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Weatherizing Right

2010 January 12

With the subfreezing temperatures here in DC, the cold spots and drafts around my apartment are constant reminders to do the weatherizing projects I put off in the late fall. My procrastination has paid off in one sense – since joining EPA two months ago, I’ve learned a lot about keeping a home healthy while weatherizing or renovating.

This weekend I installed some plastic sheeting or film over a couple of old, single-pane windows in my apartment. It’s a short-term fix which should cut down on heat loss and make our rooms a bit more comfortable. As long as there is still some ventilation or outdoor air exchange elsewhere in my unit, it shouldn’t raise any health concerns.

I’ve also got a tube of caulking that I’m planning on using for the edges of a few windows that I don’t want to use the plastic around. Caulk is pretty easy to use, but proper ventilation is important during installation since some caulks may contain toluene or other potentially harmful chemicals. I’m planning on setting up a fan and opening one of the windows I haven’t weatherized yet in order to tackle this project.

If you’ve been looking to fill a larger crack or hole, you’ve reached for a can of spray foam sealer at your local hardware store. I used a can in my last house because it provides great insulation for cracks and crevices. At the same time, spray foams pose a health hazard if not used with proper personal protection (respirators and gloves) and work site ventilation. Spray polyurethane foams contain diisocyanates, which are potent lung and skin sensitizers (or allergens) and irritants. Click here to link to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s resource page or check out a presentation from EPA’s Green Building experts.

I’m not planning on ripping out any windows or otherwise disturbing the old paint in my apartment, since I don’t own the unit. My building was built around 1930, well before 1978, so if I did attempt larger modifications, it would be very important to avoid spreading lead. Come April, all contractors working in pre-1978 houses will be required by EPA to use lead-safe work practices. Here are three basic steps to lead-safe renovations: contain the work area to capture dust and debris, minimize dust, and clean up thoroughly.

About the author: Matthew H. Davis, M.P.H., is a Health Scientist in EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection, working there on science and regulatory policy as a Presidential Management Fellow since October 2009. Previously, he worked in the environmental advocacy arena, founding a non-profit organization in Maine and overseeing the work of non-profits in four other states.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Joseph Zummach permalink
    January 12, 2010

    Good post I’m curious about the silicone caulks if there is any toxic off gassing from them? I know they smell of acetic acid but is that all? I too have relied on infiltration air exchange to assure air quality. I rely on wood heat and feel like it is good to have plenty of ventilation.

  2. Lina-EPA permalink*
    January 12, 2010

    Very good info. Thanks.

  3. Colorado Springs Utilities permalink
    January 13, 2010

    Customers ask us, “should I get a new furnace?” to help improve my heating efficiency. We always tell them weatherization is the way to go. Thirty-three percent of heat is lost through floors, walls and ceilings/attics. Matt, the steps you’re taking are low-cost ideas that not enough people do in their homes. Our call center has received numerous calls from customers complaining about their highest bill ever. Ironically, we just had a natural gas decrease, so it’s a matter of explaining that use equals cost. We encourage them to take action like you have.

  4. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    January 18, 2010

    Weatherization should always be the first step in working toward higher energy efficincy and fuel cost reduction. The reason is becaue that is where the biggest gains are to be had. The weatherization program needs to be expanded, especially during this time when more are unemployed and really need to achieve reductions in their utility bills. In California gas and electric power shutoffs are at all time highs. But, it is clear that when an appliance needs to be replaced, it should be replaced with the most efficient equipment possible. And Southern California Edison has a program called the Energy Management Program that will buy and install for low income customers who must replace something a new appliance that will be an EPA certified Energy Star appliance. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

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