Mind the Gaps: Making Existing Buildings More Airtight

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Categories: Article, Guest Author

Published on BuildingGreen

by Nadav Malin and Peter Yost

Leaky building enclosures create health hazards, comfort problems, and high energy bills. Fixing them isn’t rocket science; but you’d better know your building science.

Sealing air leaks in any building can make it more comfortable and efficient. But owners of existing buildings often resist spending the time and money to address the problem. In fact, addressing air leaks in existing buildings is like the Rodney Dangerfield of Rodney Dangerfields. In the words of the late comedian, “they just don’t get no respect.” Even without air leaks, existing buildings don’t get no respect unless they are historic or otherwise noteworthy. And when there are air leaks, most owners don’t pay attention until the signs are impossible to ignore: ice dams building up, mold growth, or people near the windows are shivering. At that point an expert might be recruited to scope out the problem and recommend a solution.

Drivers for Air Sealing

Leaky buildings are often ignored in the face of other problems that are perceived as more critical, reports Jenny Carney of WSP in Chicago. “In larger commercial buildings, even if they know that they have an air leakage problem, it’s rare that fixing it rises to the level of capital investment,” Carney says. “When it does,” she continues, “it’s driven by occupant comfort or other issues.” To make things worse, “most people don’t even realize that they have a leaky building unless they are getting drafts or have freezing pipes, cluster flies, or icicles coming out of the curtainwall,” reports building forensics expert Terry Brennan of Camroden Associates.

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