Air Leakage: Air Seal Your Home, Downsize Your A/C and Save Big!

Air leakage - sealing house

In this year’s record-breaking heat wave, most homeowners will make the common mistake of opting for a bigger air conditioner, but the unbearable heat typically isn’t the air conditioner’s fault at all—it’s air leakage. Corbett Lunsford, a building specialist with Green Dream Group in Chicago, reports that most air conditioners are oversized by 50 per cent to 100 per cent, and you could actually replace it with a smaller unit, not a bigger one, if your home was properly air sealed! Solving the air leakage problem is actually comparatively cheap, Lunsford adds, “For less than the price of a big new A/C ($4000 avg.), you can get the analysis ($675 starting) AND air sealing done ($2000 avg.).”

Chances are, you’ve barely heard of air sealing—so how can something that’s this important and cost-effective be unknown to most homeowners? Well, there’s no congressional lobby for it, no big bucks for marketing or advertising campaigns, and no product manufacturers who stand to gain more than a few dollars from the simple caulk and spray foam. No billionaires are made from selling home performance analysis, nor from the air sealing that’s performed as a result—it’s an industry of small, specialized local businesses.” A comprehensive home performance analysis is not only the way to find and fix air leakage, it’s a unique blueprint for all future home improvements,” says Lunsford.

Air leakage - sealing houseThe scientific explanation goes like this: warm air rises, cool air sinks. So when your A/C turns on, your home’s cool air sinks to the bottom, and tries to escape through as many gaps, cracks, and holes as it can find. Once your home loses that air, it must replace it, and you guessed it, the top floor becomes hot and humid. The solution isn’t to focus on your A/C, it’s to find the gaps, cracks, and holes and fix the leaks in your home’s shell, also called the “envelope.”

Not only can homeowners save money by not buying a bigger A/C, they can prolong the life of their current A/C when the home performs at its peak performance. Home performance analysis (commonly called an “Energy Audit”) involves giving a home a complete physical exam, using hi-tech tools like the blower door and the infrared thermal camera. A comprehensive home performance analysis will always include insulation inspections, pressure testing, HVAC diagnostics and combustion safety testing, but Lunsford clarifies, that in his experience on hundreds of Chicago homes, “air leakage is the single biggest opportunity for improvement in any home.”

Corbett Lunsford is technical director of Green Dream Group and author of Home Performance Diagnostics: the Guide to Advanced Testing and serves as executive director of the Illinois Association of Energy Raters & Home Performance Professionals. In addition to performing hundreds of comprehensive home performance assessments and new ENERGY STAR Home certifications in Chicago, Corbett presents at home performance conferences across the U.S.
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