Posts Tagged ‘energy efficiency’

Energy Audit & Efficient-izing My Home: TO DOs

Visit Home Green Home's Website

Two weeks ago I invited Joe Page, Home Performance Specialist from Home Green Home, into my home to take a look around and tell me what I could do to make my home more energy-efficient. According to the company, our homes consume 60% of the energy that people consume and 20-40% of that energy is wasted; I wanted to fix these problems as soon as possible and especially before our first St. Louis winter in our new home. The energy audit took about an hour and a half and included a blower door test, thermal photography, visual and smoke inspections, and combustion safety analyses.

I knew my new home wasn’t efficient—it’s rarely comfortable in every room at the same time—but I laughed a little after the blower door test when Joe told me how much our house leaked air. An efficient home replaces about 25-30% of its air an hour, he said. Mine? 104%. Not the worst Joe had seen, but not good.

We couldn’t get into the attic (no entryway—I know; our new house is strange in other ways, too), but he showed me thermal images showing that there was, in fact, insulation in the slanted ceiling walls, though he couldn’t be for certain whether anyone installed insulation in the top of the roof.

Part of the air problem, he told me, lies with a lack of insulation between the lower portion of the gable roof and the inside of our home. We’d need to either attempt to create a block, seal it, and spray paper insulation around it—a challenging and probably messy but not impossible DIY task—or let a professional handle that one.

Things we could do ourselves:

  • Seal the leaks in our HVAC duct system (okay, technically he didn’t suggest this because I knew it needed doing  and so took care of this a week before he came by)
  • Install an insulation blanket around our gas water heater and add pipe insulation to the first five feet of hot and cold water lines (check!)
  • expanding foam sealant around a hose

    I sprayed expanding foam sealant in a large gap in the wood paneling around a hose in my utility room. After it dried I used my fingers to break off the pieces that stuck out. Not the prettiest job, I know, but it was quick...and it's in my utility room anyway.

    Caulk gaps in window and door trim and sills and spray and expanding foam sealant in larger gaps such as in the hole made in the wood paneling for our dryer (check!)

  • Install a carbon monoxide alarm on the second floor (check! we already had one on the first floor)
  • Have a qualified HVAC contractor install a return register on the second floor
  • Insulate around the outlets and switches on outside walls and the switch in our stairway (optional) (check! This is nitpicking, he said, but I did it anyway)

Other things I’m taking into account: the safety of the foam crack and gap sealant. The foam Joe recommended, Great Stuff, had danger warning all over it, and one thing I know about those warnings is that companies don’t want to put them on there unless they have too, and governmental regulatory agencies, affected by politics, tells a company when they must put a label in a product. If a warning says “use gloves” or “use in a well ventilated area,” take heed. I looked for a safer, more environmentally sound foam sealant and I found a foam at sears called Max Fill. It had fewer warnings, made with renewable resources and less petroleum, and claimed to be an eco-friendly air sealing foam. I don’t know if I’d call it eco-friendly, but I would call it a better option than my alternative. As the can prescribed, I wore gloves and safety glasses. (If you know of a better expanding foam sealant, please let me know in the comments.)

Up For Discussion

Does a safe, eco-friendly expanding foam sealant exist? How about joint compound? What other home improvement products have a safe, safer, or eco-friendly equivalent?

The Whole LIFE

The Whole LIFE details my attempts at living intentionally for excellence in WHOLE ways, including how I’ve learned to go against the grain to live more sustainably, what greener products work and which don’t, and how I’m working to protect my family from the toxic hazards of modern-day living.

Greentaining: Sealing My Leaky Ducts

air duct sealed with metal tape

air duct sealed with metal tape

When our friend, Richard, an HVAC professional, installed a new air duct in our new house a few weeks back he suggested we seal the leaks in our duct system.

“Feel this,” he said, putting his hand over a joint in a duct and waiting for me to do the same. I did so and felt a rather strong current of air. “Feel that air? Your system would be a lot more efficient if you sealed these with tape. You can do it yourselves with duct tape—that is why they originally called it duct tape—though you’ll need to replace it at some point, or you can use a metal tape like I’ll use to seal this vent I’m installing.” (paraphrase)

Aside from efficiently using energy, which is always important to me, I wanted comfortable, evenly heated and cooled rooms, a high priority to my temperature-sensitive self.

Of course, it always takes two people telling me to do something before I buy in.

Today that second “person” was Energy Star.

According to EnergyStar.gov, “Sealing and insulating ducts can improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system by 20 percent or more. Accessible ducts, such as those in attics, basements, crawlspaces, and garages, can be sealed using a specialized sealant called duct mastic available at home improvement stores (duct tape is not recommended).”

old duct tape from my air duct system

Old duct tape from my air duct. This is why not to use traditional duct tape.

The duct tape they’re referring to is the cloth-backed rubber adhesive duct tape of which we quickly think. Of course, I didn’t listen to that, either, and initially began sealing my ducts with duct tape until I found an old piece of duct tape, loosely hanging from a pipe, that illustrated why standard duct tape is a poor choice. (See my photo.) Ewe.

Duct Sealing: Do You Need To Do It, and How?

aluminum tape for sealing leaky ductsSo check out your air system (even you apartment dwellers). Turn on the air and put your hand in front of the metal joints. Do you feel air?

If you do, go to your local home improvement store, pick up some aluminum foil tape (Nashua Multi-Purpose Aluminum Foil Tape 322 HVAC, $6.58 at HomeDepot.com). You can use mastic tape or mastic sealant instead, if you wish. We’re literally going to tape over the leaks to prevent air from blowing out of the system where it shouldn’t.

Next, clean the joints on which we’ll apply the tape with soap and water.

Begin sealing the air leaks by taping all the duct joints you can access. Even if it doesn’t feel like air is escaping doesn’t mean it won’t in the future, so tape around the duct in every place you can reach where two pieces of duct join.

Tape all joints on the furnace including the corners.

Finally, seal vents and registers where they meet floors, walls, and ceilings.

That’s it! It may not be perfect (less easily accessible leaks may still exist) but you’ll already enjoy a more efficient air system and, likely, more comfortable rooms.

Easy peasy.

Discussion:

What do you think? Have you sealed leaky ducts either yourself or by an HVAC professional?

What other easy energy efficiency projects have you done?

Additional Resources:

US EPA Energy Star “Duct Sealing” Brochure (printable)

%d bloggers like this: