Work Toward Maximum Energy Efficiency With These Home Improvement Projects

Published on: November 5, 2014
Inside hvac ductwork | AC Southeast®

Do you wish your utility bills were lower? Do you suffer from home comfort problems when the temperature and humidity levels climb outside? Take control of energy consumption and improve home comfort by pursuing home improvement projects for energy efficiency. Here are four common areas that need attention and the projects that provide the solutions you’re looking for.


The unoccupied space above your home is one of the most significant causes of energy waste. By knowing the problems commonly associated with attics and what to look for, you can complete effective home improvement projects for energy efficiency.

Common Problems in the Attic

In your Southeast U.S. home, an unsealed and uninsulated attic makes the upper story hot and muggy. Uneven temperatures between rooms make this effect feel even worse. In the winter, the upper story is drafty and uncomfortable, and your energy bills increase all year round.

What to Look For

Take a trip into the attic. At first glance, notice whether or not you can see the attic floor joists. If so, either the initial installation didn’t include enough insulation or it has settled over time. Either way, you probably need to add more insulation.

Next, you need to check for air leaks. There are plenty of places for air to escape through the attic floor: duct registers, recessed light fixtures, wiring, plumbing, dropped soffits and the attic hatch are just a few places air could be leaking. Carefully dig beneath the insulation and look for unsealed gaps around these penetrations. If you can see through the hole, air is getting through.

Home Improvement Projects for Energy Efficiency

Before you add a fresh layer of insulation, you need to seal as many holes in the attic floor as you can find. Sealing large holes results in the biggest energy savings. To help you find them, lift up sections of insulation and look for black residue. Dirty insulation is a sign that air is moving through it. Fill large cavities with expanding spray foam and smaller gaps with caulk. Install aluminum flashing around the base of metal flue pipes and surround the bottom six inches with an insulation dam to prevent exposing insulation to super high temperatures and causing a fire hazard.

Next, you’re ready to add insulation. You can add more of the same insulation that already exists or you can use a different type. Just remember, if you install fiberglass batts or rolls over loose fill cellulose, make sure the fiberglass has no paper or foil backing. If you decide to increase attic insulation with loose fill cellulose, you may want to leave the job to a professional since installation requires a special blowing machine. The goal is to achieve an R-value, or heat resistance value, of R-30 to R-60, which is about 9 to 24 inches of insulation, depending on the type you choose and the R-value you aim for.

Basement and Crawl Space

If your home has a basement or crawl space, leaks in these areas could be causing you to lose energy. Fortunately, two quite straightforward home improvement projects for energy efficiency can remedy this issue.

Common Problems in These Areas

You know the basement could use some work if the floor feels cold to the touch and the temperature varies from room to room. Air leaks and lack of insulation could cause heating and cooling bills to go up. These problems could also allow insects and rodents to get into your home.

What to Look For

If you have a crawl space or unfinished basement, you can measure the existing insulation quite easily. Simply read the R-value printed on the batts inserted between ceiling rafters and wall studs. You need between R-13 and R-25 worth of insulation to meet Department of Energy (DOE) recommendations.

Then, check for air leaks. The sill plate, windows and basement wall penetrations such as a dryer vent or outdoor faucet are the most common sources of air infiltration into the basement. Penetrations through the ceiling of an unfinished basement or crawl space such as wiring, plumbing and ductwork are also a concern because leaks in these areas could introduce unconditioned air to the living space.

Home Improvement Projects for the Basement or Crawl Space

Start by improving the air tightness of the basement. Use caulk and expanding spray foam to fill gaps in the top and bottom of the rim joist cavity. Look for any holes cut out for wiring, pipes and other services and seal around them as well.

Cut and insert fiberglass batts against the rim joist where needed. Also, replace any missing insulation between the ceiling rafters to separate the space from the living area.


The network of ducts running through your home acts as the circulatory system for heated and cooled air. If the design is poor or the ducts leak, you should address the issues with effective home improvement projects for energy efficiency.

Common Problems

High heating and cooling bills are the first problem with leaky, uninsulated and poorly designed ducts. In addition, some rooms may be difficult to keep comfortable, especially if they’re located far from the heating or cooling equipment. If you have leaky ductwork running through the attic, you may notice excessive dust or odd smells when the furnace or air conditioner runs.

What to Look For

Ductwork is often out of sight, out of mind. To identify if you have any of the above problems, you need to examine exposed duct runs. These are most commonly found in the attic, garage, unfinished basement or crawl space. Once you have found exposed ductwork, look for kinked, cracked, crumpled or torn flexible ducts; loose or completely disconnected joints; peeling duct mastic or dried out duct tape; and fallen or missing insulation.

Home Improvement Projects for Energy Efficiency

Begin by sealing leaks in ductwork joints with mastic sealant or metal tape. Despite its name, duct tape isn’t appropriate because the adhesive eventually fails due to repeated exposure to high and low temperatures. Remove any old sealant and replace it with new product.

Now it’s time to insulate the ductwork with insulation rated at an R-value of 6 or higher. Special foil-lined flexible duct insulation is available at your local hardware store. Wrap the insulation around exposed areas of ductwork and secure them with metal tape to reduce heat transfer via conduction and lower your energy bills.

Doors, Windows and Walls

You come in contact with doors, windows and walls every day, but have you given much thought to how airtight they are?

Comfort problems resulting from drafts are the biggest reasons you might pursue tighter doors, windows and walls. Gaps in these areas also allow insects to enter more easily.

What to Look For

Your first task is to check how much insulation the exterior walls have. You can gain access to the inside of a wall through an outlet. Flip the circuit breaker controlling the outlets and light switches in that room. Remove the outlet cover and shine a flashlight inside. If you see insulation butting up against the receptacle, that’s a good sign. Conduct this test with several outlets around your home.

Next, check for air leaks around windows and doors. To quickly test how well the weatherstripping seals, close the window or door on a piece of paper. If you can pull the paper out without ripping it, the seal isn’t tight and you’re wasting energy.

Then, check for leaks around window and door frames, outlets and switch plates, baseboards, exhaust fans and vents, plumbing and wiring penetrations, and anywhere two building materials come together. The easiest way to do this is to light an incense stick or dust some talcum powder into the air near the potential leak. If the smoke or powder swirls into the crack or is blown into the room, you have a leak.

Making These Areas More Energy Efficient

It might not be possible to add insulation the home’s finished walls, but you can consider the possibility of blowing in cellulose insulation through a small hole in the wall. Settling and clumping are both possibilities, so be sure to trust the job only to a qualified professional.

Move on to replacing the weatherstripping around windows and doors. Remove the old product, clean the surface and measure the length to determine how much weatherstripping you need. Peel off the label from the adhesive side and press the material snugly in place. Close the window or door and repeat the paper test to ensure a job well done.

Next, seal other air leaks in your home. Caulk is the material of choice for sealing cracks around wall penetrations and areas where two building materials come together. Gaskets go behind outlet covers to stop drafts. Storm windows or simple pieces of plastic increase insulation against the cold.

For more home improvement projects for energy efficiency, or for help finding a reliable HVAC contractor, contact AirConditioningSouthEast.com.