4 Home Improvement Projects for Energy Efficiency, McKinsey Study
Homeowners today look to their HVAC professional for more than just a fix when the air conditioner stops working. Barraged with various, often conflicting, information about home energy use, money saving strategies and getting a good return on investment, they are depending upon their furnace or AC guy for real answers. Here are some strategies to keep in mind:
- Upgrading windows
- Home Insulating
- Furnace Replacement
- Duct Sealing
Research by McKinsey & Company: Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the U.S. Economy
Surprised to See Duct Sealing in the List?
Rules regarding home energy savings are changing. New technologies and shifting realities are showing us that what we once believed may need some rethinking. If you look at the list of energy-saving tips offered by experts just five or six years ago, the idea of duct sealing was virtually absent. Instead, we were mostly just taught to upgrade windows or add insulation. Now we know there is so much more to consider like how duct leakage in ductwork impacts energy efficiency.
It’s not that experts didn’t know that leaks in residential ductwork were often a significant source of home energy waste. It’s just that there really wasn’t a cost-effective solution to the problem. Sure, you could use tape or mastic to manually seal some of the leaks. However, most of a duct system is located behind drywall, under insulation, in tight attic spaces or other hard to access locations. That meant that effectively sealing the duct system would require huge demolition and retrofitting costs among others.
So, with few if any viable solutions available, the problems associated with duct leakage were virtually ignored and advice to homeowners continued to focus on turning off lights and investing in Energy Star appliances. We were resigned to living in a world where the average home lost up to 30 percent of its heating and cooling energy through leaks in the ductwork.
It was this gnawing reality that set the wheels in motion to the search for an effective solution. Around 1994, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) got together with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), several utilities and others to invest in the research needed to finally solve this problem. They asked the scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) to come up with a way to seal leaks throughout the duct system – even those that were hidden behind walls or that were otherwise unreachable. In addition, the solution had to be safe for use inside occupied homes, it had to work without negative impact to the rest of the HVAC system, and it had to be easy to apply. Perhaps most importantly, it had to be cost effective to use, with energy savings providing a fast return on homeowner’s investment.
Quite a tall order. You can only imagine how daunting a task this mission originally must have seemed to the LBNL team assigned to coming up with the solution.
Now that aerosol-based duct sealing technology has arrived, the answer seems almost obvious. But it took real innovative thinking to literally flip the problem inside out in order to solve the puzzle. While traditional duct sealing methods work by covering leaks from the outside of the ductwork, this new approach would be the first to seal leaks from inside the ducts. If you could get sealant to work from the inside, the problems associated with accessibility would be solved. Walls and insulation would no longer be an obstacle. Sealing in tight attic spaces would be a breeze.
And that’s exactly what the researchers did. The sealant came in the form of an aerosol mist that delivers microscopic particles of adhesive directly to the leaks. The sealant particles cling to the edge of the holes and then to other sealant particles, quickly forming a permanent seal around the entire leak. The technology, dubbed aeroseal, met all the initial criteria set out by the DOE and the research team. It is safe, it doesn’t coat the interior of the ductwork, and it pays for itself in 2.5 – 7 years (compared to upgrading windows at 70 years and wall insulation at 90). Most importantly, it’s highly effective – typically sealing 95% of leakage.
While duct sealing still is not on top of the list for most energy-minded Americans, it’s quickly getting there. Now that there is an effective/cost effective solution, the rules are beginning to reflect this new reality. A growing number of energy advocates – from the DOE and the EPA to local utility companies and green building certifiers – have begun to add duct sealing to the top of their recommended list for homeowners looking to reduce their energy bills and increase indoor comfort.
Times change and innovations often reset the rules of the game. That is certainly the case when it comes to energy efficiency. With effective duct sealing technology a reality, duct sealing has quickly risen to the top of the list of things we can do to reduce energy costs. It’s easy to have done, it’s highly effective and it provides one of the fastest ROI you’ll find for any home improvement project. Something to consider the next time your customer asks you about energy saving upgrades for his/her home.