Looking to boost energy efficiency, many homeowners are quick to turn to obvious culprits like poor insulation and out-of-date windows and doors. The source of energy loss, however, can also lie in the largely hidden ductwork that distributes hot and cold air throughout homes using forced-air HVAC systems. Out of sight, leaking ducts can go unnoticed for years. Locating the source of these leaks and properly treating them will maximize your energy savings and in-home comfort.

According to ENERGY STAR, the average home loses 20 percent of the air moving through its ducts due to damaged, improperly sealed, or poorly designed ductwork. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) estimates that high-efficiency systems can lose as much as 40 percent of their energy when air escapes from leaking ducts in attics, crawlspaces, or outdoors. With such dramatic losses in energy efficiency, it’s essential to know the common symptoms of leaking ducts and how to address the problem. The following are typical warning signs indicating that you need to call in a professional to inspect your ducts:

  • Difficulty heating your home in the winter and cooling your home in the summer
  • Above-average energy bills
  • Uneven temperature distribution with rooms that feel stuffy
  • Crushed, tangled, or kinked ductwork
  • Deteriorated duct tape that was once used to patch connections or holes

Simple Steps You Can Take

  • Periodically clean the vents and registers: wipe off any accumulated debris, and inspect for any irregularities as well as proper seals between the duct and the wall, ceiling, or floor.
  • Look for crushed, tangled, or kinked ductwork when accessible.
  • Apply mastic, a white adhesive, to loose connections and leaks if the ductwork is accessible. Never use duct tape, which will quickly dry out and deteriorate, to seal ducts.

Calling In a Professional

While homeowners can take the simple measures listed above to check for and correct leaks, many choose to call in a professional. Ductwork is often difficult to reach, and it takes a knowledgeable professional to understand the exact source of leaks and the correct course of action. Most duct cleaning professionals can complete the following tasks:

  • Perform a full inspection to locate leaks
  • Determine if there are any potential backdrafts, in which gas emissions from regular appliance use enter your home through leaking ducts instead of being directed outside
  • Repair damaged ducts and connections
  • Professionally seal any leaks, holes, or spaces between connections
  • Apply any additional insulation needed around ductwork

Taking care of your ductwork can enhance your comfort in your home, alleviate indoor air quality problems, and lighten monthly energy bills. The EPA recommends reducing air leakage to a rate of less than three percent, so it’s a good idea to locate a capable professional with the knowledge and experience necessary to address duct issues.

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Sources: American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE); California Energy Commission; ENERGY STAR; EPA.

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