As modern day homeowners, we face so many month-to-month expenses. There are routine maintenance expenses, repairs, utility bills, insurance, mortgage payments and the list goes on. With all these recurring expenses hanging over our heads, there is one thing we all have in common – we want to save money. So how do we do that?
You can, of course, cancel that gym membership, discontinue that Hulu subscription, decrease your daily visits to Starbucks, etc. But how many of us focus on the energy efficiency of our own homes? Air leakage in the home can be a prime source of wasteful energy use and high energy bills.
A bit more knowledge about this topic can go quite a long way. In addition to saving money, decreasing air leakage can also make your living space a much more comfortable and healthy environment.
What Is Air Leakage?
Air leakage occurs when outside air enters the home and conditioned air exits the home in an uncontrollable manner through cracks and openings. When air leakage occurs in excess, it can drastically affect energy efficiency. Furthermore, with air freely transmitting in and out of the home, occupants will have a harder time creating an optimum living space.
Over the years, building methods have advanced to really improve energy efficiency. Various insulation products, house wraps, and building techniques have helped to increase the overall “air tightness” of new builds. It is always recommended to address air leakage throughout the building process, so as to avoid energy efficiency issues down the road.
It is definitely more common for old homes to be drafty, because they were purposely built to have more breathability. But even newer builds can have air leakage issues.
There are a number of common points where air leakage can take place in the home. Windows, doors, recessed lighting fixtures, exterior wall penetrations, ducts, fireplace walls are a few examples of trouble areas (see more examples in the image below).
Some of these trouble areas can be discovered simply through visual inspection. For instance, if you see a large gap between your front door and door frame, there are obviously air leakage issues at that location. And you will want to remedy the defect with the appropriate weather stripping.
However, some of these problematic areas are not so easy to identify with the naked eye. In these cases, you should hire a specialist who can evaluate your home’s energy efficiency with a blower door test.
The Pros and Cons of Low Air Leakage
As we’ve already discussed, reducing air leakage in your home will save you money. During the hot months of the year, a home with bad air leakage means hot air coming into the home, and cool, conditioned air leaving the home.
In this scenario, your AC system will work hard to maintain your ideal temperature, resulting in unnecessarily high electricity bills. And the same (vice versa) thing will happen during cold months – cold air gets in, heated air escapes. This results in a cycle of year-round energy inefficiency.
On the contrary, an air tight home would improve energy efficiency and help you to save your hard earned cash!
Low air leakage also means a more comfortable, climate-controlled and healthy in-home environment. You will have less fluctuations in your indoor temperature. So when it comes to your thermostat, you can set it and forget it.
Air leakage can allow humid and moist air to enter the home. This can obviously result in an uncomfortable living environment.
But in even worse case scenarios, excessive moisture in the home can lead to chronic mold issues, which can affect occupant health. And if the moisture intrusion is consistent and severe enough, it can lead to interior damage, which may necessitate costly repairs.
The main con of an airtight home is that it creates a potential decrease in overall natural ventilation. Without a natural source of ventilation, airborne particles such as dust, mold spores, germs, and even exhaled carbon dioxide may remain trapped inside the home, creating poor quality air.
This a legitimate concern. We, of course, want to optimize our energy efficiency. But we also don’t want to compromise our access to fresh, healthy air.
Well, this issue has been appropriately addressed by a simple concept: “Build Tight, Ventilate Right.”
When it comes to airtight homes, proper ventilation is key. And two main types of systems are utilized to achieve proper ventilation – Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRV) and Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERV). These systems create a cyclical exchange within the house, which pulls in fresh air from the outside, while expelling stale air to the exterior.
This diagram exhibits how HRV/ERV systems help to efficiently ventilate homes.
How Do I Know If My Home Has Air Leakage?
Your house likely has air leakage, because pretty much all homes have some degree of air leakage. The real question is how much air leakage does your house have? As we mentioned briefly above, the industry standard for measuring air leakage is a blower door test.
During these tests, a specialized device (shown below) creates a suction to depressurize the home. This depressurized environment allows the blower door technician to measure how much air leakage is occurring in the home, and whether or not further action is needed.
If you are a homeowner in Colorado, we offer a blower door test with our comprehensive Energy Audit. Our energy specialists will evaluate air leakage, but also analyze insulation levels, windows and doors, mechanical devices, and more. An energy audit gives you a full picture of possible upgrades to lower your energy bills.
One of our air leakage specialists conducting a blower door test.
Most Colorado counties are now requiring newly constructed homes to meet a number of energy efficiency criteria established under the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). This code’s primary goal is to increase sustainability and to regulate energy consumption.
The code makes blower door testing a mandatory step for many construction projects to ensure optimum energy efficiency. Depending on where you live, the rules of the IECC may even apply to you.
But regardless of rules and regulations, assessing the air leakage of your own home is never a bad idea. Because who doesn’t want to optimize their living space and save some cash while doing so?
If you are curious about the energy efficiency of your home or construction project, feel free to reach out and schedule a blower door test today.
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Chris Kimmel worked as an Associate Home Inspector for two years, handling numerous services including sewer scope inspections, pest inspections, mold air sample testing, radon testing, and water quality testing. Chris now works with Scott Home Inspection as a Content Writing Specialist.