My Energy Star featured home leaks like a sieve

EnergyStar Homes

Last May I moved into a new Energy Star featured home in a new subdivision in northeast Chico. I appreciated the rating, and my utility bills were lower than the home I sold that I had installed solar power on. The appliances are all Energy Star rated efficient and thats good. I still plan to put solar on this home, but the process takes a lot of planning.

This weekend I decided to finish some work I started in upgrading the light switches from standard to the flat rocker switch stylish models. It also happened that yesterday was a strong north wind. While taking the light switch covers off I noticed cold air coming out of the switchplate holes, and when the covers were off completely, I could feel a significant breeze!

Thinking maybe it was just the one I was working on, I started to check other switches and outlets in the room, then the whole house. Yep, with the north wind pressurizing my attic, it was like having vents all around the room. I had hoped that the contractor would have sealed the hole where wires come down from the attic into the interior of the house. Its easy to do, and takes only a quick shot of sealing foam. No such luck.

The outside air instrusion wastes a lot of energy in heating/cooling, it also brings a lot of dust into the house. Time to get out the Great Stuff. It baffles me that contractors don’t foam seal all utility holes in and out of a home as a matter of course. Its easy and inexpensive, and far easier to do when the home is being built. You’d think any new home built today would have this done standard, especially ones that are touting Energy Star rated appliances and other energy saving features.

If you have excessive heating/cooling bills it may be that your home leaks like a sieve too. Just get a can of this sealant, and start working on any orifice that makes it to the outside.

There are lots of other things you can do to make your home more energy efficient, and the EPA Energy Star website has a great tutorial to help you figure out where your home could use attention.


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ms miller
March 15, 2007 11:14 am

We just built & moved into an Energy Star home here in north Texas. As part of the process for our home to be certified as an “Energy Star Home” and to qualify for a lower mortgage rate, we had to work with the local energy rater company, (The Nelrod Co.) to verify that our home was indeed, an “Energy Star” home.
Nelrod made 4 inspections of our home:
An approval of plans & proposed ‘ingredients’ ie:HVAC system, window efficiency ratings from manufacturer, planned insulation, etc.
Physical inspection after insulation & ductwork but before drywall. Here they looked specifically for the filling of any holes in the top plate (electrical or plumbing) with foam as well as sealing around all windows & doors with expanding foam, checked for the numbers/installation practices on the wall batt insulation (19=wall, 30=vaulted ceilings), correct sealing of seams on the house wrap, etc. Then they did a machanical check for tightness of the air ducts. The ducts were great, along with everything else, except we had missed a couple of the holes in the top plate. So they had to schedule another 2nd phase visit. The next time, a week later, everything passed.
Last visit after completion to verify ceiling depth of foam (8″) and to run a ‘blower door test’, which is where they actually pulled a vacuum on the whole house (windows & doors closed) to check for the required degree of outside air infiltration. The house came in with flying colors – not too tight (requiring additional air handling system), but just right. This was very, very interesting.
Anyway, I suspect the builder of your home either didn’t work with an energy rating company or the rating company didn’t pay close enough attention to the details. I know that the Nelrod people are very, very busy. IMHO, it’s a crime against the general public that all general contractors are not required by law to build any structure, especially new homes, to the Energy Star code.
The whole thing was a pain in the butt – ensuring that all the sub-contractors did what they were supposed to do, but all in all, it was worth it. When the vast majority of people in our area have over $250 electric bills and ours was under $100…yes, definitely worth it.

George M
September 1, 2007 7:18 pm

I just stumbled back on this post, following the link to the Vista story, and offer the following: Back in 1987, out here in rural Texas, I acted as my own prime contractor for remodeling an older home. The local insulation company I hired not only plugged all the holes in the top plate, they put painter’s tape (heavier gauge than masking tape) along many of the seams between studs, particularly in corners and next to doors and windows, all as part of their standard insulation package. That was 20 years ago, before the emphasis on energy efficiency was very pronounced. I think the builder of your home cut a lot of corners. I should mention I am a Ham Radio operator, and I had a heck of a time keeping a couple of slots open to run cables through later. They all ended up tightly sealed, and I had to carve out the foam to install my cables. I then replug the holes with polyethylene foam, which is removable when I need to change things.
Now, tell me how these central heat/AC units get energy star ratings when the sheet metal work is so poor, and the conditioned air path leaks like a seive. I have added many feet of aluminum tape to the cabinets, and am still struggling with the filter door, trying to make it airtight. And my A/C contractor did a heck of a lot better job that what I see in current construction 2007.

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