Home Heating: Dear Liza, there’s a Hole in the Bucket!

Home Heating: Dear Liza, there’s a Hole in the Bucket!

Are you excited to get your January heating bill?

Those of you who insulated, caulked and plugged the obvious holes might very well be excited to see the resulting savings. But the rest of us are groaning and ready to put on another sweater to keep the costs down.

Letting the heat escape from your home is the equivalent of transporting water with a hole in the bucket: your heating payments are literally dribbling “out the window.”

But finding the holes in your home can be a challenge.

blowerdoorgraphic Alex Mircic has a couple of decades of home-building under his belt. Having worked as a general contractor with a large company most of his life, he knows where a home’s nooks and crannies are. He first started looking more closely at energy consumption in his own home when he realized 92% of his energy costs were going toward heating. He then invested in his own equipment as he set out to measure the difference he was making with each energy efficiency improvement. This, combined with studying and adding up his hydro and gas bills, gave him a precise reading of the difference he was making every time he “plugged the holes.”

Then he started helping others. “What I’ve found is that most houses have a hole the equivalent of 3 x 3 feet when you add up all the air exchanged per hour.”

Above image: Note the temperature under the carpet is -7C when the rest of the ground is at -16C. The ground is glowing from the heat that is escaping from the basement, where it is missing insulation.

Sometimes it’s a gap in the attic or basement insulation, or a combination of multiple small leaks. But sometimes the air leaks are really not in obvious places. “I recently checked out an older home. The couple who bought it was making improvements to make it more efficient, like installing brand new top-of-the-line windows,” said Mircic.

Turns out, after an energy audit, Mircic found the windows were causing the greatest problem. All the cold air was coming in through the walls around the windows. They had not been installed properly.

Finding the hole in the bucket

Mircic uses two main pieces of equipment to find air leaks in a home.

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Blower door: A blower door is a powerful fan that mounts into the frame of an exterior door. The fan pulls air out of the house, lowering the air pressure inside. The higher outside air pressure then flows in through all unsealed cracks and openings.

Thermal camera: A thermographic camera or infrared camera is a device that forms an image using infrared radiation. Combining this technology with a blower door, an energy audit inspector can get a visual reading of where warm air is flowing, exchanged, or ‘lost’. Other heat sources are also made visible by the camera including electrical components, overheating fuses, leaky plumbing, faulty ventilation, etc.

Next step: plug up those holes.
Mircic makes recommendations about where to insulate, which doors and windows are improperly installed, where caulking could help and other tips. The bottom line is: there’s little point investing in a high-efficiency furnace if much of the heat it produces escapes from a poorly-insulated house. A well-insulated house will also result in more evenly heated rooms and keep your home cooler in the summer.

Smaller changes and habits can also add up to greater energy savings. For example, did you know that installing coloured blinds and keeping them away from the window helps keep heat inside rather than reflecting it out of the house?

Have a look at your last heating bill. Ask neighbours and friends who have insulated their home how much they pay. Call us for a home energy audit. Find out what government programs are available to subsidize your home energy efficiency improvements.

Fix that bucket.