Leaky Ductwork Makes Systems Work Harder - IE3: Indoor Environment & Energy Efficiency

Leaky Ductwork Makes Systems Work Harder

In an earlier article I wrote about proper bathroom ventilation. This time I want to address home performance systems. During our service calls, we frequently see issues such as faulty air sealing or outdated equipment. Whenever we find situations like this, we encourage homeowners to make the needed upgrades or repairs.

Leaky ductwork makes your HVAC system work harder to keep indoor temperatures comfortable, causing added wear and tear on your system. Skimpy insulation and open chase ways, unsealed crawlspaces and gaps in door frames produce drafts and allow dust, mold and other impurities to enter your home. By contrast, a well tuned home performance system translates to a healthier indoor environment and maximum temperature comfort, not to mention lower utility bills.

Energy Audit Benefits

During the height of the busy heating or cooling season, utility bills can easily run into triple digits. Many homeowners grit their teeth and deal with it, thinking that there is nothing they can do unless they want to sweat all summer or shiver all winter. However, in many cases, homeowners can significantly lower their energy bills without sacrificing indoor comfort.

The first step in maximizing home performance systems is determining where problems lie. A comprehensive energy audit averages about $100, which is a relatively inexpensive investment in improving the performance of your home’s indoor comfort system. It is also an investment that more than pays for itself. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, homeowners could save between 5 percent and 30 percent by following through on repairs and upgrades recommended from an energy audit.

While it’s possible for homeowners to conduct some elements of an energy audit themselves, there is more involved to the process than tuning up an HVAC unit. A professional energy audit conforms to rigorous standards set by Building Performance Institute (BPI) an independent certification organization.

A full scale energy audit also requires equipment unavailable to most homeowners that can uncover issues that might otherwise go undetected. The specifics of a home performance audit differ from house to house, but the system evaluation process typically includes the following elements:

  • Combustion safety testing
  • Moisture Control
  • Attic, wall and crawl space insulation
  • Air and duct sealing
  • Electrical system inspection
  • Ventilation testing
  • Blower door test

A home audit also includes a discussion with the homeowner about issues such as Hot/Cold spots in the house, health concerns, or rapid cycling of heaters or air conditioners that indicate possible problems. An evaluation of past utility bills allows for the creation of a baseline for average energy consumption for the home.

Rebates for Increased Energy Efficiency

One reason people put off making needed repairs or upgrades is the cost. However, your local utility company may offer rebates or other financial incentives that can significantly reduce the price tag involved. Another source for available rebates is the list of Home Performance with Energy Star program participants across the country. (https://www.energystar.gov/campaign/improvements/find_local_help/full_list).

For instance, since June, our local utility the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company has offered rebates through its Smart Energy Savers Program ®. The program is funded through surcharges on customers’ monthly bills and is set to run through December 31, or whenever funds are exhausted, whichever is sooner.  Details about the program are available on the BG&E website.

Homeowners can receive rebates from $250 to $7500, based on the amount of additional energy efficiency that results from upgrades made or equipment installation. There are two specific sets of rebates available: one for Air Sealing, Insulation Measures, Heating and Air Conditioning Equipment and Duct Sealing and the second for Heating and Air Conditioning Equipment Only Rebates.

For instance, an eligible home might use 20,000 KW hours upon enrolling in the program. After upgrades to the HVAC system, air sealing and installation have been made, the home may use 7500 fewer KW hours. With a rebate of $1 for each KW hour reduction, that homeowner would receive a $7500 rebate.

Easy Energy Efficiency Fixes

Fortunately, several strategies for enhancing efficiency in home performance systems require minimal effort and money, such as adding insulation and sealing off gaps in door frames and window casings. Another relatively inexpensive strategy is to run ceiling fans along with your heating and cooling unit. The increased air circulation allows you to set your thermostat higher in the summer and lower in the winter, while maintaining comfortable indoor temperatures. Just be sure to turn the fan off when you leave the room.

Energy efficiency can be enhanced by making changes outside your home as well. Outdoor landscaping serves double duty — adding curb appeal to your home while enhancing privacy. You’ll also benefit from lower utility bills. Planting trees and greenery on the west and south sides of your home can provide enough cooling to generate savings in air conditioning costs from 15 to 50 percent.

Rob Minnick

Rob Minnick

Rob Minnick – Rob, is the CEO/President of Minnick’s, Inc., Minnick University, and The Minnick Foundation. He has 30 years experience in the Heating and Air Conditioning field, in particular with Mechanical Design & Building Performance. In addition, Rob is a board member for the Air Conditioning Contractor of America (ACCA) Washington, D.C. Chapter and the ACCA Building Performance Council.
Rob Minnick

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1 Comment

  1. William Adams

    How will package units ever keep up with ever rising SEERs? Sealing duct work, and being exteriorly exposed , even though not as great as an attic temperatures, will be more prone to break under harsh conditions outside all year long.
    The VRVs, and VRFs in particular that can heat & cool off the same unit can only increase to remove us from oil dependence so greatly.

    Reply

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