they needed to buy new windows. My first course of action was to inquire about the home’s insulation status, which proved to be either nonexistent, settled, damaged or sparse. Yet they thought windows were the solution to their energy problems.

So the tip of the week is to think of your home as a shell. No, I’m not being cryptic here. And no, this doesn’t have anything to do with the Museum’s new bivalve exhibit. I’m being serious. Realize that the outer surface of your home acts as a barrier (a shell) from the elements. The roof, attic, floor and walls comprise most of the surface area of that barrier while windows comprise fairly little (unless you have an entire wall of them). So what issue would you want to remedy first, a leaky window or an uninsulated wall? You’d want to choose the wall because it has the larger surface area--comparatively allowing more heated/cooled air to escape. With that in mind, go exploring. It’s your house so don’t be afraid of it! With a critical eye, venture into your attic (just remember to stay on the joists or you may surprise the inhabitants below). Is there insulation? Is it damaged? Is it lacking in some areas? If there are fiberglass batts, are there gaps between the batts and the joists? Pull back a few of the batts to make sure that there aren’t any open holes leading into the wall cavities. If the idea of performing your own inspection is too daunting, you can hire an energy auditor to do it. If your insulation is found to be lacking, you’ve identified your starting point on the path to energy efficiency. The good news is that adding insulation is a lot cheaper than buying new windows and in most cases you can do the work yourself. Most major stores carry everything you need; you can even rent machines that blow in insulation. Click here for an excellent do-it-yourself guide to insulating and air sealing (including a list of problems that would require a contractor).

Check back next week for another tip. In the meantime, check out Cornell Cooperative Extension’s window repair workshop (see the September 17's blog post for more info).

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