COASTAL LIVING: Winter exposes heat inefficiency

NANAIMO – Variety of causes for cold spots in homes or offices.

With our recent taste of ol’ man winter’s icy blast some were reminded of the shortcomings of many of our West Coast homes.

Sometimes the furnace or baseboards will be doing fine but you notice there are one or more cold spots in your home, places that are not as comfortable as are others.

With our culture’s tendency to treat symptoms rather than causes, such cold spots are likely to be addressed with a new baseboard heater rather than to investigate why that room or location is not up to par.

There can be a variety of causes for cold spots in homes or offices.

The first thing to check are possible air leaks.

When the wind is blowing some of these become more obvious.

The most common air leaks I find in homes are around windows and doors (skylights are almost universally leaky), where pipes and wires enter the building (including under sinks), fireplaces (more than half of the dampers to our fireplaces are left open at any given time, and often leak like crazy even when closed), attic and crawl-space hatches, and outlets and switches in pre-1990s homes.

Air leaks are inexpensive to seal and they make a real difference, especially in homes or buildings that are two or more stories tall.

The larger number and size of windows is a huge factor in how much heat is lost, as windows are often the No. 1 source of heat loss, especially if they are clear and have aluminum frames.

The new low-emissivity windows reflect more of the radiant heat back inside, saving tons of heat.

Only here on the West Coast do I see ventilated crawl-spaces that are insulated around the edges.

Why insulate against the cold air while allowing that same cold air to pass in? Yes, crawl-spaces need to be ventilated.

While insulation companies claim otherwise, computer modelling consistently reveals that the best place to insulate is above the crawl-space.

But watch out for places where the outside air moves through the crawlspace vent and into the ceiling cavity above the insulation.

This makes for very cold spots on the floor above, voiding the benefits of insulation in that area.

Even if you choose not to insulate above the crawl-space, do wrap insulate any heating ducts, otherwise a lot of your heat will be wasted.

Apart from saving lots of money, a more energy-efficient home is a lot more comfortable. An idea worth warming up to.

Ian Gartshore is chairman of the non-profit Energy Solutions for Vancouver Island.