How Chinese Stink Bugs Helped Inspire One Man To Save 35% On His Home Heating Bill
Chinese stink bugs sucking juices from a large Hubbard squash. Photo by John Laumer, Flickr. All rights reserved.
I've written before about how people in the US Mid-Atlantic states hate Chinese Stink Bugs (which first hitch-hiked into the US State of Pennsylvania via crates or whatever from China). These large beetles apparently only bite garden vegetables and bean leaves. However, they have a remarkable ability to sneak into homes each fall to seek refuge from the cold...sometimes hanging on through much of the winter. Did I mention they stink and land on your head and crawl into the shower with you? Without doubt, this horde will spread to more US states and possibly to Canada.
One Pennsylvania resident decided to make best of this situation, taking the stink bug presence as a double challenge. He tightened up his home's various air leaks with the objective of cutting routes of entry for the beetles while reaping adding savings on the family energy bill. The result was a gratifying, if only partial, success!The remainder of this post was excerpted from an email-distributed newsletter written by Robert Sylvester of the Chester County Citizens for Climate Protection (4CP) and may only be used with attribution and reference.
Is your house plagued by stink bugs this fall? These really "bug" me, in part because they remind me that I have yet to find and seal all of the holes into my home which allow insect entry but which also add to my heating and cooling bills. I've been working to seal my 1970s era home for several years, I can see progress, but as long as I see stink bugs I know that I can do better.
Bill Haaf from the 4CP Board of Directors asked me to share with you some of the things that I have learned over the years - information that you might find useful. I'm going to start by sharing a few of the most important and easiest things first.
First and foremost, you would like to measure progress. But this is hard to do so I will save this subject for later.
The Department of Energy says that the most important leaks in many homes are leaks from forced air ducts into unconditioned space. Even though my basement is conditioned space, I've looked for and sealed every leak that I can find. To do this, I turned the circulation fan to "on" and I felt for leaks at every corner and joint. And I found a lot. The experts recommend sealing with mastic. I didn't know about this recommendation when I got started and instead used aluminized tape which has held up well if I clean the duct of dust first. Standard duct tape will come loose over time. The heat lost to these leaks is highly variable, but averages about 20% according to the DOE.
I have a "Bilco" door into the basement. That is a metal outside door at the head of a flight of stairs. These doors do not provide an air tight seal and are un-insulated. The compartment makes a nice beer cooler during winter weather! I had my handyman add an exterior grade door when he finished the basement. That may have been the single most important improvement I've made to my house. When I bought the house, the furnace burned 1.5 gallons of oil an hour. Now I've downsized the burner to 0.85 gallons per hour. I think, but can not prove, that the furnace does not run as much as it did before. I wish that I can compare annual oil consumption, but for a variety of reasons this does not work for my home. I do save a lot.
Do you have a pull down ladder from your attic? Many homes have some type of attic access. Unless you have a Bilco door, this will be the most poorly sealed and insulated "outside door" in the house. I've sealed my attic door with elastomeric foam and then I built a polyurethane box to insulate over the ladder. Since doing this, I have found more and more air leaks into the attic including holes for wiring, the powder room ventilation fan exhaust and older style vented recessed lights. I found these leaks in part by looking for stained fiberglass insulation. Insulation filters dust from the leaking air and slowly turns darker and darker. Sealing these leaks has eliminated the draft which we used to get in the kitchen during cold weather. Now the snow melts evenly and slowly from my roof. A caution - the older recessed lights are not rated for insulation contact and must be vented to avoid excessive heat buildup. These fixtures may be replaced with unvented, insulation contact (labeled IC) rated fixtures. My handyman helped me to do this.
Our family room is the coldest room because it is the lowest occupied room, it has three exposed walls, and it is the room furthest from the furnace. I found that the windows were not tight in their frames, but could be easily tightened with more elastomeric foam added at two sealing points. Also, I've tightened the seals on the doors. That room is still cold and what I've done to solve this problem might be the subject of another newsletter.
Several people have asked me how I would know if my house was too tight. I measured for radon in the basement and found that it was less then 10% of the EPA advisory limit. Also, the only time that we get condensation on our windows is while we are taking a shower. Lasting condensate would signal a serious problem.
The good news is that I have learned how to measure the heat losses from the house on a daily basis and can see the benefits of these and other changes. My house does not cool down as much overnight, saving us almost 35% of our heating bills. That is on top of the savings from the Bilco door and duct leak repair! The bad news is that I keep finding stink bugs and I know that I have more opportunity.
Earlier Treehugger.com posts on Chinese stink bugs.
Attack Of The Vital-Juice-Sucking Chinese Stinkbugs
Good News: Invasive Chinese Stink Bugs Repelled by Common Weed ...