PUBLISHED: 3:00 PM on Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Home energy efficiency: How and where you can save
UAF Cooperative Extension Service
I could feel the cold winter air pouring into the house. It was entering around the front door jam. Although I could feel the chill from about a foot away, I placed the back of my hand near the door feeling the wind pushing the cold air into the house. This definitely was not a good situation as this cold weather came on the heels of a marked increase in winter rates for electricity. It was time to take action.

Courtesy photo
  Check windows to see if the caulking and weather stripping are applied properly.
A visit to the Cooperative Extension Housing and Energy Program Web site,, provided a good resource, the Caulks and Sealants Factsheet (EEM-01252). According to this free publication, gradual heat loss that commonly occurs through leaky windows and door casings can result in up to 40 percent of winter home heat loss. Good sealants and caulks can reduce this easily, effectively and inexpensively.

The word "caulk" is an old boat building term; "sealant" originated in the homebuilding industry. Today some manufacturers use caulk as an all purpose term and sealant to describe their high performance specialty products. Often, the two terms are used interchangeably. All the products serve the same purpose: to fill the gaps in building materials and to keep water and air from penetrating or leaking out.

  Dr. Sonja Koukel
Weather stripping is not the same as caulking. Weather stripping is applied between moving surfaces such as window sashes and frames. This is the product I applied to the front door. Caulking should be applied wherever two different materials or parts of the house meet but don't move and are not intended to move. For instance, look for gaps around pipes and wires, electrical outlets, foundation seals, and mail slots. Also, use foam gaskets around electrical outlets - especially for those located on exterior walls.

Inspect windows and doors for air leaks. See if you can rattle them, since movement means possible air leaks. If you can see daylight around a door or window frame, then the door or window leaks.

Check to see if the caulking and weather stripping are applied properly, leaving no gaps or cracks, and are in good condition. Check the storm windows to see if they fit and are not broken.

If replacing the old windows is too costly, you can install low-cost plastic sheets over the windows. For drafts entering the home from under the outside door, try using a decorative draft stopper - even a rolled up towel placed at the base of the door will help reduce the amount of heat loss.

Some air leaks are easy to detect, such as the cold air pouring into my house around the door casing. Leaks that are less obvious to detect can be located by conducting a basic building pressurization test:

1. Close all exterior doors, windows, and fireplace flues.

2. Turn off all combustion appliances such as gas burning furnaces and water heaters.

3. Turn on all exhaust fans (generally located in the kitchen and bathrooms) or use a large window fan to suck the air out of the rooms.

This test increases infiltration (leakage) of air through cracks and leaks, making them easier to detect. Use a lighted incense stick or your damp hand to locate these leaks. If you use incense sticks, moving air will cause the smoke to waver, and if you use your damp hand, any drafts will feel cool to your hand.

Conducting a home energy audit walk through, I located a couple of windows where cold air was entering. So, on a Sunday afternoon, weather stripping was applied around the front door and the two problem windows.

The weather stripping was inexpensive and easy to apply - cut to length, peel and stick. With these simple measures, I not only increased the comfort level in my home by making it warmer, I may have saved myself some hard earned cash. For publications and information on energy efficiency tips, contact the Cooperative Extension Service.

Dr. Koukel is the Juneau District Agent for the Home Economics Programs of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.