Little Cracks in Your Sustainability Plan

Mar 9, 2011 9:00 AM ET

Green Path Guide

If you add up all the small cracks, crevices, and holes in your building; the result would startle more homeowners or business owners.  No building is airtight.  In fact, most HVAC systems actually bring in a small portion of fresh air each day.  That is necessary because the occupants are breathing in oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide.  If CO2 builds up, people will become sleepy, nauseous, or literally faint.  However, there is the right way and the wrong way to bring in fresh air.  The wrong way is will all owner or renters more and more as fuel prices go up.

Your building has hundreds of small cracks or holes that were never intended. Buildings are generally not built to exact tolerences.  Air gaps are found around the foundation and floor, around windows and doors, and most places where wires and pipes make their entry.  You will find more around inset ceiling lights, attic accesses, air conditioners, vents, and flues.

When they are all added up, the average home or building has the equivalent of a two foot by two foot hole in the side of the building.  Imagine the impact on your bill, summer or winter, from such a flaw in building design or upkeep.  Fresh air addicts have been know to crack windows in the dead of winter.  As stated, there is a price to be paid in this energy-worried world for such ignorance.

Now, consider that every cubic foot of heated or cooled air in the facility has a dollar value.  As heated air escapes or cold air invades, money is lost.  This is a constant loss factor moderated only by the heat differential between the inside and outside air.  Unfortunately, most people feel helpless to day anything more than adjust their thermostat to more uncomfortable levels.

By the way, the more energy your home or business uses, the larger your energy bill will be.  Take note that that extra energy also has a carbon value.  Heavy energy use increases the carbon footprint, as well as boosts the energy costs.  Finally, the cost of energy will not be going down.  We all know that the ugly truth about the dwindling supply of fossil fuel and the increasing world demand.

Like many environmental practices, the cost of sealing a building is not a big expense.  It requires a few tubes of caulking, a bit of insulation for packing crevices, and perhaps felt or door weeps for doors.  The whole thing should be less than $50 for most buildings.  The return on investment should be very quick.

If there are areas without insulation, like attics or crawlspaces; do what you can to keep some barrier to heat or colling loss.  It makes no sense to delay a process that has immediate and continuing financial rewards.

Finally, seal all duct joints and insulate any ductwork that is exposed to outside air.  This is true of attics and basements.  Why try to heat or cool these areas?  In days of ample fuel and very low prices, these insulating efforts had little true value.  We all know that the world has changed and oil prices are no longer $25 to $30 per barrel, but now at $100 or more per barrel.  With no relief in sight, the idea of being a more energy efficient home, building or office is just good sense and smart economics.


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