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Would You Drink Through a Straw Full of Holes?

I was at a party the other night and was introduced to a friend of one of my buddies.  Frank had just bought a foreclosure nearby.  He got such a great deal on the house that he is able to invest a considerable amount of money on upgrades for it.  One of the first things he talked about was replacing the existing A/C systems.  Apparently one system is broken and the other one doesn’t work very well.  They are the original 10 SEER units with 80 AFUE furnaces.  Frank is a very analytical guy so he has done research out the yin yang and has spoken to about a dozen HVAC contractors.  The one thing he said that made me laugh was that every guy he talked to told him something different (a statement that I hear quite often).  Different SEER’s, different tonnages, different types of blowers, etc, etc , etc.

I asked one simple question, “Has anyone looked at the ducts or even mentioned duct leakage?”  To which he simply replied “No”.  I then proceeded to give him a quick explanation of why duct leakage is so important.  Does it really matter how efficient the HVAC units are if all the ducts leak like a sieve?  If you have leakage on the supply side, you’re heating and cooling Mother Nature and greatly reducing the amount of pressure and air flow in the ducts.  If you have leaks on the return side, you’re sucking in air from your attic or crawlspace, bringing in all the pollutants with it, and reintroducing them into your home.  I have personally tested dozens of systems that had leakage rates of greater than 30%.

It’s bad enough that many HVAC contractors don’t even consider doing a manual J on a new home and never do them on an existing home, but mention duct leakage and they look at you like you’re an idiot.  Sealing ducts is easy, inexpensive, and just takes a little attention to detail.  I not only consider duct sealing important, but take great pride in doing it well.  We don’t just smear some duct mastic on the outside so it looks like something was done, but we inspect for zip ties and mastic where the inner liner connects to the collars and boots.  When I recently had to replace the entire duct system in an older home of one of my clients, I was amazed at the attention to detail.  When all was done, the amount of air flow through the registers was noticeably greater.  More importantly, that coupled with air sealing the attic and subfloor above the crawlspace greatly improved the indoor air quality.  For an older person with serious allergies, this was a big deal.

You wouldn’t try to drink through a straw full of holes would you?  So why try to heat and cool your home with a duct system full of holes?  It sounds like a no brainer, but don’t tell that to the uninformed home owner or good ole boy HVAC guy.  Sealing the ducts not only increases the efficiency of the HVAC equipment, but it increases the overall efficiency and indoor air quality of the whole house.  This is just another one of a slew of reasons why you should hire an energy auditor to perform an energy audit on your home.  You’re bringing in someone with a background in building science that looks at your home as a system.  Also, they can help to direct you where your money will be best spent to get the results that you want.  Remember…..Don’t throw money at your problems, throw knowledge, it’s a lot cheaper.


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