Ho, Ho, Ho–tis the season to be …? Yes, you guessed it–WARM! There are many ways to save energy but one of the most cost and energy efficient is called weatherization. Simply stated, weatherization is how we tighten our home’s “envelope” to keep heat in during the winter and out during the summer. It is referred to as the thermal envelope because it is the structure that contains our winter heat and summer cooling, with breaches resulting in cold air coming in and warm air moving out.
Identifying and sealing all the openings and areas of heat loss can be a daunting task. Most people tend to do minor repairs when something—like the broken window pane—raises a red flag. However, when we talk about weatherizing our homes we really want to take a holistic approach. A house is a set of systems that work in synch to create a comfortable environment in which to live. Further, fixing one leak does not really stop the heat loss if we have numerous points of leakage. As long as there are weak points in the thermal envelope, a house will keep losing the same amount of heat.
The best way to approach a weatherization project is to assess the extent of the problem. A list of all the weak points in the thermal envelope coupled with an assessment of the cost benefits will help create the ‘to do’ list with priorities. Installing thousands of dollars of new windows may not be the top priority despite all the slick advertising for such products. Caulking and weatherstripping often are the best first step. Caulking is inexpensive, cost efficient, and can often be applied by a home owner who is adept with a utility knife and a caulk gun. Repairing door weatherstripping may require a bit more skill but is still a doable job by many homeowners. And if not, it is not a very expensive job to contract out.
The next on my list of air leak problems is the attic door or ceiling hatch. These are notoriously forgotten items where heat is literally sucked out of the house. Weatherstripping the attic door or attic hatch is a necessary ‘to do’ job. And while you are at it, get some insulation on top of that attic hatch which is usually a thin piece of plywood that barely holds in the heat. Another inexpensive and very useful step in weatherization is in the basement. First ensure that all foundation vents and windows are closed. Repair all broken window panes in these windows, an often forgotten item. Then, if your heating equipment is in the basement, consider insulating all around the house sills. This area often allows lots of cold air to infiltrate into the house keeping the basement ceiling nice and cold. And, since heat always moves from warm to cold, a cold floor literally sucks the heat out of the house. Improving your insulation would be a next step and needs to be evaluated by a professional who can make appropriate suggestions based on new technology. However, the best investment is a good energy audit. A professional auditor will be able to assess your entire house for energy loss and safety. A good audit will provide you with a list of needs based on heat loss calculations as well as repair/remodeling costs.
Getting Rid of Mold
Mold Mold. The very word awakens fear in people. We live in a damp climate, and that is the delight of those single cell organisms that come in thousands of varieties. Many molds are very helpful. They digest dead matter in nature. Penicillin is a mold and much has been made of it medicinally. But there are other molds that cause illness in people. Constant exposure to mold can eventually reduce our immune system and cause chronic illness. People with compromised immune systems cannot handle being around mold.
What is most important to know is that mold cannot grow unless there is moisture. Water leaks need to be fixed. Drain lines that seep into the foundation need repair. Roof leaks are big culprits for causing mold to grow. Those nasty ice dams in winter are a prime initiator. Drain lines under the sink hidden by all those household cleaners leak unnoticed for long periods, resulting in mold growth as well as water damage to the cabinet. Mold is not always visible, at least immediately. It can grow in walls and not penetrate the drywall for some time. By the time it is visible on the interior surface of the drywall, it may be quite extensive in the wall cavity.
Cleaning mold can be simple if it is a small local spot. Wipe it with water or an enzyme-based product designed for mold. Do not use bleach. Chlorine is toxic; the EPA states this on their website. It is poisonous to people and pets. Larger areas require more skill to ensure that the mold is not spread through carelessness. Professionally trained people can test for mold in the air or on surfaces such as carpets and furniture. They will also be able to assess the remediation protocol for cleaning the problem if it is too extensive for the homeowner or your basic carpenter. All clean up jobs of any size need to have post-clean up testing to ensure success.