It’s winter and your home is closed up tight to keep out the cold air, but you still feel a draft. Where could it be coming from?
Sometimes, especially in older homes and on exterior walls, light switch boxes and electrical outlets can let in outside air if they are not insulated properly, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Air leaks also happen in the summer, when warm air can move in through these cracks and heat up your home.
Aside from the discomfort of having hot or cold air come into your home when you don’t want it to, inadequate insulation can cause problems in terms of energy efficiency and added moisture, says Oak Ridge National Laboratory. For instance, insufficient insulation around outlets can result in lost heat and higher utility costs.
Additionally, notes Oak Ridge, air leaking through outlets can bring moisture with it, which can condense and turn into liquid within the walls. This can become a problem if too much liquid accumulates on the insulation. When insulation in the walls gets wet, it doesn’t work as well and could cause damage to the structure of the building or become a health risk for those residing in the home, according to Oak Ridge.
To avoid these risks and help prevent moisture, reduced energy efficiency and discomfort, you’ll want to identify the sources of the air leaks.
According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI), you can find air leaks around your outlets and light fixtures with a simple test. On a windy day, take an incense stick or smoke pen and carefully hold it in front of your outlets, particularly those with an air path to the outdoors. Watch the smoke stream. If it moves horizontally, there is likely an air leak, NACHI says. Use caution when using incense sticks and be sure to keep them away from drapes and other flammable materials, NC Cooperative Extension says.
If you find out your outlets are letting in a draft, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says that usually means the electrical outlet insulation is not adequate. There are a few options for insulating electrical outlets:
Whichever insulation method you choose, the NACHI also recommends putting child-safety plugs into outlets when not in use, as it’s an easy way to help prevent additional cold air from coming into your home.
Drafts in a home can be more than just unpleasant — they may be an indication of air leaks. If you are feeling the chill, check your electrical outlets and light switches and try one of these suggestions for improving your insulation.