The Top 4 Ways Homes Lose Heat, and How to Fix Them

E.B. Boyd by E.B. Boyd | January 12th, 2009 | No Comments
topic: Green Living, Green Tech

The long dark days of winter are here, bringing us cheery snowmen, cozy nights by the fire, and… sky-high heating bills. There’s nothing to be done, you think. You’ve got to heat the house, right? Well yes, but there might be a way to reduce the amount of energy you use — without resorting to three layers of sweaters and goofy wool hats.

Experts say up to half of the energy churned out by the average American home either never makes it into interior rooms or leaks away. In other words, you end up paying for heat you never get to use.

The main culprits?

1. Leaky ducts. Unlike water pipes, the ductwork in a heating system isn’t always sealed “watertight.” After all, leaking air won’t cause the same kind of damage that leaking water will. The problem, though, is that leaky ducts mean heat that is intended to keep you toasty in your living room escapes into walls instead, never making it into the rooms you need to heat.

2. Holes in exterior walls. We’re not talking about the place where your brother-in-law punched through the sheetrock after tying one on during the big game. Instead, these are almost imperceptible gaps where windows, doors, or walls weren’t joined together perfectly, allowing heat to seep out in drips and drabs that add up over time.

3. Poorly insulated attics. You know how you get cold when you go outside without a hat on? Same thing with your house. Heat escapes from the top. Insulation works like the hat. It traps the heat inside where it can do you some good.

4. Wrong-sized heating systems. Different furnaces are designed to produce different quantities of heat. If your house is only 1,500 square feet, but your furnace is designed to produce heat for 3,000 square feet, it’s producing a lot of heat you can’t possibly use — but that you’re paying for anyway.


1. Weatherize your home annually.

2. Add more insulation in your attic or walls.

3. Get a home energy audit: Want to find out how much energy your house is losing? Consider hiring a home energy auditor. They’ll lug a bunch of fancy gizmos over to your house (see pix in this Wired story) and track down exactly where your heat is going and how much you’re losing. Find a home energy auditor at the Energy Audit Directory, or simply do a search for “home energy audit” and the name of your state. Or do an audit on your own with these instructions from the US Department of Energy.

4. Retrofit: Some auditors will also supply you with a list of fixes you could make to reduce heat loss. These range from sealing holes to replacing the heating system. Be prepared: The prices of specific projects vary, but a complete retrofit could cost as much as a new solar heating system. Energy efficiency experts suggest that homeowners think about the work the same way they’d think about the solar system: As a long-term investment that will pay for itself over time — and that will not only save you green in the long run but that will help you do your part to reduce carbon emissions.

Photo credit: Mr. Thomas


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