- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A house with air leaks that fails to keep out the cold air in the winter and hot air in the summer requires a little bit of detective work, says Byron Buck, president of National Capital Kitchen, a kitchen installation and remodeling company in Northeast.

“When it’s cold this time of year, it’s a perfect time to do some investigating and put your hand out,” Mr. Buck says.

Mr. Buck recommends feeling along windows, doors and walls for air infiltration and leakage, along with any openings where pipes, wires and outlets are installed. An increase in electric and gas bills is another way to identify a potential problem, he says.

The solution may require exchanging single-pane windows for the double- or triple-pane version, adding weather stripping to door frames and windows, or maintaining the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) system.

“The most critical areas for air leakage would be your windows and exterior doors,” says Butch Bryant, director of marketing for Winrepco, a remodeling company in Winchester, Va. that, among its services, replaces windows and doors.

Windows, especially in older homes, may be cracked, have a gap between the sashes or lack insulation around the perimeter, while doors may be warped from age or not be properly sealed or have weather stripping, Mr. Bryant says.

Mr. Bryant recommends installing energy-efficient windows and doors that are insulated and have low emissibility glass. Low emissibility glass, he says, has at least one or multiple layers of microscopic metal that is transparent and reflects heat. If the window frame also is insulated, it can help stop heat transfer around the frame of the window, he says.

“Most places you can’t buy a single pane anymore, because it’s such a poor or noninsulator,” Mr. Bryant says.

A double-pane window provides insulation through the air barrier between the two panes of glass, Mr. Bryant says. A barrier consisting of argon and krypton, which are heavier than air, further slows down the heat transfer and prevents fogging from occurring between the panes, he says.

As for doors, they may need to be weatherstripped along the frame, or, if in ill-repair, replaced.

Mr. Bryant recommends doors made of Fiberglas or steel with insulation in between the material. Wood, he says, shrinks and swells with changes in the weather and requires regular maintenance.

The entire door unit should be replaced, including the door, frame and threshold, to achieve a good seal between the door and frame, Mr. Buck says.

Or, a storm door can be installed in front of an existing door to provide an insulated barrier, as does a storm window that acts as a double-pane window to an existing window, Mr. Buck says. The storm door is the cheaper option to buying and installing a new door unit, he says.

“It’s like putting a big piece of plastic over the door and is like a wind barrier,” Mr. Buck says.

Other areas of the home that may need insulation are the attic, walls, siding and crawl spaces, according to metropolitan-area contractors. Holes in walls where plumbing and electrical lines are installed may need to be filled with mortar and insulated with something like expanding foam insulation, they say.

“Anything that penetrates the walls and goes outside, make sure it’s sealed or has a dampering device,” says Warren Lupson, president of Lupson Associates, a Silver Spring consulting firm to contractors. He is an Air-Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) apprenticeship program instructor and an HVAC adjunct professor at Montgomery College in Rockville.

A damper closes when the clothes dryer, fans, exhaust systems, fireplace or other devices are not in use to prevent air from moving in and out of the house, Mr. Lupson says.

The HVAC system needs to be regularly checked for air leakage, metropolitan-area contractors say. The filters should be changed once or twice a year, or according to the type and how often the system is operated, to prevent air blockage, they say.

The ductwork, which circulates and carries air in and out of the house to heat or cool it, needs checking to make sure it is sealed and insulated, Mr. Lupson says.

Leaks in the ductwork create pressure on any openings in walls, floors and ceilings, causing air to sneak in through cracks, holes and crevices, says Wes Davis, manager of technical services of the ACCA in Arlington.

“Leaks can adversely affect the air coming into and out of your house,” Mr. Davis says.

The heating system should be serviced at least once a year, says Anthony Gilmore, HVAC education supervisor at the Lincoln Technical Institute in Columbia.

The service should include checking the individual components, cleaning out the heat exchanger and furnaces, and oiling the motors, Mr. Gilmore says. The vents and chimneys also should be cleared of any debris and obstruction, he says.

As for the air-conditioning system, the outside coil needs to be cleaned and can be sprayed down with a hose and any obstructions removed, Mr. Gilmore says. The coil blows away heat that is pulled from inside the house, he says.

In addition to regular maintenance of the HVAC system, Mr. Gilmore suggests installing a programmable thermostat and using a humidifier to save on energy costs. The thermostat can be programmed at a lower or higher temperature when the house is not occupied, he says. A humidifier, which costs little to operate, allows for a lower house temperature in the colder months by adding moisture to the air that makes it more difficult for the body to reject heat, he says.

“A little preventative maintenance will go a long way,” says Jeff Cooper, general contractor for National Capital Kitchens Ltd., adding: “It’s possible to tighten up a house too much. It’s important to have air exchange.”

Without air exchange, the air in a house can become stale and bring in poor smells from outside, increase dust and cause static electricity, along with presenting a health concern, he says.

“You want some air coming in and some air coming out,” Mr. Cooper says. “There’s a constant flow of air through your house from heating and cooling.”

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