Could AeroBarrier Save You Money On Your Next Build?
Date Published: June 1, 2022
If you have been a builder in Colorado over the last 10 years, you know firsthand how tight the energy codes have gotten over the years. Every new version of the International Energy Conservation Code has added new hurdles to jump through. While everyone has a different opinion on these items, one thing is certain: Building energy-efficient houses costs more money.
Building high-performance homes are great for the end-user. You get a home that is comfortable, has lower utility costs and has a long-term carbon footprint that is better for the environment. Building technology gets better and better every year but since these technologies are newer, they tend to cost more.
Scott Home Inspection is an energy service provider, meaning we help builders navigate the building codes and ultimately end up testing building performance. Because of this, we have seen many products that help buildings meet insulation, HVAC, air leakage, and thermal envelope requirements.
As you may know, one very important section of the IECC energy codes is the air leakage portion. Every house built under newer building codes requires the air leakage performance of a home to be tested with a blower door. The home must have a fairly low air leakage rating measured in air changes per hour.
Low air leakage in a home can be beneficial for energy consumption as it keeps temperature-regulated air in the home instead of having it escape to the outside. Also, poorly sealed homes can see fast swings in internal temperature which most people don’t like!
Because of this, many products have been created and produced that help seal the envelope of a home, including spray foam insulation, zip system house wrap, framing seal products and packages, and more. Many of these things are costly and don’t always fix the leakage issue, which can be difficult to determine.
Recently, we learned of a newer product that we think could have a serious impact on the building community. That product is called AeroBarrier.
AeroBarrier is a sealant product made by the company that created Aeroseal. Both products are essentially tacky glue that gets misted into the home or the ducts and is pushed into open gaps in the envelope of the house or duct system.
While Aeroseal has been around for a long time, AeroBarrier is a somewhat newer product that seals an entire home’s envelope.
The process of installation is fairly simple. When a home is ready to be sealed, the building is closed off just as it would be for a blower door test. A blower door fan is hooked to the front door which provides positive pressure inside the home, pushing air from the interior of the home out through all the cracks in the house’s envolope.
While the blower fan is running and the pressure system is created, the tacky AeroBarrier material is then misted into the air. The material is light enough to move with the air through the cracks and weak areas of the envelope.
As the material passes through these holes, cracks, and gaps, the material sticks to the sides and starts to build up. As the material builds up in the crack, it creates a “barrier” that looks very similar to caulking and sealing the joint.
The longer the material is pumped into the house, the tighter the seal becomes. This tightness can be monitored by the technician running the blower door and can continue until the home reaches its desired tightness level.
Since the installation uses the same equipment as a blower door test, you can be confident that the final blower door test for CO will pass easily as long as there are no major changes to the envelope.
Denver Air Barrier
AeroBarrier is a licensed product. One of the installers in Denver, Frank Cefaratti and Tom Williams, owners of Denver Air Barrier was gracious enough to let us come see an installation of AeroBarrier a few months back.
The process is quick and Frank and Tom have their system down. There is some prep work that goes into applying the product to prevent the material from landing in unwanted areas. However, once the test is done, I took a tour of the home and you could visibly see all the areas that had been sealed.
The house they were sealing was a side-by-side duplex with a shared wall. They were sealing just after drywall was completed which Frank stated is the best time to apply the product. Side-by-side duplexes are notorious for failing a blower door test because of the leakage that occurs between the shared wall. The shared wall has a weak seal because of fire spacing requirements.
During the application, you could see on the measurement devices that the leakage was dropping over time. They ran the product until the air leakage level was 2 ACH which is well below the required 3 ACH for most IECC years.
Frank stated that while it is ideal to apply the AeroBarrier at the drywall phase, most of the time they end up being the fixer crew and they come out at the end to tighten things up. Unfortunately, if a house is completed, a lot more prep work is required to protect the home and keep the material from landing in unwanted areas. However, it can still be done.
While I was somewhat skeptical going in, I came out a believer in the product. I have seen many builders struggle to meet air leakage requirements and this truly seemed like one of the best solutions available for that problem. Now the question is, is this product a better solution than alternative sealing methods?
Can AeroBarrier Save You Money As A Builder?
While the process sounds extensive, the installation is actually fairly fast taking around 4 hours depending on the size of a house. While I won’t outline the actual cost in this blog as things can change, Frank gave me rough estimates which all sound reasonable in the building world.
What important is to compare this product to alternatives:
The first is spray foam. Closed-cell spray foam is an obvious choice for sealing an envelope. You have to put in insulation one way or another, and having insulation that also creates a solid air seal is a great solution. Also, the R-Value of spray foam is much higher than its alternatives. However, the issue is that the cost is very high. In some areas, spray foam can be almost 3 times as expensive as regular blown-in fiberglass or cellulose. This might not be reasonable for the average person building a home. Also, spray foam doesn’t seal everything. Openings in walls, vents, and door frames all have small gaps that may lead to air leaks, not to mention that the entire attic is usually not foamed and is one of the largest air leaks in a home.
Looking for a blower door test for energy code compliance in the Colorado Front Range? Scott Home Inspection has got you covered. Learn more here.
Another great option that has gained a lot of popularity is Zip System. This sealed sheathing is a great option for air sealing a home. The entire envelope is covered in the product and the taped joints create a continuous air barrier. I have personally run blower doors on many houses that used Zip System and they usually test very well. However, the cost of Zip System vs regular OSB and a house wrap like Tyvek is significantly more. While Zip System provides other great advantages from moisture control to speed of installation, the cost of the build will most certainly go up with this solution.
The last solution we see most often is the guy with the caulking gun. We’ll see builders spend days caulking and sealing every gap that they can see with caulk and spray foam. Insulators now sell “air sealing packages” where they seal the top and bottom plates of walls when insulating along with other gaps. The problem with this solution is it is time-consuming, likely expensive with current labor costs, and you don’t know if it actually going to work until the final blower door test. The other problem is that you can only caulk and seal something that is easily in reach. Air leakage is a difficult thing because many leaks are hidden.
As you can see, installing AeroBarrier may allow you to ensure the house has a super tight envelope, while keeping your budget under control. This is good news for mid-range/tract home builders.
The product is newer but the benefits seem positive. While we haven’t blower door tested that many homes that have used AeroBarrier, we believe it could save a lot of headaches if more people in the building world knew about it.
While Scott Home Inspection does not install this product and we do not get any incentives from AeroBarrier or Denver Air Barrier, we still believe in good products that may help builders pass their blower door tests which ultimately helps us. We encourage you to give it a shot on your next project and give us feedback.
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