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Air Sealing Tips for Hot Humid Climates

by Chaya, selected from Networx

By Carl Seville, Networx

Since we’re heading into the summer, and it may well be a hot one  this year,  it’s a good time to look at home improvements that can help  save energy and  make your house more comfortable in those hot, sticky  months coming up. Air  conditioning installers in Miami and other hot, humid climates are going to  get a lot of work this  summer. How can you get the most from your investment in  air  conditioning?

The first thing that homeowners and contractors need to understand is that air sealing is really  important.  The most  common insulation, fiberglass, doesn’t work very well  when air leaks  through it.  It’s actually a pretty good filter for dirt  (you may have  noticed that it’s used for those cheap furnace filters), when you  cut  open an old insulated wall you usually see big streaks of dirt where air   has been blowing through the insulation for years.  Not only do air  leaks  keep the insulation from working, they let lots of humid air into  the house,  making your air conditioner work harder.  Tightening up those  leaks keeps  the house more comfortable, keeps the humidity lower, and  saves a lot of energy  in the process.

So where do we need to air  seal, you might ask?  Pretty much  everywhere, but let’s start at the  bottom.  For now, I’ll assume that you  have a wood framed floor with a  vented crawlspace below it, and probably  fiberglass batt insulation  installed between the floor joists.  Carefully  pull out the batts around  any big holes like tub drains, pipes, big wires, and  any other place  where there are holes in the floor decking.  Plug those  holes with foam  boards, spray foam, or anything else that won’t let air pass  through.  Don’t jam fiberglass insulation in the holes – it won’t air seal   anything.  Then carefully caulk all the small holes where wires and  pipes  pass through the floor.

Finally, make sure that all the  insulation is pushed up tight against the  subfloor and held in place  with skinny metal bars called tiger teeth.  If  you’re really ambitious  you could seal and insulate your crawlspace, but that’s a little too involved  for this post.

Then  you need to go inside and caulk all the cracks between the walls and   the floor.  If you’re replacing carpet or refinishing wood floors, put a   good bead of caulk or spray foam between the baseboard and the  subfloor.   Next, start moving up the walls, filling in all the gaps in  the drywall –  around receptacles, pipes, wires, window and door trim,  and anything else that  makes a hole in the wall finish.  You can buy  foam gaskets to put behind  electrical plates that will help seal them  from more air leaks.  If you  have any knee walls – walls between  interior space and attics, make sure that  they are well insulated and  have a solid air barrier on the attic side –  something like drywall or  foam board, carefully caulked at all joints and  edges.  If your house is  missing this, all the heat from the attic will  flow right through the  insulation into the room, making it really  uncomfortable.

Finally,  we need to fix up the ceiling.  This is where we usually get  the most  air leakage, particularly in the summer.  Go up in your attic and  start  pulling the insulation away from the walls, pipes, wires, and any other   openings in the ceiling.  Seal those holes the same way you did the ones   in the floor, making sure that you get all of them.  You should also  seal  the crack between drywall and the wood wall at the top – that’s a  big air leak  in most houses.   But the biggest ceiling leak is the attic  stair or  access hatch.  You can build or buy a nice foam box to seal  over the top  of them, but you have to be careful about putting them back  every time you go  into the attic.

If you’re not interested in taking on this project yourself, think about hiring a weatherization contractor to inspect the house and  make the repairs for you.  If you’re lucky,  your local utility may offer  rebates for doing improvements like these –  you can be more comfortable, save  energy, and get a little money back  in your pocket.

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