Weatherstripping 101

Weatherstripping 101Even though it may look like your house has no gaps between your window trim and the wall, or between the upper and lower portions of your double-hung windows, chances are there are lots of small cracks you may not see.  As a result, you may end up leaking climate controlled indoor air to the outdoors.  Sometimes this is obvious and you can feel the air temperature differential, or you could see bright light shining through the gaps when the room is darkened.

Homeowners and pros alike handle the issue of detecting these gaps in a few different ways:

  • Performing yearly maintenance on the weatherstripping. When you are sure that your home isn’t leaking air, there’s no reason to refresh the weatherstripping or re-caulk, but if you’re not sure or don’t think you will be able to tell where leaks are forming, spending a day laying down new beads with the caulk gun and replacing any worn weatherstripping will ensure your home is ready for the coldest and hottest days.
  • Taking advantage of infrared camera technology. Infrared cameras are a great tool.  Although they are not fool-proof, if you want to give this tech a try, it is possible to pick up a model that will attach to your smartphone for a lot less than the units the pros tend to use. When an area turns up whatever color is set in your camera settings, you can then manually inspect that area for unexpected air flow.
  • Enlisting the help of an energy specialist for an energy audit.  Many utility companies have an energy specialist to help with energy audits, or they keep a list of independent home pros that can perform the same service. They have all kinds of useful tools to not only point out the drafts, but they can help you deal with these areas of energy loss in your home.

You may be surprised (or even alarmed!) at how much of your home’s indoor air is leaking in from the outside and escaping out from within.  You cannot efficiently weatherstrip your home until you know where the leaks are so it’s a painful but necessary first step to find them.  If you’re just really in love with the caulk gun, a refresh never hurt anything, but you probably have other things you’d rather be doing.

Which Materials Make Good Weatherstripping?

Theoretically, you can use most anything for blocking air leaks, but some materials do a lot better job than others. The very best weatherstripping does two things: it physically blocks drafts and acts as insulation by slowing the transfer of indoor heat to cooler air outside via convection.  Simply blocking air flow is not enough to stop heat loss if the material blocking the cold air is a poor insulator.

These are some of the most common materials used for modern weatherstripping:

  • Felt.  Matted fabric fibers may seem like a great insulator, but they are quite visible.
  • All-Wool Felt.  Felt made of wool is more durable than the standard grade felt, but it is still really visible.  It will, however, last and last.
  • Vinyl.  This product is not the most durable material, but it can suffice if you have a drafty low traffic area.
  • Foam. There are several types of foam used in weatherstripping.  Some are easier to install than others but they all pretty much do the same thing.  PVC foam weatherstripping is basically a long, skinny pool noodle!
  • Aluminum and stainless steel.  Aluminum and stainless steel are used in high traffic areas along with plastic, vinyl, foam and felt.  Alone these may not be the best insulators, but together the less durable materials survive the stress and slow the heat loss you’d normally expect from metals.

Weatherstripping Technology

When you go to the home improvement store to buy weatherstripping, you’re going to find many different configurations requiring a whole variety of installation techniques and tools.  If doing the job yourself, check the package before you leave, just in case you don’t already have all the necessary equipment!

Mostly, weatherstripping is pretty self-explanatory once you find the right material for the job.  For example, when you’re shopping for weatherstripping to squish in the window sash to stop the leaks there, you may realize there are more options than you bargained for.  The following rundown of some of the most common types should help you find just what you need:

  • Tension seals. These are best used inside the track of a double-hung or sliding top windows. When they’re properly installed, they are practically invisible, and the self-stick vinyl makes them easy to install.
  • Reinforced foam.  These are great for door and window stops or the top or bottom of window sashes. They work well but can be tricky to install and can be very visible even when properly installed.
  • Compressible tape. This tape comes in a variety of materials.  All are excellent for blocking irregular spaces or in corners where it’s often hard to create an effective seal. These tapes work best when compressed, but they are visible and cannot handle much wear so should be used in light duty areas.
  • Rigid strip gaskets. Use these for door or window stops, at the top or bottom of a window sash, or at the bottom of a door. These gaskets have a low price point, are easy to install, and are often self-adhesive.  Even though they are highly visible, they come in a variety of colors to help them blend in.
  • Door sweeps.  These are generally your best choice for the bottom of a door.  While easy to install and adjust for uneven thresholds, door sweeps are highly visible and can catch on carpets if not set properly.
  • Magnetic gaskets.  Welcome to the future!  Magnetic gaskets work much like the gaskets inside your refrigerator door.  They’re best installed on the top and sides of doors, double-hung windows or in sliding window channels.  While these are not an inexpensive choice, they are extremely effective.

Any of these materials can be used to plug up common sources of leaking air around the windows and doors in your home.  When you add a nice heavy caulk bead to the mix, you will find your home a lot warmer than you might have imagined it could ever be.

Installing weatherstripping is a matter of choosing the right kind of weatherstripping, both in materials and technology.  Truly, the harder part of weatherstripping is buying it.

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