Fall is on the horizon. As cooler temperatures draw near, it’s time to begin thinking about how you can prevent energy loss and improve the energy efficiency of your home. The key to meeting these goals is making sure your heating system (or, in the summer, your AC) cycles as few times as possible. Climate control keeps us comfortable, but it can do a number on your energy bill. While some energy loss is inevitable eventually, there are several ways to greatly slow the process and still keep your home comfortable. For the next few weeks, we’ll pinpoint specific areas of the home that are vulnerable to energy loss and discuss what you can do to keep things running efficiently.

Today, let’s learn a little more about the nature of energy loss in the typical home. One of the most basic principles of thermodynamics is that heat seeks cold. This is bad news for a homeowner, whether you’re trying to cool your house down in the summer or warm it up in the cooler months. There are three main ways the “heat seeks cold” principle works against your goal of preventing energy loss:

  1. Heat in your home is lost by way of conduction–moving away from your home through solid materials–when there is a temperature difference between the outdoor and indoor environments.
  2. Heat is carried away from your home via convection–cold air moves into your home by any means necessary, and the air currents carry the hot air up and out of your home.
  3. Heat radiates–travels in the form of non-visible infrared light–out through all of the materials that make up your home.

Preventing energy loss, then, is about identifying both where heat is escaping and where cold air is making its way in. The common culprits and the ones we’ll focus on are probably ones you’d have guessed: walls, windows and doors, siding, attics, and roofs all pose a potential for energy loss. The condition of each of these areas in your home plays a huge role in determining how much heat loss you’ll experience in them. Start googling, and you’ll quickly find that the percentage of heat loss websites assign to each area of your home varies widely from source to source.  But one thing you’ll find consensus on is the solution: insulation, insulation, insulation.

What does insulation do? We all know its purpose, but how does it serve that purpose? The U.S. Department of Energy simplifies the answer: “Most common insulation materials work by slowing conductive heat flow and — to a lesser extent — convective heat flow.” So, effective insulation prevents heat from moving through solid materials and helps mitigate the loss of heat in the form of air that rises and leaves your home. You may remember from our posts on windows that insulation is rated with something called an R-value. This value measures the degree to which a material resists conductivity or heat flow. There are countless types of insulating materials, and each corresponds to a specific insulation need. Paramount to the effectiveness of any insulation, though, is the quality of the installation.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at ways to increase energy efficiency via insulation throughout areas of the home that present the greatest potential for heat loss. Chances are, some areas of your home are already properly insulated. With the colder weather headed our way, consider which areas you might turn your attention to this year.