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How Sealing Air Leaks Impacts Your Bills

If your HVAC system and insulation are in good condition, but your energy bill continues to climb, you may need to air seal your home. Air sealing involves remedying air leaks to keep heated or cooled air in and outside air out. The process also makes it simpler for your HVAC system to keep your home comfortable. When your heating and cooling equipment doesn’t have to work as hard, it will use less energy.

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The Impact of Air Leaks on Energy Bills

Air leaks occur when outside air enters your home and conditioned air leaves it uncontrollably. About 20 percent of heated or conditioned air that moves through a home is lost because of poor insulation and air leaks. According to ENERGY STAR, air leaks account for up to 40 percent of the energy used to heat and cool a home, which is up to 10 percent of the total annual energy bills.

In addition to wasting energy, air leaks can cause moisture problems that could affect a building’s structural integrity and occupant health. When moisture affects a home, it is vulnerable to mold growth. As mold feeds on building materials, it weakens a structure’s durability. When the damage is extensive, the remediation process can be costly and time-consuming.

The spores that molds produce lower the quality of indoor air in a home and could trigger allergy symptoms. Those with weaker immune systems or upper respiratory problems, such as asthma, may experience health complications in the presence of mold, which could drive up health care costs.

Proper air sealing, weather stripping and insulation can reduce monthly heating and cooling costs by up to 20 percent. Many of the homes in the Portland metro area beautiful older structures that do not have sufficient insulation and air sealing. During the winter, for example, occupants may feel drafts through the windows, which drive up heating bills. In the summer, cool air escapes through the same drafty spots, making it more costly to keep your home comfortable. Over the decades, the insulation degrades. Depending on its condition, it might be a good idea to replace the insulation or add more in the attic and basement.

Common Areas that Benefit from Air Sealing

  • Electrical outlets and switch plates: Use foam gaskets behind receptacle and switch covers, particularly those along exterior walls
  • Windows and doors: Caulk and weather strip to reduce drafts. Caulk is best for gaps and cracks that are ½-inch or less. Use expanding spray foam in larger gaps, like the space between window jambs and wall framing. Weather stripping is good for the operable parts of windows and doors.
  • Areas where plumbing, electrical wiring or ducting enters through walls, floors and ceilings: Use caulk or expanding spray foam to fill in the gaps between the components and the walls, floors and ceiling (Note: Do not use spray foam around electrical components, as this may pose a fire hazard. It’s best to use materials designed for electrical equipment, such as a fire-stop sealant.)
  • Kitchen exhaust fan: Ensure the damper is in good condition. If cold air enters your home through the hood, use a magnetic cover to prevent air leaks.
  • Attic: If the insulation in the attic does not reach the tops of the floor joists or the beams along the walls, it’s time to add more insulation.
  • Door thresholds: Install thresholds with pliable sealing gaskets.
  • Fireplace: Keep the flue damper closed when you don’t use the fireplace. Seal the flue using a reusable inflatable chimney balloon; remove it before starting a fire. Use fire-resistant materials to seal air leaks around the fire box.
  • Recessed lighting: Use fire-rated recessed light covers. Apply a fire-stop sealant where the cable exists the cover and along the cover’s edge, where it rests on the ceiling.
  • Roof: Hire a licensed professional to inspect your roof annually and repair holes.
  • Air ducts: The ducts connected to your HVAC system circulate air in your home. When they have a leak, heated or cooled air escapes into unoccupied spaces, such the attic or crawlspace. If rooms seem humid, dustier than usual or have a musty smell, schedule a professional inspection. Air sealing leaky ducts can reduce your energy consumption by up to 30 percent.

Other areas where air leaks are common include:

  • Vented sky lights
  • Gaps between cornices and walls or ceilings
  • Joints between wall materials
  • Gaps between floorboards
  • Gaps between skirting boards and floors or walls
  • Holes in walls, floors and ceilings

The best way to determine the location of air leaks in your home is with a home energy audit, which you can do on your own or by hiring a professional. If you have never had the ducts in your home inspected or suspect a leak, schedule a consultation with AAA Heating and Cooling. As a Performance Tested Comfort Systems-certified contractor, our duct sealing services reduce heating and cooling costs and come with the added benefit of tax credits and rebates. Schedule a consultation today.