Paying Extra to Heat Your Attic? Test Your Ducts!

18Jun14

DNP Ceiling DuctNot long ago I had a conversation with our local Electric Utility (PUD) about the causes of high energy usage in the home. I wanted to know what they look for when there is no obvious smoking gun. The following energy wasting culprits were at the top of their list:

  1.   Anything that provides a form of heating or cooling; This could be an actual furnace or air conditioner… or other appliances such as a stove, dryer, water heater, refrigerator etc.
  2.   Unintentional wastefulness such as leaking heating or cooling ducts into a crawl space.

Being in the Heating and Air Conditioning business, it was no surprise that the top two causes for excessive energy use on an abnormally high power bill were items directly related to our industry. It’s not uncommon that upgraded equipment and/or using the proper settings on a programmable thermostat, are recommended to homeowners as ways to improve energy efficiency and cut energy costs. But culprit number two was an eye-opener…the innocent little duct system that has been there ever since the home was built. Hardly any moving parts, nothing can go wrong with it, Right?

Energy usage (and how efficiently we use energy), has been our main focus for years when it comes to upgrading your equipment. Since the early 2000’s, the focus has broadened in the HVAC industry to include energy conservation, and one of our main areas of concern has been ducting system leakage

Before then, there were varying standards and requirements for sealing and insulating duct work, but not necessarily any standards for ducting when it came to upgrading an existing piece of equipment with newer equipment. For example, a home owner may intend to increase the energy efficiency of their heating system by replacing an 80% efficient furnace with a 96% efficient furnace. Though the efficiency will improve, the new equipment just inherited an old existing ducting system that may be very inefficient.

If 20% of the airflow is still leaking through bad ducting joints, holes by rodents, or badly fitted transitions, then 20% of what is being spent to heat or cool the home may not actually be conditioning the home at all, it’s simply wasted. Even if a piece of equipment is replaced with a more efficient version it will still waste 20%, but it will just waste the energy more efficiently.  Leaking duct work can mean your furnace is wasting energy by heating or cooling a space not intended to be conditioned, such as a crawl space or attic. Often utility bills can be decreased simply by assuring that poor ducting is leak free. When looking to replace Heating or Air Conditioning equipment for energy cost improvements, a qualified HVAC Contractor should recommend a test of the ducting system.

Unfortunately, duct work is not a favorite topic among some heating contractors when they’re giving estimates. Just performing this test can sway some homeowners from replacing their equipment, to investing in their ducting. We’ve seen test results that vary from a loss greater than 50%, to as little as 2%…quite a wide range. Imagine paying your heating bill, when 50% of what you paid for isn’t being used to heat your home at all…a scary, wasteful, and expensive thought.

Ducting systems with leakage can also mean leakage in the “return” air ducting of the furnace. This is the air returning from the house to be heated (or cooled) by the furnace. When the furnace is sucking air back into itself through this return air ducting system, that portion of the ducting system is under negative pressure. Leaks in “return ducts” can mean they’re drawing air from the surrounding area, which can include unconditioned places full of dust and particulates like the crawlspace and attic. Not only does leaking duct work waste energy but it can also negatively affect indoor air quality (IAQ).

When looking to reduce your carbon foot print and reduce your home’s heating and cooling costs by lowering your energy usage, upgrading your equipment is a good investment…but it’s only one component of your HVAC system. Ducting, though out of sight, should not be kept out of mind. An efficient, leak-free ducting system can be a worthy contributor to reducing energy usage. Having a duct leakage test done to measure the integrity of the system will help you make an informed decision and could save you money. You might actually find that some simple repairs or proper duct sealing are all that are needed to increase your energy savings, and as a bonus, improve your indoor air quality.
Bruce Davis Jr.
General Manager
Day & Nite Plumbing & Heating, Inc.

Bruce is a second generation plumber and HVAC technician. He earned his Commercial Plumbing License and later became N.A.T.E. Certified and E.P.A. Refrigerant Certified for HVAC service and repair for commercial and residential HVAC appliances. Bruce has years of experience as an HVAC Technician, Boiler Technician, and Plumber. He is now General Manager for the company he has been with his entire career and oversees the Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning business for Day & Nite Plumbing & Heating, Inc.

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2 Responses to “Paying Extra to Heat Your Attic? Test Your Ducts!”

  1. The hot air your paying for won’t do anything if it never gets to you. Leaking ducts is one of the easiest problems to overlook. It’s not often you’re up in the crawlspace and even if you are, the leakage may not be easily noticeable. If you have a system that has been there for years, you may want to check the duct system. Thanks for the article!


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