Top 15 Ways Your House Loses Heat
With winter rapidly coming, it’s time to turn one’s attention to the issue of heating. Many homeowners find their electric or gas bills skyrocketing after October because they need to turn the heat on, but a majority of those people are also overpaying. Why? Because their homes are bleeding heat through cracks, leaks, and poor construction.
There are dozens of ways a structure could lose a significant amount of heat, but this guidebook focuses on fifteen. Among them are improperly sealed entryways and exits, poor insulation, unused fireplaces, and basements in general. In combating the ever present cold, it’s important not only to make sure a home is properly sealed but that the heating system in place is adequate for the amount of space.
1. Cracks in the Walls
Having cracks in the walls doesn’t mean having gaping holes. For many people, a crack could be part of missing siding on the exterior of the house, worn down mortar between bricks and stones, or improperly applied plaster. Even the smallest crack can mean bigger problems are lurking around the corner, so it’s important to thoroughly inspect a home before winter comes.
Many of these problems can be DIY fixes involving some extra siding, a little bit of mortar, or some plaster, but they do take some experience. Any homeowner that doesn’t know much about construction shouldn’t do these on their own and should instead contact a service for assistance. However, fixing cracks can save people lots of money in the long run since heat seeps out and the cold seeps in quickly and easily.
A draft is best known as a current of cool air which somehow works its way into a fully confined space such as a room. The draft indicates that there is a leak or opening somewhere in the room that an individual might not be able to see but can feel. Drafts can come from anywhere like cracks in the walls or even just windows that are set at poor angles. The best way to combat a draft is to make sure any openings are sealed properly, the room is insulated, and any cracks in the area are sealed.
If a draft is still coming in or the room still feels cold after sealing, it could mean the heating system is not up to the task of keeping the home warm. If this is the case, it might be time to look into alternative heating methods like an electric fireplace. These fireplaces are safe, easy to maintain, and powerful enough to provide extra warmth to multiple rooms when sized correctly. If curtains, sealant, insulation, and other measures aren’t enough, the investment of an electric fireplace can save a homeowner in the long run.
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3. Leaky Outlets
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a lot of older homes possess outlets which lack the proper sealing and insulation. When an outlet isn’t insulated correctly, it’s easy for cold air from the exterior to work its way inside and lower the temperature of the interior. When this happens, heat naturally gets wasted since it either filters back out through the outlet or the HVAC system needs to struggle to maintain the desired temperature.
Unfortunately, most people might not be able to insulate an outlet fully without some construction experience. However, a savvy homeowner can install a plastic seal to help keep the heat inside. This seal is similar to the one shown in the picture below. It covers the electrical equipment and bare wall where outlets are typically installed and keeps the system safe. Any homeowner can install one by measuring the area around the outlets and then screwing a model that fits around them.
For individuals who still have leaks even with the seals, the problem is most likely deeper in the walls. In these cases, the best course of action is to install a foam gasket. Homeowners without experience should not perform this procedure and should instead call an electrician or construction company. If one outlet is missing a foam gasket, it’s likely that the others are as well. Remember to have all outlets correctly sealed before winter sets in and heating bills rise.
4. An Unused Chimney
Chimneys are the fireplace’s doorway to the outside world, so of course winter’s cold air manages to get inside. It’s a well-known fact that cold air sinks and hot air rises, which is why hot air balloons work the way they do. If someone’s house has an open chimney during the cold months and heat is running inside the house, a natural current of air will develop that pulls the cold in and pushes the warm air out.
If the chimney isn’t in use, it’s best to block it to stop the heat loss. This can be done using special doors and covers that can be installed just above the flue (the open box) or further up the chimney. These are operated simply and are relatively inexpensive, although professional installation will add to the price. Another option is a flue sealer, which is a removable plug. It’s an inflatable device made from a special plastic that will stop air movement. Neither a sealer nor a cover should be kept in place if the homeowner wishes to start a fire, but they will form air tight seals to stop the movement of air.
5. A Traditional Fireplace without Sealing
The outside wall of a traditional fireplace should have some form of sealant where the wall buttresses the chimney. This section is frequently exposed to the elements and is another area where warm air escapes and cool air enters. The easiest way to handle this problem is to get a sealant and make sure there are no cracks or holes leading to the outside world.
If the traditional fireplace never sees use and is simply a static feature of the home, homeowners should consider sealing the entire structure or getting a temporary cover to place in front of the main section. Sealing a fireplace can be expensive, but some people go the simple route and just brick up the opening. This isn’t recommended but is a cheap way to ensure the home stays warm. Otherwise, if the homeowner wants to keep the traditional fireplace open for aesthetic reasons, many stores sell covers for the front that open and close like a cabinet.
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People who have a traditional fireplace that they use for warmth can still be frustrated by both of these problems. If the traditional fireplace continues to be hassle because it lets the cold in or produces so much smoke, homeowners should consider replacing it with a more energy and cost-efficient model. Electric fireplaces are becoming increasingly popular in homes across the United States because they connect to a home’s preexisting HVAC system and produce all of the heat without the mess. Since they can be more easily sealed, they also don’t let the hot air escape as easily. An electric fireplace can still be aesthetically pleasing, with flames that turn on and off depending on the model.
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If a traditional fireplace and chimney are a continuous problem, homeowners could save time and money by upgrading.
Research estimates indicate that windows and doors are responsible for 45% of lost heat in a home. Part of this problem can be fixed with simple maintenance, but the other part cannot. This is because doors and windows are made to open and close, and there will always be some form of gap or opening created. Once these entryways have been properly sealed, the other way to guarantee minimal heat loss is to not leave doors or windows open for long. Many children might remember their parents yelling at them to stop running in and out of the house or for leaving the door open for too long – and this is because the warm or cold air of the house will escape while the opposing atmosphere of the outdoors will come in.
As for the first part of the problem, it’s easy and inexpensive to make sure doors and windows don’t let too much heat escape. All the homeowner needs to do is make sure there are no extraneous gaps and consider adding extra sealant as a defensive barrier.
6. Doors that Don’t Fit
This is a pretty common problem and one that might be hard to notice at first. Quite frankly, sometimes a door is too small for the frame it is in. When this is the case, usually the frame can be rebuilt, or the homeowner can buy some sealant and apply a thin layer in the area with cracks. If the gap is between the door and the second part of the latch, then that side of the frame will need to be readjusted.
7. Unsealed Door
An unsealed door is one that is missing some sort of protective coating around the edges or in front of it. For example, a plain door without a screen or a separate glass external door could be considered unsealed. If the homeowner cannot find any gaps in the frame but the door still exudes cold, then it might be time to consider installing an extra external door, such as a standard glass one. These glass doors tend to be thoroughly fitted and airtight to minimize the amount of heat that escapes from the interior. They can be purchased at most hardware stores.
8. Windows that Don’t Fit
This is the same problem as having a door that isn’t fitted properly to a frame, creating small gaps that allow air to enter and escape. Window frames are usually easier to fix than a door frame, even if the solution might end up being temporary. It’s typically cheaper to take out a window, install a new frame, and then reinstall than to change out a door frame. For a more temporary solution, homeowners can use caulk or apply a sealant that expands to fit in the cracks.
9. Unsealed Window
This is a similar issue to an unsealed door and typically requires using a little caulk or a similar substance to make sure the frame is airtight. It’s an easier fix than a window that doesn’t fit and can usually happen when the original seal around the window degrades over time. For extra protection from heat loss, homeowners can install special plastic over the interior of the window, which adds an extra defensive layer to keep heat in. It might not be the prettiest option, but it’s a common measure used by people in the northern United States and many colder countries like Canada.
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The words “inadequate” and “insulation” come up a lot throughout this work, and there’s plenty of reasons why. So many older homes either have insulation that wore down or simply wasn’t enough to begin with to keep the house warm. Just like the basement freezes up during the winter, so can sections of a house where the insulation behind the walls has eroded over time. Similarly, there can be problems with the roof. The roof protects people from the elements and also needs to be insulated to maintain its temperature. If it’s not, it can take on the temperature of the environment around it and, like the concrete in a basement, this cold will waft into the house.
This section focuses on problems associated with the roof and general wall insulation. Most of these problems cannot be fixed as a DIY project, especially the walls. This is because removing a section of wall can release plaster dust that is harmful when inhaled, it’s possible to accidentally hit part of the central structure that keeps the house up, and insulation itself is tricky to install and usually toxic when ingested or inhaled. As for the roof, some issues can be repaired so long as the individual working has some experience. But, if a leak is not obvious or if the entire material forming the roof needs to be replaced, it’s beneficial to call in the experts.
10. Leaks in the Roof
These are similar to leaks in the walls and are common in older houses or those with cheap shingle roofs. Over time, the materials wear down and can form sometimes microscopic cracks in the surface. When this happens, the cold air flows in because it is moving down and the hot air flows out. Because the house uses one complete HVAC system, the home constantly works to keep the environment warm while copious amounts of air slip away through the roof.
People who suspect there might be a leak in the roof should contact a contractor or roofer to take a look. Usually if the leak is bad enough to let air in and out of the home, it will also let liquid in and that means multiple layers need to be replaced. Shingles can be inexpensive, but other materials like tar or new wood could add to the cost. If a patch can’t be applied, then an entire section could need removal.
11. Thin Roofing
This is an odd way for heat to escape, but it makes perfect sense. Roofing materials wear down over time, even if the manufacturer claims that the roof should last for twenty years or more. When this happens, it creates more areas and passages for air to escape from. Even if the roof is perfectly intact, heat can still seep through the material because it doesn’t require an opening to leave. The thinner and more natural a material, the more likely the heat will escape.
So, what can a homeowner do? If the roof is starting to wear down to the point where heat loss is a significant problem, it might be time to replace the entire roof. If this isn’t an option, an extra layer of insulation should be considered, but this can also be expensive. In a case like this, it’s important to consider whether an existing HVAC system is effective or not. How much heat is being produced, how much electricity or gas is required, and is the bill going up significantly?
In many cases, it’s actually much cheaper to find an alternative heat source than try to pay for costly repairs or a new HVAC system. Homeowners frequently turn to space heaters, which aren’t the most efficient but are inexpensive to buy. Otherwise, lots of people consider new electric fireplaces, which provide heat to multiple rooms and possess new technology that keeps power usage low while still producing an incredible amount of warmth.
12. Old Insulation
The materials used to insulate homes vary, but they all degrade over time. So no matter whether the house has fiberglass, repurposed blue jeans, or foam, it will slowly start to be less efficient and effective over time. When this happens, heat loss is common. Old insulation can also invite unwanted visitors like rodents, so it’s important to make sure the home is fully protected.
Reinsulating a home is expensive because the material needs to go behind the plaster of the walls. It’s best to call a construction company and receive an estimate before committing to this kind of work. In the meantime, individuals can keep the house warm by investing in alternative heat sources such as a space heater or a small electric fireplace.
13. Inadequate Insulation
Finally, there is inadequate insulation. This is what happens when the people who built a house simply didn’t put enough material between the walls to keep it warm in the cold months and cool in the hot ones. This problem is a little difficult to identify since the regular homeowner is not able to see behind the walls without removing a section. One way to test and see if the walls are a cause for concern is to place one’s hand on a wall that has an external side. If the temperature is much colder than the rest of the house, then poor insulation is the most probably cause.
Similar to needing to repair old insulation, fixing inadequate insulation is a costly procedure that takes a lot of time and materials. Homeowners will need to budget and save up before calling a construction company. In the meantime, it’s recommended that people turn to an alternative heat source. To prevent further loss, the heat source should be used in a room that can be closed and doesn’t have external walls.
Basements are naturally cold places. The majority of the low temperature comes from the walls being in constant contact with the ground outside. The earth beneath the thin layer of topsoil that humans see every day is natural chilled and damp. The low temperature drastically changes the temperature of a basement’s concrete walls, and the moisture seeps into the structure and the air and makes people feel colder. Even worse, a study in Canada discovered that the temperature of the basement can lag behind the rest of the house by a period of 69 days. What does this mean? It means that even when spring arrives, it will take 69 days for the basement to move out of its winter temperatures. This is a long time to wait for an entire floor in a home to be comfortable and usable.
For homes with basements, cold, especially on the ground floor above the basement, will always be an issue. What a basement – or a cellar – really is, is a giant room with poor insulation, low heating, and many issues for homeowners to deal with over the years. When it comes to fixing these problems, repairs and construction can get expensive fast. Below are the two major causes for cold air leaking into a basement and what the average homeowner can do to handle them.
15. Uncovered Concrete Walls
This is the biggest source of heat loss in any home and can extend to the upper levels. Concrete is not a good insulator. As a form of stone (or at least a compound) it is often cold and easily takes on the temperature of the environment around it. Without sunlight and with the constant pressure of the ground around it, concrete walls in the basement will always emanate cold. To avoid this, homeowners need to thoroughly insulate their basement.
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Once a house is built, it’s nearly impossible to add insulation to the outside of a basement. So, they need to work on the inside. The best way to do this is by constructing finished walls. A finished wall will feature some form of professional construction insulation made of foam or fiberglass. Anyone who ever lived in a home with an unfinished attic will be familiar with this material. Old fiberglass insulation was often a bright bubblegum pink and filled with sharp shards that get stuck in the fingers. But it keeps the temperature in well. Newer insulation is a foam that is sprayed onto walls and hardens quickly. Insulation can be applied, with some preparation, over the concrete. A construction company can then build another wall using wood and plaster to form a tight, appealing seal.
This is an undertaking that shouldn’t be done lightly. Finishing a basement can be expensive, costing between $10,000 and $30,000. Some people choose to just spray on a foam insulation, but this can be dangerous if children or pets mess around with the material even once dry. Other options to keep the area warm are to install a carpet, use space heating, or even add a fireplace to keep the basement at a comfortable temperature when in use.
When these problems are fixed, any home is less likely to lose heat come the colder months. However, many homes still suffer from HVAC systems which don’t function correctly, are outdated, or are simply too small for the size of the house. When this is the case, homeowners can either pay for expensive renovations or consider an alternate heat source.>
Believe it or not, one of the best heating sources for any home is an electric fireplace. They form a separate part of an HVAC system but can provide warmth in a cost-effective and resource efficient manner due to their build and technology. Many fireplaces are simple and relatively inexpensive to install and bring consistent heat to several rooms. Individuals can even turn the flames on and off in some models and spring for a variety of add-ons to not only make the fireplace a source of heat but also a beautiful decorative feature.
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Electric fireplaces can be installed everywhere, even outside. For homeowners who had consistent drafts, leaks, frigid basements, and other issues, adding one of these structures can keep the house warm no matter what the weather is like outside at a fraction of the cost of renovating and running a brand new HVAC system.
- Catherine Sibi