Air leakage is a problem that affects many homes and apartments, increasing heat gain during summer and heat loss during winter. HVAC systems become less efficient as a result, since they are forced to work harder all year long. During a winter storm like the one that started on February 13, air leakage can even be dangerous - blackouts disable heating systems and dwellings can reach freezing temperatures.
Homes and apartments can be left without heat even if they use natural gas or heating oil. Combustion heaters need an air handler to distribute warm air, and they need an extraction system to remove dangerous gases. Using a combustion heater without ventilation is extremely dangerous, since you will be exposed to carbon monoxide, a highly toxic gas.
Are you planning a residential construction project? Make sure your homes and apartments have reliable heating systems.
This article will provide some recommendations to keep cold air out of your home and apartment. Ideally, you should get a professional energy audit and a blower door test, to detect and seal all air leaks. Some air leaks are hard to find, but they also cause a significant heat loss during the winter months.
1) Get Familiarized with Air Sealing Materials
Air leaks may be found around fixed components like electrical and plumbing fixtures, but also around moving elements like doors and windows. The type of air sealing material you should use depends on where the leak is located.
- Caulking is used for air leaks that are not exposed to movement, such as those around plumbing fixtures. Some examples of caulking materials are acrylic latex, polyurethane expanding foam, and elastomeric sealant.
- Weatherstripping is used when you must seal moving openings, such as the edges of doors and windows. Some examples of weatherstripping materials are foam tape and rigid strip gaskets.
Going to a home supply store can be dangerous during a winter storm. As an emergency solution, you can block air leaks with towels, blankets and duct tape. While this is much less effective than using air sealing materials, it can help during severe weather.
2) Conduct a Quick Inspection
Energy consultants use blower door tests and thermal imaging cameras to ensure that all air leaks are found. However, you can find many of them without special equipment. A simple DIY method is wetting your hand and feeling the temperature around doors and windows. If there is an air leak, you will be able to feel the cold outdoor air. Thermal imaging cameras are safe and not difficult to use, in case you can get one, but they are expensive.
Keep in mind that air leaks not only affect doors and windows. You are also likely to find them in the attic, the basement, and around plumbing or electrical fixtures. In many cases, the cracks will be visible even before feeling the temperature with your hand.
3) Don’t Use Combustion Heaters in Enclosed Spaces
Even when doors and windows are closed, and most air leaks have been sealed, some cold air will still get inside. Consider that heat is also lost by conduction and convection, even in a space that is 100% airtight. However, you should never use a combustion heater in an enclosed space, since dangerous gases are released indoors.
Many gases produced by combustion appliances are harmful. Carbon monoxide (CO) is especially dangerous, and it should not be confused with the carbon dioxide (CO2) you exhale. CO2 must reach an air concentration of around 10% to be dangerous, while CO is lethal at concentrations below 1%. Carbon monoxide detectors are affordable and they can save your life.
If you need additional heating in your home or apartment, a portable resistance heater is recommended. It is more expensive to use than a combustion heater, since it consumes kilowatt-hours, but it will not release toxic gases!
When staying at home during a winter storm, you can stay warm by sealing air leaks and using a safe space heater. You should never use a heater with a flame, unless it has proper ventilation. Ideally, air leaks should be sealed with caulking and weatherstripping. However, you can use duct tape and blankets as a temporary solution. The best way to find all air leaks is by getting a professional energy audit, but some of them can be found without specialized methods.