Energy Savings: The Rules are Changing

Remember when we were all taught about the four basic food groups and how meat and milk were deemed essential to our good health? The rules on that have certainly changed. How about the notion that bigger is better? Try telling that to cell phone manufacturers, car companies, and laptop makers.

The rules surrounding energy conservation have undergone significant changes. New technologies and shifting realities are prompting a reevaluation of what we once believed.

If you examine the list of energy-saving tips provided by experts just five or six years ago, the concept of duct sealing is virtually absent. Instead, emphasis was placed on projects such as window replacements or insulating walls as the most effective strategies for conserving home energy.

It's not that experts were unaware that ductwork leaks were the primary source of home energy waste. The challenge was the lack of an effective solution to address the problem. While tape or mastic could be used to manually seal some leaks, the majority of ductwork is situated behind drywall, under insulation, or in otherwise inaccessible locations.

Consequently, the problem was largely overlooked, and advice to homeowners continued to focus on actions like turning off lights and investing in Energy Star appliances. The reality of homes losing approximately 30 percent of their heating and cooling energy through ductwork leaks was reluctantly accepted.

This pressing reality spurred the quest for an effective solution. Around 1994, the U.S. Department of Energy collaborated with the Environmental Protection Agency, several utilities, and others to fund the research needed to address this problem comprehensively. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory was tasked with developing a way to seal leaks throughout the duct system, even those hidden behind walls or unreachable. Additionally, the solution had to be safe for use in occupied homes, work without interfering negatively with HVAC systems, and be easy to apply and cost-effective.

It was indeed a challenging mission for the LBNL team, but the breakthrough came with the introduction of Aeroseal technology. Although it now seems like an obvious answer, innovative thinking was crucial to turning the problem inside out to solve the puzzle. Traditional duct sealing methods covered leaks from the outside, but the new approach became the first and only solution to seal leaks from inside the ducts. The introduction of an aerosol mist as 'sealers' made the entire system accessible, eliminating concerns about walls and insulation.

The researchers successfully met all the criteria set by the DOE and others. Aeroseal technology is safe, doesn't coat the interior of the ductwork, is highly effective, and pays for itself in 2.5 – 7 years (compared to 70 years for windows and 90 years for wall insulation).

While duct sealing may not be at the forefront of energy-conscious Americans' priorities, it is rapidly gaining recognition. With an effective and cost-efficient solution now available, the rules are beginning to reflect this new reality. Energy advocates, from the DOE and the EPA to local utility companies and green building certifiers, are increasingly endorsing duct sealing as one of the most effective measures homeowners can take to reduce energy bills and enhance indoor comfort.

Times change, and innovations often reshape the rules of the game. This holds true for energy efficiency, where effective duct sealing technology has swiftly risen to the top of the list for reducing energy costs. It's a simple process, highly effective, and provides one of the fastest returns on investment for any home improvement project. Something worth considering the next time you're reaching for a sweater and adjusting the thermostat.

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