Fixing air leaks seem to be insignificant for some home owners, but the truth is that it creates a huge impact on the condition of the home. These leaks that allow the air to travel outside create inefficiency in the energy system that might cost homeowners more than they bargained for.
Imagine a day in summer with temperature soaring high. The air conditioner is turned on, generating and circulating cold air around the room. A leak in the home will make it easy for the cold air to move out of the house and the warm air to move in, rendering the place warmer than it should be. As a result, homeowners will turn on the air conditioner a higher notch to make up for the lost cold air. This, in turn, increases their power consumption. The reverse is also true, for the winter warm air will exit and cold air will be drawn in. Now imagine if all the air leaks were sealed like they are supposed to be – homeowners will find themselves saving on the home expenses.[mantra-multi][mantra-column width=”1/2″] [/mantra-column]
This is why properly sealing the home through simple processes like caulking, sealing, and weather-stripping is crucial in maintaining a comfortable temperature. At the same time, it could save roughly 40% on heating/cooling expenses which can amount to several thousand dollars in a single year. Achieving this does not even take much more effort than the other tasks on the regular weekend to-do list.
For those who are currently figuring out how to make their home more energy-efficient, the following are the top 10 places where air leaks are most likely to be present.
1. Dropped Ceilings
Homeowners can work on this problem by sealing the open cavities and topping it off with blown insulation. Make sure that the insulation is thick enough for the exterior. Usually, it’s best to install mudded sheet rock as air barrier but some homeowners might find this expensive.
2. Recessed Lights
Recessed lights definitely look pretty, but homeowners might find themselves paying for it in terms of energy leakage. See, the construction of the lights means that they will extend to the attic, allowing air to pass through from both sides. A gasket is typically used to prevent this from happening but after some time, the gasket itself becomes loose. Fixing this air leak usually depends on what type of recessed light is installed in the house. There’s the IC rated ones which require very little insulation to make it work. Just install some insulation material on the attic floor and this should sufficiently act as a barrier.
The second type is Non-IC rated and requires more work. The reason for this is that non-IC rated recessed lights release more heat which means that there should be enough space between the unit and any material – otherwise, it’s going to be a fire hazard. The insulation shouldn’t be nearer than 3 inches to the fixture so that there would be enough room for the heat to disperse. The best and possibly simplest method to accomplish this is by using the floor joists and scrap wood. Start boxing the light using the materials before installing the insulation while still being careful that the box is roughly 3 inches away. This might not completely prevent any leaks but it will definitely lower the amount of air that escapes through the surface.
3. Attic Entrance
Warm air usually travels upward which means that it can escape through any notches and gaps going to the roof. This is why the attic door is one of the biggest air leak wormholes in a house, especially when they do not have enough weather-stripping. To solve this problem, just make sure that the door leading to the attic is locked tightly, using additional weather-stripping to prevent air from passing through.
4. Door and Window Frames
Air leakage around the door and window frames is typically unnoticeable, but they’re definitely there. Unlike the other leak areas mentioned that are fairly easy to identify, it takes a bit of creativity to determine if the doors and windows have any leaks. To do this, grab a lighter candle and hold it near the connections of the windows and doors. If there’s any movement or flicker to the candle, there’s a good chance that a leak can be found around the area. The question now is how to seal the leak and prevent air from coming out or in.
Typically, the problem can be found between the frames connecting the window to the walls. The best way to solve this problem is by replacing the weather-stripping. This is the most common reason for air leakage problems and luckily enough, a lot of stores offer weather-stripping for installation purposes. As additional precaution, inserting some foam sealant into the jointed area ensures that both air and water wouldn’t get past the frames. As for the door, a foam sealant also works wonders. To do this, remove the interior door casing using a flat pry bar to avoid damage.
5. Sill Plates
Leaks at sill plates are fairly easy to fix as soon as they are located. For sill plates, try using foam insulation or sill seal for this problem to effectively block air from escaping.
6. Water and Furnace Flues
The furnace, chimney, and spot for the water heater are very big gaps in the house that could cause massive escape of both cold and warm air. Note though that these parts of the home – especially the furnace – are hot spots for home fires. In fact, building code regulations require that there’s a one-inch gap between the metal flues and any material that may prove combustible.
[mantra-multi][mantra-column width=”1/2″] [/mantra-column] Unfortunately, insulation material comes under the heading of “combustible” so it’s not possible to just use anything. Instead, homeowners can utilize het resistant caulk as well as lightweight aluminum flashing. This way, the clearing can easily be removed without the fear of fire.
To make this work, start cutting aluminum flashing that would adequately cover the flue, preferably creating an overlap of about three inches. Place the heat-resistant caulk around the opening of the cavity and press down, firmly securing it in place. For best results, using nails and staples to anchor it further is also a good idea.
7. All Ducts
Ducts are a series of tunnels travelling through and around the home. If one of these tunnels has sprouted a leak, this could add up to hundreds on a person’s power bill. Luckily, with a bit of patience, it’s perfectly possible to have all these ducts sealed for efficient movement of hot or cold air. First off, locate the leak by checking for holes or sections that have gotten loose. These usually have tiny gaps in the joining that still allow air to escape. For this kind of air leak, the best materials to use would be butyl tape, mastic tape, or foil tape. It should be something heat-resistant and comes with an Underwriters Laboratories logo.
Note that ducts are usually more complicated especially since they traverse the entire house. Hence, other factors should be taken into consideration such as the basement where some of the ducts will be running. See, a fully insulated duct system means no heat will be escaping, causing tight rooms like the basement to freeze. If this is the case, the walls of the basement should be insulated as well.
8. Chimney Flashing
Chimneys are actually one of the biggest leak dangers in the house. The good news is that the most common cause of the leak is always the sheet metal flashings. Simply check out the chimney and if there are any wet spots in the area, a leak is definitely present. To solve this problem, simply install new chimney flashing, especially if the chimney is already rusted all over. This can be a dangerous job since the person working on the insulation needs to be well-balanced on the roof. At the very least, padding chimney flashing should be a two-person job.
9. Outlets and Switches
It’s hard for anyone to believe that outlets and switches are also money risks when it comes to air leakage. However, the fact is that these areas contains the same gaps found in the chimneys and window frames, which lets the warm or cool air out, depending on the weather outside. Try cracking it open and find that there’s an underlying cavern underneath that sucks in all that much-needed air. It’s fairly simple to cover this gap however and will necessitate only several minutes for a practiced homeowner.
The best way to seal this is by using low flow expanding foam on the cracks. This should be applied between the box and the plaster. Once that’s done, start using a foam gasket to cover the switch. The same process goes if the gap is on an outlet. Make sure that all the outlets and switches inside and outside the home are checked. The materials themselves needed for the job are cheap and shouldn’t burn a hole through the homeowner’s budget. Make sure to wear gloves while spraying the expanding foam and that all dirt and debris have been carefully removed.
10. Plumbing and Utility Access
There are multiple pipes to worry about when it comes to air leaks: the furnace, water heater pipes, plumbing pipes and chimney pipes. Each one serves a different purpose and is therefore made of different materials. Bearing this in mind, homeowners would need to utilize different items to make them leakage proof. Here are a few ideas on how to make this work depending on the type of pipe:
- Chimney Pipes – since the chimney undergoes high temperature, they should be caulked with a high temperature silicone.
- Furnace and Water Heater Pipes – typically made from galvanized metal, they require high-temperature silicone caulking as well as aluminum flashing. Remember that they are usually the pathway of high-temperature materials so something non-combustible is definitely needed.
- Plumbing Pipes – since they’re typically made of PVC, expanding caulk is usually the best choice. In some cases, the pipe can be made of cast iron in which case, caulk or expanding foam can be used.
Of course, these are just the top 10 places where air leaks can take place. Remember that there are more of those in the home if a person cares to look. As a rule, any fixture where two different materials or systems combine is a weak point for air leakage and should therefore be checked.
Professional or Personal: Working on Air leaks
Some homeowners may question whether they’re the best one for the job or if they should simply hire someone a professional to start sealing air leaks. The fact is that this job is simple enough to do and can be accomplished in one weekend. Individuals however will need to know where and how to start on the project which is why the top 10 vulnerable places for the problem has been listed above.
Is it Worth It?
As already explained, sealing the air leaks will help in slashing down the heating expenses of the homeowners. The question is – will the cost of sealing these gaps be enough to justify doing it? The answer is – yes. Homeowners will find that in less than a year, they’ll find themselves saving more than what they originally put down. Even better, resealing these gaps will only require very minimal maintenance. According to research, even a small leak – even one with a diameter of 1/16 can cost an individual around $500 in a year. Now imagine how much that could amount to with several significantly sized leaks around the house. With a fully insulated home, homeowners will find themselves saving up on a lot.
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Additional Tips for Fixing Air leaks
It might be a good idea to install a carbon monoxide monitor too. This will help keep track of the levels of this dangerous gas in the house, ensuring homeowners that they are perfectly safe at all times. Note that although installing them all is perfectly all right and requires average experience, having them checked to ensure safety is still a good idea. Try to set aside a specific weekend to work on them, going over each listed air leak risk one by one. No need to patch them all in just one go considering how many there are. Remember that it’s best to start working on air leaks during favorable weather when it isn’t too cold or even too warm.