How to Create Thermal Barriers to Save Money on Heating and Cooling

How to Create Thermal Barriers to Save Money on Heating and Cooling

The importance of properly insulating your home should be quite apparent at this point. Creating thermal barriers in the home to prevent heat moving from one place to another can save a lot of money on heating and cooling costs and help keep living and working spaces more comfortable.

There are many effective ways to create thermal barriers in the building envelope. You can find tips on how to do weather stripping to fiberglass windows (or other energy efficient windows) to studs to drywall to insulation to caulks and other sealants. However, there are also opportunities to create air and thermal barriers inside a home or office.

Thermal Barriers Inside

When it boils down to it, there are two types of spaces inside a building: conditioned and unconditioned.

Unconditioned areas are those areas, like a crawl space, storage shed, or attic, that may be enclosed but aren’t climate controlled. These areas simply reflect the ambient temperature of the things around them.

Conditioned areas include spaces like bedrooms, bathrooms and living rooms. Typically, unless you leave your windows open all the time, these areas are sealed off to outside temperatures and therefore maintain a temperature that you set for them.

When you’re trying to save money and reduce your carbon footprint, it’s helpful to think of the inside of your home as having “somewhat conditioned” areas, as well. These are the areas where we will focus on creating some basic thermal barriers.

Think about areas that you can cordon off from the rest of the house. It might be a spare bedroom, spare bath, laundry room, or pantry closet. Odds are, you would save a lot of money if you partially sealed those areas off. That way, you can allow your heating and cooling (HVAC) system to just heat or cool the areas of the home you need them to do.

Once you’ve identified some areas you could set up in this way, here’s how to create effective thermal barriers:

1. Close the vents in those rooms and turn off any heating or cooling implements there (window A/C’s and the like).

2. Close the doors to those areas.

3. Think about any other leaks in the “seal” of those rooms. Under-door and -window drafts are two common examples to look for. If you’re not planning to use the room for a long time for a long time (a child away for a semester at school), putting a rolled up towel at the foot of the door is a good trick to keep your conditioned air from flowing into the unconditioned space.

This process is almost like closing the vents in your car’s air conditioner. One person’s space can be warmer, while one person’s space becomes cooler. And just like in a car, if you close the vents to an unused room, more conditioned (heated or cooled) air will get pushed to the rooms you use That means the spaces you do want conditioned will become much more efficient to heat or cool. Super simple, and yet very effective.

Next up, give your home an inexpensive home energy makeover!

Photo from Shutterstock


About the Author

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on

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