Report from the frontlines: Know Air Flow (or Seal for the Real Deal)


Riding along on a few comprehensive home assessments with some of the team in our Syracuse office, I was once again reminded of the importance of air sealing and how it can still be a mystery even for folks who are savvy to the inner-workings of a home.

The fist home was older and although solidly built, suffered over the years a lack of insulation as well as a great deal of air-leakage.  The homeowner, a retired fireman who was remodeling the place, called us because he wanted insulation and a new heating system.  

Attic airleaks filtered through insulation

Firemen know about homes, and they know about the importance of airflow.  It’s a key component in combustion after all.  So it was easy to explain why it was necessary to tackle air leaks before adding insulation.  But really the evidence was laid out before us.

The turned over fiberglass lying on top of loose blown in insulation was blackened from airflow all over the attic.  Essentially, lot’s of air was moving through the ceiling and into the attic.  From the chimney, from open walls from wires and pipes, everywhere this attic could leak it did.   And the fiberglass didn’t stop the air—that’s not what it was designed to do.  It did clean the air a bit as the air raced through.  So, this home really didn’t have effective insulation, but rather a big air filter up in the attic.  How nice to clean the air that you’re throwing away to the outside right along with the heat that it carries!

Being a fairly old leaky home with no insulation in the walls it had more heating than necessary. Baseboard and radiators were laid out everywhere! The homeowner joked he was going to turn the boiler downstairs into a camper it was so big!  After we properly air seal and insulate, and then size a new boiler appropriately, he won’t be burning through heating fuel so quickly this coming year.

The second home was a modern one built more recently.  This tri level home was well taken care of and the homeowner, being quite handy had recently spent a great deal of time adding some nice finishing touches here and there. 

Their son was off at college but came home for his final year and they offered to turn the heat up since they were keeping it low to save money.   For him the rental home on campus was leaky and un-insulated, anything was better!  Certainly this new home should be a comfortable home for the most part but they were sacrificing comfort to save money, they knew there was room to improve.   

Again the request was for more insulation and here’s another savvy homeowner asking.    Their concern was comfort and high energy bills, and since he’d crawled around in the attic a few times, he knew more insulation wouldn’t hurt.   And he’s right, kind of.  More insulation would be good, especially covering the bare spots like the one below.  But, again, only AFTER air-sealing.   

Big opening in an attic that leaks inside air

He had put gaskets over the light switch plates and had new windows installed.  What he was missing were sealing the big holes in the attic, and these are the ones that cause a great deal of heat loss, not just in this home, but in most.  With the various levels of the home all connected in the attic, we find the worst offenders, the stuff that needs sealing shut before more insulation is added.   Even for such a modern home our testing revealed that that home was twice as leaky as it should have been even though it looked like it was in good shape.

In these homes, and in the majority that we see, comfort is a big sacrifice on top of too-high heating bills. The good news is they’re we’re able to find the problems.  And we’ll be sending out crew to make the fixes in the next couple of weeks.     And new or old, most homes  need some buttoning up.  Does yours?  For both of these savvy homeowners, this winter should feel a whole lot better with no air flow…now they know.

Visit our video library to learn more about the importance of attic air sealing and other topics that will help you save money and be more comfortable.

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2 Responses to “Report from the frontlines: Know Air Flow (or Seal for the Real Deal)”

  1. jeepsubmarine Says:

    I had a home energy audit performed recently and ended up saving a great deal of money on my electric bill. Attic air sealing was a service I elected to have done and the results were pretty impressive.

  2. Leaving the Door Open – I Cry Fowl! « GreenHomes America Says:

    […] acquired some unwanted guests.  It made me think about our homes and another unwanted “guest”: uncontrolled airflow via attics and elsewhere in the home.  (A great resource if you haven’t seen it already can be […]

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