How were the heating bills this month? Are you telling yourself (like you do every winter and summer) that you have to do something about the energy efficiency of your home? Before you get started; get educated! There is a lot of misinformation out there about what will really reduce your bills in a noticeable way. Beyond the information provided below; consider having a home energy assessment performed by a certified BPI Building Analyst. This process will pinpoint the exact needs of your particular home.
Priorities one and two when improving the energy efficiency of the vast majority of homes is air and duct sealing.
Air sealing refers to tightening the building envelope. The building envelope is the barrier (wall assembly) that separates conditioned space from unconditioned space. As a general rule air sealing should be applied to the ceiling, then the floor, then the walls. Sealing a ceiling involves caulking around can lights and/or installing air sealing insulations like spray foam or dense packed cellulose to the attic. Note that walls come third, yes; this means windows are typically one of the last places to worry about. Why air seal? Air sealing keeps the expensive cooled or heated air in the home and keeps air pollutants and moisture out of the home.
Duct sealing refers to tightening the ducts that circulate and filter conditioned, heated or cooled, air around your home. In my remodeling career I personally experienced an average of 70% leakage on the average 1890’s-1930’s Atlanta bungalow prior to improvements being performed. Leakage means that the conditioned air is blowing outside of the building envelope; typically into the attic or crawl space. This is also a major air quality concern. Leaky return ducts suck in moisture, mold and mildew spores, and odors from a wet crawlspace. They suck in fiberglass, dust, etc. from the attic.
The combination or air and duct sealing means that conditioned air is going where it is supposed to and staying there longer. This combination can increase the energy efficiency of the home 30% and cost $3000.00. Compare this to something more commonly done like window replacement that can cost upwards of $20,000.00 for a typical energy efficiency increase of maybe 10%.
Homeowners should consider the low hanging fruit before moving to high dollar HVAC equipment, solar technology, or window replacements.
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Frank Wickstead is a licensed general contractor in Georgia, a LEEDapBD+C, and a Building Performance Institute Building Analyst proctor/trainer. Frank was given the Georgia Institute of Technology's 2010 Environmental Leadership Award. He was named one of the top 50 remodelers in the country by Remodeler Magazine and named the EarthCraft Renovator of the Year in 2009 and 2010. He is currently a Technical Specialist and Residential Energy Efficiency Program Manager with ICF International where he leads a statewide demand side management program in Georgia with goals of reducing energy usage in as many residential buildings as possible.