Saturday, November 3, 2012

Weatherproofing With Plastic: Fun and Thermodynamics

Yesterday I talked about my fear of lead contamination due to the age of the house I'm renting.

Today, I'm happy to say that we got the results of the blood test my poor daughter had to go through, and my fear is gone.  The test is measured on a simple number scale, and a rank of 5 is bad.  Anything below that, and you're in the clear.

She measured at 2.  Well within the safe guidelines.  Yay!

Now that my fears have been soothed, it's time to go back to making this house winter worthy.  

It's a little after 9:00 am as I write this, and the temperature has only raised to 28 degrees, so far. The projected high for today is 38.


Yep.  Definitely time to do more weatherproofing!  I've already been working at caulking up air leaks around the house, one of which was so huge that I could see through it, and into the neighbor's yard.  Yikes!

It's an old house, of course, so things like this are to be expected.  I'm not complaining.

The thing is, moving across the country and into a house that requires me to spend so much time on weatherproofing is actually good for me.  It teaches me what to look for, and how to go about fixing it.  It's a form of Rebecca Heaven.

Childlike drawing of a rainbow and sun, two hearts
Last year, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.  I plugged a few air leaks,

angry stick figure wielding a caulk gun, teeth bared
but, in all honesty, I was running blind.  I had no idea how to do, well, pretty much anything.  Naturally, I spent a lot of time putting myself into layers and layers of clothing.

This year I'm still pretty green behind the ears, just a baby in terms of cold weather climates, but what I've learned is already making life easier.  One really awesome, as well as simple, way to beat the cold is to 'plastic your windows'. Being from the desert, this is one of those brilliant ideas that I had never needed to know about.

What does it mean to plastic your windows?

Well, it means that you go out and buy a box full of thin, clear plastic sheets and tape,

Duck brand window shrink film kit

grab a hair dryer, and, "Ta da!"  Instant air seal.

Pretty nifty, right?  It's a lot of fun, too.

The first thing you do is place tape around the edges of the entire window frame for the plastic to adhere to.  You don't want the tape to be too close to the glass, because the plastic needs to be separate from the window itself.

Next, attach the plastic to the tape.  Allow it to fit loosely.

Now for the fun part:  Hold the blow dryer an inch or two away from the plastic, and turn it on.  The heat shrinks the plastic film, allowing you to be able to see through it almost as effectively as the original window.

looking through the window which is marred by grayish diagonal lines

I did two windows.  This one was the first, and I didn't do a very good job with smoothing the plastic over the tape.  The result was tightening in some areas, and loosening in others.  That's why you see 'grayed' lines travelling down the photo.

Done correctly, this isn't something you'd see.  I took pictures of my first, incorrectly sealed window, and the second one, which was done much, much better, so that you can see the difference.  I chose the corners, because at that point it's much easier to notice.

wrinkling window corner
Window 1:  Yikes!!!

smooth window corner
Window 2:  Much more smooth!!!

Huge difference, right?

So why is shrinking plastic along the frame of a window such a great choice for weatherproofing?

That's were the beauty of thermodynamics comes into play.

Don't run away!  

This is a scientific concept that's rather easy to understand.  I promise.  I'll make it very brief.

In a nutshell, energy seeks a state of equilibrium, or balance.  

In this case, the cold air outside and the warm air inside are at war with each other.  The cold air zeroes in on the weakness of my defenses, which happen to be the windows (If you touch the windows, they're pretty cold).  Heat comes to my defense, rushing to meet it, but can only do so much.

When two opposing energy types come together, they seek a state of balance, and in this case, the air in my kitchen becomes much cooler.

Not pretty.

The plastic works so wonderfully, because it becomes an air cushion.  The cool air isn't able to branch out as far when it enters, because it's being contained.  The heat that rushes to my rescue has a smaller battleground in which to fight, while having more space to cover within the room before having to deal with the nefarious cold air, thereby becoming much more efficient.

The cold air, therefore, can't invade as much of the room, and I get to eat at the kitchen table without wearing a jacket.


See?  I told you it wasn't that hard!  Granted, this skipped a ton, but it gives you the basics!  If you want to have a real explanation of the laws of thermodynamics, hit the NASA page... just because, well... I like NASA.  Who doesn't?  

What additional tricks do you use to beat the frigid winter air?  I'm hungry for more simple weatherproofing tips!

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