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Bust a Gust Featured on Jan 03, 2011
Identify and snuff-out drafts in your home or apartment. We'll show you how.
By keeping chilly air from seeping in, you'll eliminate 175 lbs of CO2 emissions this winter and knock $23 off your heating bill.
720 people have reduced CO2 emissions by 59.65 tons by completing this challenge so far. That's equal to turning off the electricity of 68 homes for about 1 month!
- Home use of natural gas and petroleum accounts for 6% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion.
- Air leaks in a typical home account for as much as to 10% of heating bills, fuel consumption and emissions during the heating season, according to the Department of Energy.
- Plugging air leaks is one of the cheapest and easiest home fixes that can result in real energy savings.
Carbonrally teamed up with The Daily Green ( www.thedailygreen.com ) to find an easy, but surprisingly meaningful winter Challenge: Bust a Gust. The Daily Green’s readers suggested a number of winterization tips — including curling up with a cat in bed with you at night: Smart! — and we settled on this one because it’s actionable, tangible, fun… and it actually matters. We were also inspired by Rallyers Centerpoint and Violet who submitted winterization ideas in the Carbonrally Workshop.
Heating homes in the winter amounts to a sizeable chunk of the country’s carbon footprint, and a surprisingly big chunk of that energy is wasted as it drifts through old ill-fitting windows, cracked calking and the like. An individual can eliminate as much as 175 pounds of CO2 — and as much as 10% on heating bills — every winter by sealing air leaks. The great news here: Stopping drafts is about the easiest DIY home project you can find, requiring little more than caulk and some persistence.
The Carbon Connection
Most homes and businesses are heated with fossil fuel furnaces. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. homes and businesses rely on natural gas for heating while most of the rest rely on oil. Emissions from residential and commercial fossil fuel use have been growing since 1990 along with the growth of the population and the construction of new — often bigger and more energy-intensive — buildings. Spikes in energy use, not surprisingly, follow weather patterns: the colder the winter, the more fuel burned to keep warm. In all, residential energy use accounts for about 6% of fossil fuel usage (not counting fossil fuels burned at power plants to generate electricity for homes, including the fraction of homes with electrical heating systems).
Getting It Done
First, feel for drafts: If you can feel cold air, sleuth out the air leak and plug or caulk it. Take a close look both at any openings in the walls or ceilings — mail chutes, utility connections, dryer vents, outdoor, etc. — and at places where two different building materials meet — such as at door and window frames, at corners, around chimneys and along the foundation.
Then, depressurize your home in preparation for an “incense test”. On a cool, windy day turn off your furnace, shut all windows and doors and switch on all exhaust fans (such as those in the bathroom or over the stove). Then, light a stick of incense (be careful to avoid drapes and other flammables!) and walk along the inside of your home, hugging the exterior walls: Wherever smoke is sucked out or blown into the room, there’s a draft.
The nature of the draft will dictate the necessary fix. The Department of Energy estimates that inadequate insulation in the floors, walls or ceilings amounts to nearly one-third of air leakage, while ducts, fireplaces and plumbing add up to nearly 45%. Leakage from doors and windows amounts to 10% each. The solution, for leaky doors, windows and many exterior plumbing fixtures, is often as simple as caulking or weather stripping. Your hardware store also stocks a range of other products to help you snuff-out common drafts in your home.
While caulking and weatherstripping will tackle many air leaks, tax incentives will pay for 30% of the cost, up to $1,500, for many more expensive fixes like insulation, new doors or new windows. And low-income families should check with state agencies, all which offer weatherization assistance.
Rules of the Challenge
This Challenge asks that you sleuth-out and seal air leaks in your living space. By killing the drafts, you’ll reduce CO2 emissions by 35 lbs per month. If you accept this Challenge, you will accrue 35 lbs of CO2 reduction each month for the 5-month heating season. This Challenge can be repeated once per year.
The Daily Green:
DIY Home Energy Audit
Home Winterization Tips, and How to Pay for Them
U.S. Department of Energy:
A Guide to Detecting Air Leaks
How to Fix Common Air Leaks
Tax Incentives for Energy Efficient Insulation, Windows, Doors and more
DSIRE: Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency
See the Math
Rather than start from scratch, we will be basing our numbers on the Setback Payback Challenge which encouraged Rallyers to install programmable thermostats. As in that Challenge, we’re using the Programmable Thermostat Savings Calculator provided by Energy Star.
Here are the numbers or assumptions we’ve plugged in or changed to get our Challenge payoff:
- The amount of energy you need to keep your home warm and toasty depends a lot on where you live and how many days a year you need to turn on the furnace. For example, a home in Connecticut needs to use its furnace 6 times as many days per year as a home in Georgia. For the purposes of our calculations, we’ve chosen St. Louis, Missouri as our average American-heating-consumer city. Some of you live in regions where you need to use your furnace more; some of you live where you need to use your furnace less.
- We are going to assume that you are already using a programmable thermostat to lower your home heating bills, or that you are already careful about turning down the heat when it’s not needed. We will adjust the calculator’s settings so that it has a 68 degree normal temperature setting and a 62 degree setback temperature. The calculator assumes that you will set back your furnace 8 hours each night and then 10 hours during the day, seven days a week. We took out the weekend daytime setbacks.
- We also changed the fuel costs to match current national averages. We used $2.53 per gallon of fuel oil and $15 per thousand cubic feet of natural gas. (That’s equal to about $1.50 per therm.)
- Setting the calculator with the above settings, we see that cost to heat the home in St. Louis equipped with a programmable thermostat is about $900 for the heating season. (Actual numbers range from $835 for a gas furnace to $1055 for an oil-burning boiler.) The heating season is assumed to be 5 months long. So heating costs work out to about $180 per month average for the season.
- The amount of carbon dioxide released when you burn fuel oil is different than the amount released when your burn natural gas. The calculator uses the following EPA conversions: 116.97 lbs CO2 per million BTUs (MBTU) from burning natural gas and 161.27 lbs CO2 per MBTU from burning fuel oil.
- Again with the above settings, the calculator shows that you would use 56 MBTU per heating season if you have a gas furnace and 58 MBTU per heating season if you have an oil-burning boiler.
- Multiply the MBTU used per heating season by each conversion factor to find the amount of CO2 released per heating season by homes using the two different fuels. That gives us 6550 lbs CO2 for homes burning natural gas and 9354 lbs CO2 for homes burning fuel oil.
- Remember that we are calling our average heating season 5 months long. Divide each number by 5 to get CO2 released per month: That gives us 1310 lbs CO2 released per month for natural gas homes and 1871 lbs CO2 per month for fuel oil homes.
- There are 5 times as many homes using natural gas for their heating as there are homes using fuel oil. To get our final carbon savings, we did a weighted average of the CO2 released by homes using fuel oil and homes using natural gas. That gives us just about 1400 lbs CO2 released per month by homes heating with gas or oil, that already use a programmable thermostat, but which have not yet been sealed against drafts and air leaks. If you heat your home with electricity, your CO2 emissions may be higher.
- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that air leakage accounts for up to 10% of a homeowner’s annual energy bill. Energy cost, fuel use, and amount of CO2 released are all directly proportional, so we can apply this 10% number to our 1400 lbs CO2 released per month number to get 140 lbs CO2 released per month due to air leakage.
- Finally, it is estimated that caulking and sealing air leaks results in a 25% reduction in air leaks. Multiply 140 lbs CO2 released per month due to air leakage by 25% to get 35 lbs CO2 per month saved by sealing the air leaks in your home.
- Based on annual heating costs of $835 for a gas furnace and $1055 for oil, you should save about $21 or $26 each heating season by plugging your air leaks. If you use electric heat, the dollar savings may be higher.
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