Home use of natural gas and heating oil accounts for 6% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's latest Greenhouse Gas Inventory.
Plugging air leaks in a typical home can save up to 10% on heating bills, fuel consumption and emissions during the heating season, according to the Department of Energy.
Plugging air leaks is one of the cheapest and easiest home fixes that can result in real energy savings. (Draft snake, anyone?) Federal tax credits for insulation, efficient windows and doors and other improvements make even the expensive fixes far more affordable.
That's why the Daily Green and Carbonrally teamed up to challenge our audiences to an easy, but surprisingly meaningful challenge: Dodge a draft or, as Carbonrally cleverly put it, bust a gust. The Daily Green's readers suggested a number of winterization tips including curling up with a cat in bed with you at night: Smart! and we settled on this one because it's actionable, tangible, fun ... and it actually matters. Carbonrally, which challenges its audience to simple steps that produce measurable benefits for the climate, crunched the numbers. To participate, just click through to Carbonrally using the badge below.
Heating homes in the winter amounts to a sizable chunk of the country's carbon footprint, and a surprisingly big chunk of that energy is wasted as it drifts around old ill-fitting windows, under doors, and through cracked caulking and the like. An individual can save as much as 175 pounds of carbon and as much as 10% on heating bills every winter by sealing air leaks. The great news here: Stopping drafts is about the easiest and cheapest DIY home project you can find, requiring little more than caulk, a draft snake and some persistence.
Most homes and businesses are heated with fossil fuel furnaces. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. homes and businesses rely on natural gas for heating while most of the rest rely on oil. Emissions from residential and commercial fossil fuel use have been growing since 1990 along with the growth of the population and the construction of new often bigger and more energy-intensive buildings. Spikes in energy use, not surprisingly, follow weather patterns: The colder the winter, the more fuel burned to keep warm. In all, residential energy use accounts to about 6% of fossil fuel usage (not counting fossil fuels burned at power plants to generate electricity for homes, including the fraction of homes with electrical heating systems).
First, feel for drafts: If you can feel cold air, sleuth out the air leak and plug or caulk it. Take a close look both at any openings in the walls or ceilings mail chutes, utility connections, dryer vents, outdoor, etc. and at places where two different building materials meet such as at door and window frames, at corners, around chimneys and along the foundation.
Then, depressurize your home in preparation for an incense test. On a cool, windy day turn off your furnace, shut all windows and doors and switch on all exhaust fans (such as those in the bathroom or over the stove). Then, light a stick of incense (be careful to avoid drapes and other flammables!) and walk along the inside of your home, hugging the exterior walls: Wherever smoke is sucked out or blown into the room, there's a draft.
The nature of the draft will dictate the necessary fix. The Department of Energy estimates that inadequate insulation in the floors, walls or ceilings amounts to nearly one-third of air leakage, while ducts, fireplaces and plumbing add up to nearly 45%. Leakage from doors and windows amount to 10% each. The solution, for leaky doors windows and many exterior plumbing fixtures, is often as simple as caulking or weather stripping.
While caulking and weather stripping will tackle many air leaks, tax incentives will pay for 30% of the cost, up to $1,500, for many more expensive fixes like insulation, new doors or new windows. And low-income families should check with state agencies, all which offer weatherization assistance. See The Daily Green's guide to winterization, for more tips and information about government incentives.
This Challenge asks that you sleuth-out and seal air leaks in your living space. By killing the drafts, you'll reduce CO2 emissions by 35 lbs. per month. If you accept this challenge you will accrue 35 lbs. of CO2 reduction each month for the five-month heating season. This challenge can be repeated once per year.
DIY Home Energy Audit
19 Home Winterization Tips, and How to Pay for Them
Department of Energy Guide to Detecting Air Leaks
DOE Guide to Fixing Common Air Leaks
Tax Incentives for Energy Efficient Insulation, Windows, Doors and more
Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency
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