Welcome to Part 2 of Lauren’s green dream apartment/home, and if you just moved, congratulations on your new home. I hope it was an easy move. Aren’t you glad it’s over? In part one of this series, I mentioned a number of things to watch for as you consider a new place to live, and a few other tips to think about once you move in. Now that you’ve learned a bit about finding the perfect apartment, I want to share four more surprisingly easy solutions to two very basic comfort problems we all face at home, all year round.
If your charming apartment is anything like mine, it comes with its flaws. As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, there’s a bump-out at my house that isn’t insulated, and whenever I walk there in winter, the floor is FREEZING. My roommates also complain that it never gets warm in our living room in winter.
Most of these things can be done in any home - apartment, condominium, or a single-family home. (If you rent, be sure to ask permission from your landlord before doing any “work.”)
What comfort issues do you face at home? Do you think you're limited as a renter to the work you can do?
Problem 1: “My house is drafty and it’s too cold in winter. I must need new windows.”
When you sit in your living room in January/February and feel a slight draft of cold air, what is the first thing you think needs to be fixed? Usually, people say the windows need to be replaced. This is false. You do not necessarily need new windows. What we’ve found when we run our blower door on a single family home is that many of these complaints are actually about windows that are performing wonderfully and do not need
to be replaced. The problem we see most with windows is that the trim around the window isn’t sealed to the wall, leaving a path through which air can escape.
Air, like water, will take the path of least resistance to move when there’s a temperature difference involved. If your apartment is warm and it’s cold outside, cold air will try to find its way inside. In summer, your air conditioned air will try to escape. The logical solution to this is to seal the gaps where air is escaping. Below is a list of places to start:
Caulk and Seal:
Diving into this, take a close look around your house and see what penetrations and gaps you can find. Check around your window at the trim and look for gaps between wall paint and the window frame or the window sill. Look for gaps in weatherstripping around your door.
Ask your landlord if you or the building’s maintenance supervisor can fix them at the low cost of maybe 1-hour of labor and less than $20 on materials. Would your landlord be willing to caulk and seal your windows? There are a lot of DIY videos for this, including one from local Chicago colleague, Green Dream Group.
Any gaps ¼” wide or less can be addressed with caulk. Anything larger than that should be addressed with expanding foam and or weatherstripping. My Florida Home Energy outlines how to do this yourself really well:
“For windows, check the outside for any sign of caulking that has cracked or peeled. Make a simple draft-checker by taping a piece of tissue paper to a dowel. On a windy day, move the draft-checker around windows, doors, electrical outlets, ceiling fixtures, attic hatches and other locations inside your home where there is a possible air path to the outside. Air movement around these spots could mean an air leak. You can repeat the process while running your kitchen or bathroom exhaust fan (if they vent to the outside).
When checking for leaks around doors and windows use a dollar bill: insert the dollar bill in the opening. If it falls out or slips out easily, the weatherstripping should be repaired or replaced.”
Be sure to get an energy assessment before doing too much. Your home operates as a system. When you seal up or work on one part of it, it affects the rest of the house. Much like your car engine, you can’t replace the timing belt or pick up any bottle of motor oil and not expect it affect the way your car runs. You’ll be spinning your wheels looking for an answer to a larger problem. Get an energy assessment first.
Check your window locks
Be sure to keep your windows locked when you’re not using them. Locking your windows creates a tight seal around your windows. When your locks are unlocked or broken, the gap in the seal allows for that winter time low-humidity cold air to get inside, mix with the higher humidity and warmer air inside, which causes condensation and frost on your windows. Because the surface temperature of the window goes down with the breeze, the condensing moisture from inside will freeze on the window! If your locks are broken, ask your maintenance guy to replace them, or you can do it yourself by following Tim Silva’s instructions from This Old House.
Problem 2: I don’t have central air. It’s really hot in the summer and I am freezing in winter. Is there a solution to this?
Yes, Utilize what you have:
Does your apartment or home have ceiling fans? Did you know that you can use your ceiling fans year round? ENERGYSTAR.gov explains that fan rotation counterclockwise in summer will generate a cool breeze underneath the fan, while a clockwise rotation at a low speed in the winter will send colder air upward and bring “This produces a gentle updraft, which forces warm air near the ceiling down into the occupied space.” Be mindful of the draftiness when utilizing this solution. Some people might find the indoor drafts uncomfortable, and running a ceiling fan at all hours could bring your bills up. “gentle updraft and away from the ceiling.
Rugs and Tapestries
Interior designers at SensiComfort seem to understand the importance of bare feet at home, just like me. In their article on Energy Saving Tips they explain how hardwoods are not the best insulators, but area rugs, curtains and tapestries can improve your style and home comfort:
“Curtain and tapestry fabric “seals” will help to keep the cold air out and the warm air in, give your home style and sophistication, and keep your energy bill low.”
While these tips will increase your comfort at home, they may or may not affect your energy savings. Check out this Green Building Advisor article for some trivia-worthy fun facts and myths on energy savings.
We understand that building science and DIY can be overwhelming. If you have any questions or concerns about your own home's amenity or any of the issues we listed above, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the Eco Achievers team. If we’ve caused you to question quality construction or property management, no reason to fret. It’s all a part of being educated in your home. Green Building and building science exist so we can build comfortable, durable, economical, healthy homes. We would love to help you get there, too. Read more about our services here, and please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions.
Part three of this series will offer some healthy-home tips to feeling better maintaining better air-quality at home.
What comfort issues are you facing at home? Do you have any budget-friendly solutions? How can Eco Achievers help you with finding the solution?