Picture it: You’re snuggled up, all warm and happy with your loved ones, enjoying a nice toasty fire on a cold winter’s night. You climb up out of the heavy, soft blanket, stretch out, and walk over to grab some marshmallows so you can make s’mores. Then, it hits you: a blast of frigid night air assails you where you stand. It passes through you: the hair on the back of your neck stands on end. Goosebumps prickle up over your skin. The blood freezes in your veins. You open your mouth to scream but it’s far too late: the cold has taken you, in your own home! Outside, old man winter grins smugly. He has claimed another victim.
Alright, we know that was rather…dramatic, but you get the idea: drafts are a huge pain. Drafts are caused when a house’s warm air leaks out and gets replaced or even pushed out by that sneaky, cold outside air. Not only does can this make you uncomfortable in your own home, it also makes your heating less efficient. When cold air is getting into your house, your heating has to work harder to continuously pump in more hot air. This will drive up your heating costs.
Enough is enough! You pay enough for heating without having to worry about how annoying little problems like drafts are making you pay even more. Don’t get gaslighted by a stiff breeze. That’s why Blue Ox has put together this primer all about drafts: how they happen, where they come from, and how you can stop them. With a few simple steps, you can wipe that smug grin off old man winter’s face once and for all.
How Do Drafts Happen?
Drafts can happen a couple different ways, but they all have to do with two phenomena: pressure and suction. Cold winter winds blowing against your house create a pressure difference between the indoors and outdoor air. This pressure difference creates a suction effect that pulls at warm air. If you have small gaps in your walls, warm air gets pulled through them and out of your house. Then, that dastardly cold air is all too happy to squeeze into the warm air’s place. You feel that cold air as a draft. That’s right–winter literally steals warm air out of your house.
Another reason your house might be feeling drafty has to do with that cozy fire from earlier. As you remember from high school chemistry (maybe–we had to google it), warm air rises, but cold air doesn’t. That means sources of heat like fireplaces, which literally push heat up your chimney, are contributing to the drafty feeling. When heat rises, air pressure rises with it, creating a pressure difference and thus a vacuum lower in the house. And you know who’s all too willing to fill that vacuum.
Finally, if you have any fans on, like cooking or bathroom fans, or even household rotating fans, that could be contributing to your draft. The point of fans is to push air: in this case, they’re doing their jobs a little too well and are pushing away warm air. Then that eternal opportunist cold air automatically fills in the gap. This is great during the summer, but during the winter it feels drafty.
Where is the Draft Coming From?
You may have noticed that all the different ways drafts come about have something else in common, besides pressure and suction: gaps. For the warm air in your house to peace out of your house, it needs a way to get there. It finds its way out through any size or shape of gap in your home’s insulation. The most common place for warm air to escape is through window frames. Try to see if you can feel a breeze near your window frames, especially near particularly large or old windows. Windows and their frames both naturally warp over time, which can make the window not sit quite properly. It’s a tiny gap, but warm air can escape through it nonetheless.
Make sure you also check the door frames of any doors that led outside, especially back doors or porch/patio doors. Check the bottom of the door as well as the frame itself. Like window frames, the door can come slightly unseated over time, creating the little gap heat needs to escape.
Fireplaces can also let warm air out, even when they aren’t in use. If it feels colder around your fireplace, it may be because warm air is getting sucked up and out through the chimney. Make sure to close your flue whenever a fire isn’t burning. You should also keep your fireplace securely covered whenever you’re not using it.
After you’ve checked all the likely suspects, go to your basement, attic, or eave. Check to make sure, as best you can, that all the insulation in these parts of the houses is installed properly. Check twice as carefully if your attic or basement is unfinished, and the insulation is exposed. That pink gunk is the only thing between you and the awesome, indifferent forces of nature, so be sure it’s doing its job! If you basement feels much colder than the rest of your house, drafts are likely why
Remember: heat can escape through even the smallest of gaps. Check lighting fixtures and power outlets to make sure they’re as flush with the wall as they can be. If your power outlet is loose at all, it could be letting heat leak out through it.
What Do I Do About This?
At this point, you’ve probably heard enough about drafts to last you a lifetime. Now that you know what they are, how they’re caused, and where they’re coming from, we’re on to the really important question: how do I stop them? To prevent drafts, you have to deprive warm air of any means of escape your home. Think of your house as Alcatraz, only for air and nobody ever even allegedly escaped from it. When it comes to windows, if you don’t think the gaps seem that gaping, try putting up some heavy curtains. These will help keep cold air from worming its way in in a pinch. If your frames are old or you don’t think they’re very well put-together, consider re-caulking them or putting in weather stripping. You could also invent in some heavy-duty, weatherproof windows if you really wanted to cut out windows as a factor.
Make sure your doors are installed correctly in their frames. If you’re a little handy, take the door off its hinges and re-install it. Check to see if there’s any give in the hinges during this process. Next, make sure the rubber threshold is where it should be. It can be easy to kick that loose on your way into the house. Replacing your screen door with a storm door would help too, as long as you make sure that one fits right, too!
Electrical outlets and lighting fixtures are easy; just straighten and tighten. Caulk only if you have to to seal off a gap. Insulation is harder. If you feel like your insulation isn’t doing its job, trust your instincts. Parts of it may have fallen away, or older material may no longer be thick enough to keep warm air in and cold air out. Check out these Angie’s List tips for ways to make sure it’s working right and what to do if it isn’t.
You’re cold enough this winter without having to worry about keep all that out of your own house. When Blue Ox installs a furnace or heater, we want to make sure that our customers are getting everything they need from it. If you need your heating or electricity looked at or replaced this winter, give us a call anytime and we’ll be happy to help quickly and effectively. Ask us about drafts while we’re there. We Minnesotans have to stick together to get through these winters!