Holding onto heat


I live off-campus in a house that my family owns. That puts me in a kind of weird position, because my roommates are paying my family rent, and I feel like I’m responsible for some of the stuff that a landlord would usually do. So I’m feeling pretty bad right around now, because our place is just too cold.

We have heat in the house, but no matter how high we crank it up, it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. My parents say that we’re spending too much on heat as it is, yet we’re never really warming up our place! It’s kind of drafty, which might be the problem–but I’m really not sure, so I thought I’d ask the experts!

It’s possible that something is wrong with your heating system that is causing you to use up energy without getting good results. But something else is more likely, experts say: that nice warm air that you’re creating is escaping your house!

You mention that your space is drafty, so that’s a good place to start your investigation. Invest in some draft blockers and start putting them in from of gaps below your doors and along your windows. Try to figure out where the biggest drafts are coming from, and try to stop them from ushering your warm air out of your house.

Of course, it may not just be the gaps themselves. Windows, doors, walls, insulation, and even outdoor siding can allow heat to escape, experts say. If your parents don’t want to pay for over-the-top heating bills, perhaps their best bet would be to invest in the structure itself, swapping out old windows and siding for new installations that will better insulate the space. Windows and doors can let as much as 30% of the heat your system generates escape, and you can lose more on top of that if your siding and insulation are lousy.

There’s another part of the physical structure of your space that may be sending your heat out into the big cold world, and that’s your house’s attic and roof. Attic experts say that the oft-neglected space at the top of your home is a prime suspect in any heat-theft situation. Old insulation, unnoticed drafts, and a whole host of other problems can allow your home’s hot air up into your attic and then out into the sky above. A poorly insulated roof alone can cost you up to 25% of the heat your system generates!

A good way to figure out what’s actually happening here is to start with your heating system itself and work outwards. Can you feel the heat coming through the vents or off of the heaters? If so, that’s probably not your issue. Does blocking up the drafty spots help enough? If not, take a look at the things mentioned here, and try to determine which ones seem old and suspect. Maybe your windows are relatively new, but your attic is full of ancient, deteriorating insulation–or maybe it’s the other way around. An investigation of these spots should go a long way toward helping you hold onto your heat. Your parents will want to help you: heating accounts for 45% of a typical American energy bill, so gaining a more efficient space will be good for your parents’ finances!

“Home, more than anything, means warmth and bed.”

— Vivienne Westwood

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