Like a lot of Americans, moving-company owner Art Delaney has been trying to curb his energy use to help the planet and pinch pennies. First he got serious about recycling. Then he traded in his SUV for a Toyota Prius. Now he's trying to tame an energy hog so obvious it was somehow easy to overlook: his leaky house.
The 30-year-old Delaney home here in frigid upstate New York is heated by fuel oil. It burns through some 1,000 gallons in a typical year. Delaney and his wife didn't think much about that burn rate until last year when they built a new vacation house in the Adirondacks that's much more energy-efficient. Suddenly, their old house seemed like a sieve.
So, this winter, the Delaneys hired a specialist to ferret out fossil-fuel waste. After more than two hours of climbing through the house on a recent morning, the house doctor found cracks everywhere: around the fireplace, beside bookshelves and under windows.
"We might as well be sleeping in a tent," Delaney said.
Marketers, politicians and consumers like to imagine a world of solar panels, wind turbines and cars fueled by wood chips. But none of that gadgetry packs the here-and-now punch of a decades-old option: plugging leaky homes with a caulk gun.
In the drive to curb the growth in fossil-fuel use and greenhouse-gas emissions, "it's the leaky holes that matter," says Hal Harvey, chief executive of the ClimateWorks Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit. Backed by more than $1 billion in pledges, the foundation supports renewable energy but is working to persuade governments first to implement tougher energy-efficiency standards. The goal, Harvey says, is "systematic ways of plugging those leaks."
If your caulking looks like this, you're probably spending more money on your utility bill than you need to.