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The Leak Hunter

2012 May 30

By: Danny Orlando

It’s funny how some leaks concern us and we will fix the problem right away.  Suppose you walk up to your car and a tire seems really low or you check your hot water heater and see water leaking.  These are the type of obvious leaks we repair everyday.  But, what about the heated or air-conditioned air in your home?  These leaks are elusive and require a ‘hunter’ mentality.  And so where do you start?

My house is a 1985 cedar ranch with a finished basement.  I purchased the house in 1991 and I quickly saw the energy bills increasing.  At the time, I was only concerned that everything worked and I didn’t know as much as I do now.    An event that stands out in my mind and one that made me realize I had more than a minor problem occurred one cold winter morning.  The temperature approached zero degrees (unusual for Atlanta) and the windows in my kitchen had a considerable amount of ice forming on the inside of the aluminum window frames.  Even if you don’t know much about energy efficiency, this should get your attention because ice inside your house is not a good thing unless it’s in the freezer.  There were other signs of inefficiencies, too.  Back bedrooms were hot in the summer and cold in the winter.  I would dust one day and have to dust again the next day.  A visit to the garage was a pleasant experience because it was often more comfortable than some of the living areas.  And, there was insulation that was turning black.  Time to get busy and start the hunt!

A great way to begin is to have an energy audit performed on your home.  Select a company that specializes in testing your home and finding the big problems.  They will use specialized tools that will reveal what you can’t see.  This type of audit will really open your eyes and will be worth every penny.  It will provide you with the treasure map that you need to move forward.   Since 1991, I have had four of these done and the air leaks in my house are now few.

Be warned!  Leak hunting is addictive.  You will need some cans of foam sealant (there are two types – water-based and expanding), duct sealant (mastic), and some electrical outlet gaskets.  Some places to look for leaks are under sinks, tubs and toilets, the dryer exhaust area, the fireplace damper, wiring holes, electrical sockets, air-conditioning ductwork, and holes on the outside of the house.  If you replace flooring, you also have an opportunity to foam or caulk under the baseboards.

Since I started my hunt, I have reduced my electricity usage by nearly 37 percent, or $600 dollars per year.  I’m still hunting and I do find unsealed holes/penetrations that I missed. For a leak geek this is an exciting moment.  Leak hunting will improve the air quality in your home, reduce dust and allergens, and you will probably see fewer bugs in your house.  Let the hunt begin!

Danny Orlando joined EPA’s Atlanta office in 1991 and oversees the ENERGY STAR program in the Southeastern states.  His family’s quest for lower energy bills has inspired him to become an avid leak hunter. For more information on home improvement with ENERGY STAR, click here.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

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