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To Plug the Leaks, You Have to Find Them

Power Lines: California's energy crisis is hitting home. Electric bills are rising, and people are looking for ways to cut consumption and costs. This is the 10th in a series of energy-saving tips. Previous stories can be accessed at

March 17, 2001|LYNN O'DELL

Tired of dodging drafts? In the energy wars, you have options.

You can hire an energy auditor, armed with an infrared camera and a powerful fan that pulls air out of the house. When the higher outside air pressure flows in through cracks, the pro uses a "smoke pencil" to find the leaks, which could be adding up to 30% to your energy bills. Audit price tag: $300 to $500.

Or you can launch a guerrilla attack with incense sticks, a large window fan and a do-it-yourself energy audit from the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Network ( /consumerinfo/refbriefs/ea2.html).

First, make a list of obvious drafts by checking for gaps around windows and doors, and examining the exterior where different building materials meet and where dryer vents, fan covers, plumbing pipes and telephone wires enter the house. Inside, check for openings along baseboards and where walls and ceilings meet. Check around attic hatches, recessed lights and fans and electrical outlets on outside walls.

Seal those leaks with caulking and weatherstripping; the California Energy Commission offers step-by-step advice at

To check your work, close exterior doors, windows and fireplace flues and turn off the heater. Seal off a room--stuffing towels under the door, covering heating and cooling vents.

Set the fan snugly in a partly open window (seal the area around the fan) to pull air out of the room. Kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans can also be used. Light the incense and slowly pass it by the spots you inspected--watch for wavering smoke; that's being pushed around by outside air getting in.

Rather go with a pro? Try the National Assn. of Energy Service Companies (http://www.naesco .org), a trade group, or the phone book under Energy Conservation.

Send your questions or suggestions regarding energy use to Home Design, Los Angeles Times, Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626; or send e-mail to Please include your name and phone number.

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