Last week in “Ask Vern”, we discussed whether new windows are the best answer for fixing a drafty home. 

It’s a question we get often as the winter weather sets in.

No one likes a draft. It doesn’t matter how many fleece blankets you pile on or how high you set the thermostat- if there’s a steady breeze of icy air next to your favorite spot, it’s hard to unwind.

But are windows the best route to a comfortable home?

From the advertisements I get, window manufacturers would have you believe that the money you spend will always pay itself back in just a season or two of heating and cooling bills. And while that’s true if your windows are leaking, it doesn’t mean every drafty house will reap the big benefits promised.


Because not every drafty home has window problems. 

Windows are one of many systems that work to keep your home healthy and comfortable. High utility bills and cold rooms can also be caused by weak points in your home’s building envelopes (and something we call “the stack effect” in the construction industry).

What’s that?

I’m glad you asked. In this article, I’m going to give you the tools you need to make the right decision for your winter home problems.

Building Envelopes: Layers of A Comfortable Home

“My home has envelopes? What on earth are you talking about, Vern?” -You

A “Building Envelope” is something builders use to describe the pockets of conditioned and unconditioned spaces in your home- and how they work to provide layers of protection against weather and temperature.

Take a look at this diagram:

building envelopes cause draft

In a solid home, there’s a strong barrier between heated and unheated spaces such as your bedroom and the attic, or your kitchen and garage.

With little to no crossover, a home like this heats and cools easily….and your kids are no longer dramatically pulling on extra sweaters or begging you to turn up the heat in the winter.

But building envelopes aren’t always solid. Remodeling, years of settling, and weather damage can compromise important barriers in your home’s construction. This leaves it vulnerable to drafts.

It’s more common than you might expect. Even a poorly installed ceiling fan could be the cause of lost heat!

Do You Have A Leaking Envelope?

Do any of these situations sound familiar to you?

  • You replace your flush-mount fixtures with can lights to bring a modern look to your living room. But can lights are a literal hole in your drywall ceiling…could warm be escaping into your attic?
  • You put a new roof on your home to fix some pinhole leaks- but did you check the insulation in your attic? Leaks can lead to compacted fiberglass. Crushed or compacted insulation mean weak points between your heated and unheated space. (Side Note: Do you need a new roof? See how we can help here!)
  • Your family is always in and out the garage door off the kitchen- especially when it snows. You notice when you put your boots on, they’re ice cold. How does the seal on your door look?
  • It doesn’t matter how high you set your furnace, your feet are freezing. Fleece socks, fleece slippers… nothing helps. Is the crawlspace under your floor stealing your heat?

Most homeowners understand why leaky windows keep your house from getting warm.

(Have you ever cracked open a window while making Christmas dinner, forgotten about it, and come back to an icy room? Failing window seals or windows that just don’t close all of the way can turn any room into a refrigerator!)

But other issues- like gaps from a settled foundation, cracks in your vinyl siding, or air gaps around your light fixtures- aren’t as easy to see.

What does your vinyl siding have to do with your cold house?

Let me introduce you to “The Stack Effect”.

The Whole House Chimney: The Stack Effect

Ever lit a fire in a wood stove or chimney? You’ve had firsthand experience with the Stack Effect.

home stack effect

The Stack Effect helps explain how air is pulled through the lower entry points of your house- whether that’s a hole in your crawlspace or an open front door- and up through your attic.

Here’s how it works in the winter:

“During the heating season, the warmer indoor air rises up through the building and escapes at the top either through open windows, ventilation openings, or unintentional holes in ceilings, like ceiling fans and recessed lights. The rising warm air reduces the pressure in the base of the building, drawing cold air in through either open doors, windows, or other openings and leakage.”

Just like opening or closing the damper on your shop’s wood burning stove to control the draft, we can “close the damper” on where your home is letting in cold air. We can also “close the damper” on hot air leaving your living spaces. And fixing those problems? That’s what will really keep your home warm.

What it comes down to is this: If your home is drawing up cold air from the ground floor and letting warm air out the roof? No amount spent on window replacement will keep it warm.

Instead, you need a professional to evaluate your home’s exterior armor and interior insulation to determine the true cause of your drafts.

The Good News: Your Home Doesn’t Need to Be Drafty

Smart homeowners want to know they’re putting their money towards the right solutions for their home.

And at Martin, I want to equip you with the right information you need to make those decisions.

While it might be disheartening to hear new windows might not be the answer you need, the good news is our team can help you make the best decisions for your budget. We aren’t just a siding company or a window company, we’re full-service contractors who truly want the best for your home and family.

Whether it’s

  • sealing up foundation issues,
  • replacing cracked or gapping siding,
  • new insulation in the attic,
  • or sealing around can lights and ceiling fans,

We can look at your home as a whole and give you options for making your home comfortable, season after season.

And yes, that might mean new windows! If so, we can help you take care of that, too. But before you spend money, let’s work together to find real reason your home is drafty.

If you’re in the Schuylkill County Pennsylvania area, give me a call to book a consult: 570.345.0406

Until next time, stay safe and warm.

Vern Martin

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