Sophomore communications major Chrissy Angeli used to wear a winter coat while doing homework at her computer desk. She said it was like riding in a car with the windows cracked.
“I could literally hear the wind whisping by my ears,” Angeli said.
Like many other Philadelphians, Angeli had an unwanted air infiltration problem. According to AlliantEnergy.com, air infiltration is the process of air entering and exiting through a building’s cracks and leaks.
“Without proper maintenance, air infiltration is a never ending cycle,” said Thomas Graff, contractor and owner of Graff Remodeling. “Cold air from outside forces itself through cracks and causes the warm air to escape. As warm air exits the house through leaks, more unwanted cold air is pulled in from outside.”
Most homes in the city were destined to have infiltration problems before they were even built.
“It was not until 1976 when Pennsylvania passed the Building Energy Conservation Act, that all newly built homes were required to contain insulation,” said Patrick Tyrell, a certified member of the American Society of Home Inspectors and owner of Valley Forge Inspection Services. “Therefore, the majority of Philadelphia homes are not insulated because they were built prior to the 1970s.”
Emilymarie Romin, Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation’s director of public relations, agreed that a main factor of air infiltration is old age, in more ways than one.
“Not only are the houses old, but so are their owners,” Romin said. “Many of the elderly owners do not have the ability to fix these problems themselves, or their income is too low and they cannot afford these repairs.”
According to PHDC’s Weatherization Manual, some elderly Philadelphian homeowners on fixed incomes spend up to 35 percent of their annual income on energy bills. The manual also states that 35 percent of the energy bill for an average Philadelphia row home goes toward heating alone, while cooling and lighting only amount for a combined 14 percent.
Fortunately, air infiltration can be prevented without spending hundreds of dollars on new insulation. These three steps will help save energy, the environment and money.
Search and detect
There’s a 14-by-14-inch hole in the front of your Philadelphia row home in the middle of January. Although visualizing this may seem absurd, the cold air that comes through leaks and cracks throughout your walls and windows may be the equivalent to missing an entire window, according to Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s Home Weatherization Fact Sheet.
In order to prevent or eliminate infiltration, detect the exact places where cold air enters the house.
“My bedroom windows had constant air coming through them and I could actually see my curtains blowing in the window,” Angeli said.
For those with less obvious problems, Tyrell said to search the house completely for leaks and check all windowpanes, vents, pipes, lighting fixtures, electrical outlets, chimneys and wall and ceiling cracks.
“Use a tape measure to determine the size of the leak and make a list,” Tyrell said. “Bring the list to the hardware store and see what products will help fix each size leak.”
Also, examine the windows, ventilation and drainage on the exterior of the house and record leaks where noted. If a piece of paper can move smoothly underneath a door or windowpane and not rip, the area must be sealed.
Seal the deal
After many frigid nights of homework, Angeli made the decision to do something about her air leaks.
“I asked one of my roommates to go with me to Wal-Mart so we could buy something to fix this problem,” Angeli said. “Picking out the right product was hard and we couldn’t just buy any weatherization products we saw.”
It’s important to know which methods will be the most efficient in fixing each particular infiltration problem.
“If you plan on fixing both indoor and outdoor air leaks, caulking would be the most efficient,” Graff said. “There are many types of caulking out there, so make sure you read the labels and follow the directions on the tube.”
Expandable foam sealant is perfect for large, exterior leaks. It expands to fill a crack when sprayed onto the surface. This can be a messy job because rapid high-expansion brands tend to crack and bend framework, according to AlliantEnergy.com. Make sure to clean up any spills or mistakes to prevent further damage.
If you do not feel comfortable using caulking or expandable foam sealant, Graff suggested purchasing weather stripping or clear film wrap.
“Weather stripping can be used around small cracks found at indoor windows and doors, or around attic hatches, and it is fairly easy to install,” Graff said.
And remembering to read labels and instructions cannot be stressed enough. You do not want to turn your simple, inexpensive project into a stressful fiasco.
“My roommate and I didn’t realize we had to cut the clear plastic film a few inches bigger than our actual window measurements,” Angeli said. “When we applied heat to the edges, the film shrunk too much and we ended up having to start over with a new piece.”
But not all infiltration problems exist from cracks, according to Tyrell.
“Chimneys allow for air to escape through their vents, so keep your damper closed, or if you do not plan on using your chimney, seal the hole that exits to the roof,” Tyrell said.
Cleanliness counts as well. Alliant Energy suggests cleaning or replacing furnace and air conditioning filters monthly and servicing them annually. Maintain a proper ventilation system.
Save that money
Angeli said she saved approximately $25 on her first electric bill after her weatherization project.
“I noticed a significant difference after I weatherized my bedroom,” Angeli said. “The wind wasn’t blowing through my windows anymore, and the room was warmer overall.”
Angeli was not the only Philadelphia resident to save money on her heating bills.
On average, PHDC’s Weatherization Assistance Program helps lower energy bills of low-income houses from $1,200 to $840 annually, an average savings of $360.
It is important to take care of any infiltration problems, which may lead to high-energy bills, insect problems and water leaks. If you cannot afford to have your house completely insulated, consider these weatherizing ideas. An easy $50 weatherizing project can save you hundreds of dollars in the long run.
Christanna Ciabattoni can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.