Armchair Builder

Home Air Leaks: Tips to Minimize

Now that it’s getting cold again for many of you, we decided to bring back one of our more popular posts about saving energy in your home.  One of our readers asked where the biggest air leaks typically occur in a home.  The first thing most people think about is insulation but typically, the most neglected place in your home is the exterior door.  Most homes have at least two exterior swing doors so it’s important that we keep them adjusted properly.  Let’s take a look at some quantities and discuss how to make a few simple adjustments to limit air leaks.

Air Leaks in Exterior Doors

Let’s say you have two exterior swing doors that are three feet wide by 6’8″ tall (a pretty standard size).  The perimeter of each door measures about 19.33′.  Now let’s suppose you have a gap around your door that is equivalent to the thickness of a penny (.061″), which is totally possible…we’ve seen gaps as much as 3/8 of an inch.

With this penny example, you wind up with the equivalent open area of fourteen square inches per door.  That’s a big hole!  Now multiply that by the number of doors you have and you get an even bigger number.  If you have two exterior doors with the penny sized gap around them, you have the equivalent opening that you could fit a football through!  When it’s ten degrees outside, a hole this big can lead to big air leaks with really large heating bills.  Couple this with the recent increases in costs to fuel your home, and you have a real budget buster.

It probably goes without saying that if you had a hole in the side of your home the size of a football, you would do something to plug it.  Yet most people neglect to do anything to stop the air leaks around their exterior doors. Let’s take a look at some options for making your exterior doors tighter to slow air leaks.

Door Thresholds

The top picture is of a threshold on an exterior door.  The good news for homeowners is that many of these thresholds are adjustable.  When they are adjustable, they contain springs inside that allow you to turn the screws counterclockwise and let the tension out.  As the tension is let out, the threshold raises to eliminate the gap at the bottom of the door.  If your exterior door doesn’t have an adjustable threshold, you may want to take a trip down to your home improvement store.  Most stores have threshold pieces you can add on top of your existing threshold to help fill the gap.  We’ve seen houses that get moisture and even ice at the floor up next to exterior doors in the winter.  If you have this, there is probably a gap between the door and the threshold.

Bottom Door Sweep

The door sweep is the rubber piece attached to the bottom of the door.  This piece is designed to compress when the door is in the closed position.  The door sweep has a tendency to where out rather quickly because of the constant friction between it and the threshold.   Because of this, you will want to inspect it every so often and replace as necessary.  Replacement door sweeps are also available through your local home improvement or hardware store.  You may want to take your existing sweep with you for a close match.  One other option would be to contact the door manufacturer as this will give you the best fit.

Perimeter Weatherstripping  

Exterior door weatherstripping is designed to seal up the gaps at the sides and top of your exterior doors.  This piece typically is attached to the door jamb.  If you have a steel door, the weatherstripping typically has a magnet inside that draws it to the door to create a tight seal.  When the door is shut check to make sure the stripping is continuous around the door and that it makes good contact.  If not, you may need to replace the weatherstripping.  Replacement is typically easy as you just pull it out of the slot in the door jamb.  You cut the new piece to the exact length needed and push it into the slot in the jamb.  Typically no fasteners or glue is necessary.

Striker Plate

Door Striker Plate

For doors made out of  fiberglass or wood, the weatherstripping is designed to compress and fill the gaps to prevent air leaks.  If the weatherstripping isn’t getting compressed enough when the door is shut, air leaks will happen.  The easiest way to tighten up the seal between the door and the weatherstripping is to adjust the door striker plate.  The striker plate is the little piece of metal with the rectangular opening that is attached to the door jamb.  The purpose of the striker is to accept the bolt from the door knob (this is what locks the door and keeps it shut).  By moving the striker plate closer to the weatherstripping, the door will shut more tightly against it.  This should eliminate some of your air leaks.  Keep in mind, in order to get a tight fit, it is sometimes necessary to tighten the striker to a point where you need to apply a little pressure to the door to get it to latch.

If you can’t get a tight seal around the entire perimeter of the door after adjusting the striker plate, you can replace the existing weatherstipping with a thicker one.  These can be purchased from your local home improvement store.  Just make sure you cut the material to the proper length to prevent gaps.

Door Hinges

Some of the higher-end exterior doors come with adjustable hinges.  With these hinges, you can adjust the location of the door by making small changes to the set screws.  If you’re not sure how to operate your adjustable hinges, check with the door manufacturer, as all of these are different.

Storm Door

If the above items don’t take care of your air leaks, you could install a new storm door to provide an added layer of protection.  Most storm doors come with a glass insert that can be replaced with a screen or opened in the summer to provide cross ventilation.  Be sure to install the screen in the spring to let the hot air escape.  You don’t want the green house effect of the glass door to melt the paint on your door!  Or worse yet, melt your door.  Trust us…it’s possible.

For more ideas for minimizing air leaks and building a more energy efficient home, check out this article…Energy Efficiency:  Builder Tips for a Tight Home.  Looking for more info on insulation choices?  Check out this article…Insulation Types: The Good, The Bad and The Expensive.  Have you ever thought about building your own home?  Check out some of our great DIY home building videos and articles.

Michael Luckado has built, remodeled and repaired thousands of homes across the U.S.  He co-founded to help you save money and hassles on your building projects.





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