(NEWS CENTER) -- While heating prices are down from the extreme highs we saw just a few weeks ago, odds are pretty good they'll be heading upward in the coming weeks. That's why homeowners need to do what they can to make sure their house is buttoned up for the winter.
Tony Gill has been helping Mainers seal up their homes for thirty years. He's worked on hundreds of homes and often sees the same issues.
"Most houses in Maine have severe leakage problems in to the cellar and out through the attic, either around attic hatches or around chimneys. On the basement side, it is typically around windows and this joint we just looked at and very typically that is very leaky."
Tony suggests homeowners walk around the home, inspecting it with an eye toward areas where air can get in, or out.
"This door right here at one point obviously had a screen door similar to what was on the front. It would significantly benefit this entry way right here as far as heat loss through this door."
Tony says bulkhead doors are designed to keep rain out, not air.
"A piece of poly over the top of this actually would air seal this significantly if you brought it down to the ground and weighed it down so that air didn't blow underneath it. Quick. Simple. Easy."
It's also a good idea to make sure the things you've fixed in the past are still working.
"All tape is temporary. The problem with a product like duct tape is if there is any moisture in the area, and there is going to be under here, it will fail fairly quickly. You really need to use some kind of a permanent type caulking when you are doing this kind of an application."
Make a list of the items you need, like caulk and insulating foam, you'll be surprised how quickly they will pay for themselves in reduced heating costs.
"For a five dollar investment and an hour of your time, you certainly will have your money back in a short period of time."
With an initial overview of the exterior complete, it is time to go inside and look for ways heat is escaping.
"What we're learning right here is this is the coldest surface in the room -- condensation always happens on the coldest surface in the room."
For all of twenty-five cents an incense stick can be a useful tool in finding air leaks. It is best to do this on a day when your home is warm and the outside is much colder.
"The reason for that, the air inside your home will really be trying to get out of the holes at the top. You can now walk around with this source of smoke and go to places you think might leak and see whether or not the smoke streams into the holes."
Test outlets on outside walls, door frames and even recessed ceiling lights.
"Each one of these pot lights has got a significant air leakage up into the attic, a huge amount of air is sucking out of this house going up through the top of the house."
A pull-down attic door is another escape route for heat.
"We should take a look and see whether this is leaking. Now, we are almost certain that it is because we can see a lot of black around the edges right here. Anytime you see dirt or dust around a cavity, it is quite likely that air is moving through it and the edges are filtering out the dust."
Believe it or not, a major contributor to heat loss is a common heating source.
"Fireplace dampers typically don't seal really tightly. Now we can check and see how this one is doing, again with our smoke, you can kinda see it streaming out behind me here. We want to go over and see whether or not air is being pulled into this fireplace and we haven't tried this, we really don't know. Oh yeah, there it goes."
Smoke is not the only way to detect drafts.
"Whenever you see a spider web, spiders instinctively build in drafts. If there is a spider web it is quite likely there is a draft involved."
Here are some of the materials we'll need to fix the problems we identified while walking through this home -- and their approximate cost.
Caulk for windows, weatherstripping and cracks = $2.50 to $5.00 a tube, and another 5 bucks if you need the gun to apply it.
Rope caulk can also be used, we'll be using it to seal the attic door = $3 to $5
Insulating foam, we estimate 3 cans for an average sized home = $5 to $8 a can
And a roll of duct tape will run you between $5 and $8 dollars, if you don't already have five laying around.
The bottom line is that for roughly 35 dollars could save you hundreds this winter.
This story was originally posted November 3, 2008.