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Increase your Home's Efficiency by Eliminating Air Exchange

Aug 18, 2007
The majority of the population are living in homes who's energy efficiency is very poor and it is costing them money and hurting our environment. Over 21% of all the carbon dioxide pollution in the U.S. comes from energy used in homes. Most of that carbon dioxide is created by your local "dirty" electricity plant, in fact, your home is generally responsible for more co2 emissions than your car. There are many different things you can do to increase your homes efficiency to cut down your emissions and your monthly utility bill. One of the easiest and most effective things you can do to cut down on your energy bills and your emission, is you eliminate or drastically reduce air exchange. When a home is not properly sealed it will experience air leaks (air exchange) which generally causes heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer, and this is responsible for anywhere from 20% to 50% of your homes' heating and cooling cost. The cost and time associated with an air leak sealing project is very small and most people will make that money back in savings in as little at 2 to 3 months.

This air leakage happens because of a pressure difference between he inside and outside of a home, because air naturally flows from positive to negative pressure conditions. In the winter the temperature is colder outside and when the pressure outside is higher than the inside of the house, cold air will leak into the lower levels of the house. The opposite happens in the summer as the warmer outside air is forced into the house because of the higher outside pressure. This pressure difference is caused by a variety of different things like wind, temperature and internal appliances. Even though there is very little you can do to balance internal and external pressure levels, you can seal your homes' leaks and stop the majority of this air exchange.

Door Leaks:

Door leaks are one of the largest contributors to air exchange if they are not properly sealed. An exterior door with a 1/8" gap between the door and the threshold is equivalent to a two square inch hole in your wall. By simply eliminating these gaps with door sweeps and weatherstripping, you can potentially cut your your heating and cooling cost by 15%.

Window Leaks:

There are many different types of windows however, the majority fall into two categories, casement or hung windows and each type will need to be sealed differently. For hung windows, you will need to use a combination of V-channel in the gap between the sash and the jamb and foam striping between the horizontal sashes. For casement windows it is as simple as applying some self adhesive foam to the stop molding.

Electrical Outlet Leaks:

Electrical outlets are also responsible for quite a bit of air leakage. The easiest and most effective way to stop these leaks is to purchase some specially made foam gasket inserts tailored for electrical outlets and light switches. To install these gaskets, you simply unscrew the face plates of the electrical outlets and switches, insert the gasket and replace the face plate.

Ceiling Penetration Leaks:

Most homes have unconditioned attic spaces which will typically be closer to the temperature outside than the temperature inside. Therefore any gaps between the conditioned living spaces and unconditioned attic spaces will result in air exchange and cause your home to be less efficient. Most ceiling gaps and leaks are easier to take care of from the attic as you do not have to be as clean with your sealing methods. In general most ceiling leaks can be taken care of by an acrylic caulk and/or self adhesive expanding foam strips at attic openings.

Baseboard And Wall Penetration Leaks:

Except for plumbing penetrations, baseboards and wall penetrations are all handled the same way with acrylic caulk. Because plumbing penetrations are generally located in unseen areas, they can be filled with pressurized expanding foam relatively easy. Caulk will be used to fill all other wall penetration edges and baseboards, and since these areas will be seen frequently, they will require a little more patience and finesse.

Interior Caulking:

Contrary to popular belief, a proper caulking bead is not run by pulling the caulk gun away from the bead. Instead, the caulk gun should be held at a 45 degree angle off of the surface and pushed towards the bead. This way the caulk gets pushed into the cracks and the bottom edge of the caulk nipple actually created a smooth finished edge if the proper amount of caulk is released.

An interior caulking job will require that you caulk all edges of all wall penetrations. This includes doors, windows, baseboards, wall and window mounted AC units, vents and any other penetrations not listed. Once this is completed you will have achieved a sealed home which also brings up a small issue.

Carbon Monoxide warning: During and/or after completion of a home sealing job, you are at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and/or combustion. This is because the gases have no where to escape as they did before. Therefore, it is imperative that you buy and mount Carbon Monoxide detectors throughout the house to ensure the safety of you and your family.

Exterior Caulking:

Even though your home is sealed from the inside, it is a good idea to seal the exterior of you home as well. This will help reduce air, dirt and moisture entry into your home, resulting in lower energy cost. Caulk should be applied to the following areas:
  • joints where two materials meet
  • around door and window frames
  • joints between eaves and gable molding
  • joints between window sill and siding
  • All inside corners
Should you come across a joint larger than 1/8" you will need to use a backer rod to ensure proper adhesion and pliability. Contrary to popular belief, more caulk is not always better, in fact in most cases its actually worse. If huge amounts of caulk are applied to gaps larger than 1/8" the majority of the caulk will adhere to the back material and when the caulk shrinks or walls settle the caulk will crack and break its seal. If a backer rod is placed in the gap before applying the caulk, the caulk will take on an hour glass shape in section and will not adhere to the backer rod. This shape allows the caulk to stretch and move with the walls as they settle and move.

Now that you have finished sealing up all of your air leaks, pat yourself on the back because you just increased your efficiency by 20% to 50%. That not only translate into money savings, but your carbon footprint has also been reduced by 6,500 lbs. to 16,000 lbs. per year.
About the Author
Adam Beazley
Neutral Existence
Now if you don't want to waste money sealing spots that are already sealed, then find out how to do your own pressurization test / energy audit to locate any air leaks.
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