Dodging the Draft

Checking your home’s energy efficiency

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EASY AS 1-2-3: Shrink-wrapping your windows with plastic insulating film, above, is an easy and affordable way to keep chilly air outside while preventing warmer air from drifting through the cracks. Courtesy photo

Picture this: It’s the perfect stormy night. Snow is falling. You’re curled up on the couch by the fire, binge-watching Cobra Kai on Netflix. The wind howls outside while at the same time a draft through the house battles the heat of the fire roaring in your wood stove. Brrr. If this sounds familiar, you could probably benefit from an energy assessment of your home.

One of the biggest violators during wintertime is a drafty window. According to the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, heat gain and loss through windows are responsible for 25% to 30% of residential heating and cooling energy use. Short of replacing all the windows in your home, there are steps you can take to decrease drafting.

Frost King makes both indoor and outdoor window insulation shrink kits that seal your windows. Though not the most aesthetically pleasing solution, it’s as easy as some double-sided tape and a hairdryer. The kits can be installed on metal, vinyl, painted, or varnished window frames and are also available for basement, standard, extra-large, and picture window sizes. There’s also one for patio doors. Ace Hardware carries its own version in addition to the Frost King, 3M, and Duck brands.

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Just a few of the options available at Mountain Hardware in Truckee. Photo by Juliana Demarest/Moonshine Ink

While some windows and doors may be obviously drafty, there are less conspicuous spots like ductwork, flue or chimney shafts, and exterior wall staircases that could be letting in cold air. The quickest and easiest fixes for these types of draft issues are caulking and weather-stripping. For nonmoving components, caulking is suggested to fill in cracks or gaps less than a quarter-inch wide. For moving parts like windows and doors, weather-stripping is the preferred method of sealing off any spaces that could allow air to drift through the cracks.

Most utilities providers offer customers the opportunity to schedule a home energy audit, for which someone will come to the home to evaluate its energy efficiency and determine areas where energy is being lost. A specialist will assess a number of areas in the home: lighting, caulking around windows and doors, insulation levels of walls and ceilings, HVAC systems, the age of appliances. You will receive customized tips to improve energy efficiency; the auditor will recommend upgrades and tell you about rebates you may qualify for to help cover the costs.

The Truckee Donner Public Utility District, Liberty Utilities, and NV Energy offer such free home energy assessments. NV Energy, which has temporarily suspended in-home audits due to the pandemic, offers customers a complimentary online energy assessment instead. Visit nvenergy.com to start your own assessment, and you’ll receive tips on how to reduce energy consumption as a bonus. You can also find a five-minute home energy checkup through Pacific Gas and Electric at pge.com.

Energy.gov is a great resource when it comes to energy efficiency, offering a do-it-yourself energy assessment in addition to tips for scheduling and preparing a professional audit. Learn about the different types of weather-stripping, choosing the right variety, and proper installing techniques for both windows and doorways.

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