Get a winter read on your house: Eight signs that say “You need a comprehensive home assessment”

After a subsidized assessment, you decide whether and which suggestions to implement. Some simple, low-tech measures will save you money right away.
house in scarf
Monday, January 28, 2013
by Norm Jen

Wintertime is a great time for us homeowners to evaluate how well our homes are performing.  Insulation, air-tightness, and heating systems are all being put to the test as they work help keep us warm and comfortable.  Is your house performing well?  Here are eight signs that you house is chugging away to heat the great outdoors.

1.    During cold snaps, you find yourself raising the thermostat setting to stay comfortable – During the winter time, two major factors determine what makes us feel comfortable: temperature and air movement (otherwise known as a “draft”).  In most homes, the air movement is most pronounced during cold weather.  If you find yourself continually raising the thermostat setting during colder weather, you may have an air movement problem.  Properly executed air sealing work may significantly reduce drafts inside a house, increasing comfort, lowering utility bills, and reducing the need to compensate by raising the temperature in your house.

2.    Bare spots on a snow-covered roof – The days after a light snowfall are a great time to “read roofs.”  Properly insulated roofs stay colder for longer periods of time and a well-insulated home should keep that beautiful snow on the roof for a long time, until the sun and weather melts it.  [If heavy snow accumulates on your roof, have it removed to avoid excessive roof load.]  Anything that heats up the roof will accelerate the snow melting process.  If there’s a spot on your roof that’s bare, and the rest of the roof is snow-covered, then that might indicate a localized spot that is under-insulated or improperly air-sealed.

3.    Your house is the only one on your side of the street with no snow on the roof – Compare your roof with others facing the same direction (for example, if your house faces north, compare it with neighboring houses also facing north).  If the others are covered in snow but yours is not, perhaps your house is under-insulated.

4.    Icicles or ice dams form at the edge of your roof – These are indicators that snow is melting on the roof and migrating down to the edge of the roof.  If the roof eaves are colder (and many are), the water will re-freeze causing icicles or ice dams to form.  (Ice dams are particularly unwanted, because when they melt, they often leak into our houses.)  Again, insulation and/or air sealing work may be needed.

5.    One room feels colder than others in your house – If one room (or one part of a house) feels colder than the rest, try a simple experiment.  Leave the door to the room closed for a day or two.  If the room is definitely colder than the rest of the house, it’s time to call in an expert.  There are a number of causes for such a condition.

6.    Your basement is the warmest room in the house – If your furnace or boiler is in a large unfinished room, such as a basement, and that room is now one of your favorite rooms during the wintertime (when I was a kid, I remember coming in after playing in the snow and huddling around the boiler in my parents’ house), this suggests the furnace or boiler is not very efficient.  If your furnace or boiler is getting up there in age, perhaps it’s time to think about getting a newer, more efficient one.

7.    Droplets of water are forming inside your house – Anytime you notice droplets of water forming on the inside of your house, this is a source of concern because water formation can lead to mold problems.  During the wintertime, be on the lookout for water formation in or near high-humidity areas like bathrooms, kitchens and laundry areas.  Proper ventilation and insulation can go a long way toward minimizing condensation issues.

8.  Mice or other rodents inside your house – Around this time of year, humans aren’t the only ones seeking warmth and shelter.  Mice and other small rodents are too.  Do you have a problem with mice or other small rodents in your house or basement?  While the primary objective of air sealing is to keep cold air out of your house, it is also quite effective at keeping critters out too!

Do any of the above apply to you?  If so, you should consider having a Comprehensive Home Assessment (CHA).  This is much more than a simple energy audit; it addresses comfort issues as well as health and safety matters.  A CHA will help you diagnose problems like the ones listed above and more. 

The best part about getting a CHA?  The cost is greatly subsidized by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) so for most Westchester residents, it’s free. And undertaking a CHA in no way commits you to carry out the resulting recommendations. Moreover, those recommendations are clearly explained in order of “biggest bang for the buck.” You can do some and not others.  Your call.  But it all begins with having a read of your home’s energy efficiency.  If you would like to learn more, go to

Here’s what’s going on:  Below, blue arrows show “cold air in.”  Red arrows show “warm air out.”

Norm Jen, a local builder with the Jenesis Group, is also the Energy Coach for Energize New York

New Castle residents: Visit to get the ball rolling on a home energy assessment.

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Our basement was always very warm during the winter (with old furnace and new furnace, alike) until our plumber suggested we wrap our steam pipes.  Our uninsulated basement pipes were allowing warm air to heat the basement.  It is not a difficult project but will require a few days’ work.  Insulating our basement pipes has noticeably increased the heating efficiency in our home.

By no more warm basement on 02/15/2013 at 8:18 am

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