Everyone likes to feel comfortable, breathe clean air, and pay heating and cooling bills that are as low as possible. So why do most Austin HVAC companies not talk about air sealing with their customers?
We don’t know for certain, there is one thing that we are sure about. Our team always considers air sealing and air leaks whenever one of our clients tell us their HVAC system is struggling to make their home comfortable.
That is because the HVAC system may not be what the problem is. The real problem could be that you have a leaky house.
Think of a refrigerator that is full of holes.
We are going to get to the 7 signs in a minute. First, we want to make sure that we are all on the same page when it comes to air leaks and the reasons why they must be sealed. To understand air leak effects better, it helps comparing your house with a refrigerator. Most likely our kitchen refrigerator is fairly efficient. As long as you keep the door close, it won’t turn on too often and not allow a lot of heat to get inside.
However, what if your refrigerator had a ton of holes in it?
Here is what would occur: Tons of heat would get into your refrigerator constantly. Your refrigerator would struggle at keeping your food cold. It also wouldn’t be efficient.
You could cover over the holes with insulation. But then the air (along with the heat) could penetrate through the insulation. Insulation is useful whenever there are not any holes in your refrigerator. However, when there are holes it is practically worthless.
Leaky houses have these same problems.
Whenever there are air leaks in your house, it is similar to a refrigerator that has holes. During the summer, hot air gets inside your house. During the winter, warm air escapes. It is very difficult to stay comfortable, even when the HVAC system is operating correctly.
The solution is very simple. Seal up the leaks.
Silicone caulk and/or canned spray foam are typically enough to seal the small openings, cracks, and gaps were air leaks in and out of your house. However, how do you know whether or not your house needs to have air sealing? The following are 7 signs that your house needs it:
Your HVAC system is struggling to meet the thermostat setting
When there are lots of air leaks, the conditioned air is replaced constantly by unconditioned outside air. This results in your HVAC systems having a difficult time helping you stay comfortable.
That doesn’t mean that short-run HVAC cycles are always desirable. Having really short cycles could be a sign of a related, yet different problem. However, when the system continues to run and takes a really long to reach the set point on the thermostat, it can indicate that your house is leaky.
Utility bills spike during the summer and winter
Of course, this is the negative result of an HVAC system that is overworked. The more that a furnace or AC struggles, the more money you will have to pay.
Many homeowners don’t think about or are not aware of how hard their HVAC systems need to work. However, everyone notices when their energy bills skyrocket. Quite often, a leaky house results in high utility bills even when your HVAC system is not keeping you comfortable. This is a vicious cycle where you pay inflated prices for cooling or heating is inadequate.
Sealing those leaks frequently can break the cycle, and allows you to be more comfortable and pay less.
The temperatures throughout your home are uneven
Although there are many factors that contribute to your home experiencing uneven temperatures, a big one is air leaks.
Some of the rooms in your home, like those near crawlspace or attic penetrations, might be really leaky while others are not. It will be harder to cool and heat the leakier rooms. If your thermostat is located in a less leaky area of your home, then your HVAC system may not ever effectively cool or heat those rooms. You will need to increase or reduce the temperatures beyond your comfort zone to make these rooms comfortable.
Of course, that will only result in temperatures being more uneven since the rooms that are less leaky will be too cold or hot compared to those rooms that leakier. To solve this problem, the leaks need to be sealed.
You can feel drafts around your outlets, doors, and windows
That effect is especially strong on a cold winter day. All of us have felt a draft coming from a cold window.
That is something that most people don’t realize – the larges air leaks rarely come from the gaps that are around the doors and windows. Usually, they are between your living area and your crawlspace or attic. A window draft may be more obvious since we are around our windows constantly. However, cumulatively, the leaks coming from ductwork penetrations, the attic hatch, or the plumbing pipes that lead to the crawlspace will have a much larger impact on your comfort level.
Sealing the gaps around your doors and windows will definitely help. However, that is rarely the complete solution for your air leak problems.
You constantly have to battle pests
Roaches and mice have the ability to squeeze through very small holes. You can put traps out if you want to. Have a can of Raid nearby. But just understand that one of the most effective ways to eliminate those pesky creatures is to seal their access points off.
One of the major benefits that air sealing offers is improved pest control. People frequently seal the air leaks in their homes to reduce their energy bills and feel more comfortable. When their pest problems go away as well they are pleasantly surprised!
It very humid (or very dry) inside your home
The climate in Austin is very humid. So that isn’t a surprise.
One of the best things about an air conditioner is it removes humidity and cools the indoor air. However, if your house is very leaky, humidity can seep into the house again almost as fast as it can be removed by the AC.
Since a house’s sensible heat load (the kind of heat that raises or lowers the temperature and what the thermostat responds to) is not affected by humidity, moisture is able to build up inside your home and your HVAC system will not respond. Leaky houses also have a tendency to become uncomfortably dry during the winter. That is due to all of the excess outside air getting into your living area.
Given the long Southern summers that we have here in Austin, air leaks can make houses feel overly humid for a period of several months. And as we have discussed, high humidity is what allows dust mites and mold to thrive.
Your allergies are very bad inside your home
High humidity is one of the ways that air leaks can cause allergy flare-ups. Another way is airborne outdoor contaminants. Air leaks can cause you to breathe outdoor allergens inside of your home – even when all of your windows and doors are closed.
As outdoor air gets inside your house, it brings in all kinds of things with it. During the spring, it brings in pollen. It can bring in vehicle exhaust if you leave close to a busy road. It can bring in bits of grass if one of your neighbors is out mowing their lawn. When there is fiberglass insulation between your house and the outdoors, the air that infiltrates the insulation can bring tiny airborne fiberglass particles inside.
Yes, that means you are breathing in all of that stuff. So it isn’t too surprising that you are sneezing and stuffy all of the time.
Here is how effective air sealing is
What should you do if you believe you have lots of air leaks? The first step you should take is to determine whether or not the air leaks are actually causing your energy efficiency or discomfort problems. If they are what is causing the issues, then your next step is identifying the most troublesome, largest leaks. That will help you prioritize which leaks are most important to seal.
At Stellrr, here is how we tackle these problems:
- Thermal imaging: While the blower door is running, we will use an infrared camera to examine your home. The camera will show all of the air leakage areas.
- Air leakage report: Once our analysis is complete, we will provide you with a report identifying the largest leak sealing opportunities, if any. There usually are!
- Air sealing: Our specialists will seal your air leaks using new weatherstripping, spray foam, or caulk.
That’s it. There is no guesswork involved, which is the most important thing about the process. The thermal analysis and blower door test shows us precisely where your largest air leaks are located.
Additional insight can be obtained from a whole-home assessment
It is best to perform blower door tests in conjunction with an energy audit and whole-home assessment. That will allow us to determine what else besides air sealing will help to solve your efficiency and comfort problems. Air sealing sometimes provides the greatest benefits. However, at other times, comparable results can be provided by various modifications (for example, HVAC adjustments).
We can determine several different things during a whole-home assessment such as:
- If enough air is being distributed by the ductwork
- Whether you are getting too much or enough ventilation
- Carbon monoxide leak and combustion safety risks
- Whether and where your house is missing insulation
- The air filtration system that is most effective for your house
- Ways of reducing humidity all year long
- Whether or not your HVAC system is the right size for the cooling and heating needs of your house
In some houses, addressing those problems can provide even more comfort upgrades compared to air sealing. It will depend on your house. That is why a thorough analysis is necessary.
Numerous benefits are offered by air sealing
Fewer allergy problems, lower utility bills, improved HVAC performance, better comfort. There are many things to like about air sealing!
If you would like to learn more about air sealing for your home in Austin, contact us! We will listen as you tell us about the issues that you are experiencing with your home. After all, air sealing is not the only solution to every indoor comfort issue. What we know more about your problem, we can help you find the right solution.