Maintaining Your Ducts

You’re literally throwing money away. Literally, hundreds of dollars are going up into thin air. How could you lose so much money? Inefficient, leaky, ducts. Every time your HVAC system runs, it’s pushing air through your ducts. Ideally, every bit of air that goes in, will come out a vent in your office, storage room, kitchen, or anywhere else you’re trying to heat or cool. Unfortunately, that probably isn’t the case.


The Leaking Problem

Every HVAC system needs maintenance over time. The laws of physics make a pretty clear-cut case that nothing lasts forever. Everything experiences wear, tear, and degradation over time. Your ducts were hopefully sealed at installation, but it’s always possible the contractor skipped that step. In days long gone, saving energy was not the massive issue it is today. Even if the system was sealed, it probably has developed leaks if its more than a few years old.

The leaks occur wherever two pieces of duct work are joined together. We use things like Galvanized Steel and Aluminum to make most duct working. These materials are lightweight, durable, and unlike copper, are not so easily soldered or welded into a perfect seal. Of course, they’re cheaper than copper and don’t necessarily need the time and expense of soldering to be sealed.

Given that we can’t turn five pieces of ductwork into one air-tight stretch by design, you can see where the problems arise. The ducts have to have space to connect together and be flexible. We can’t design them with a fit down to ten-thousandths of an inch like the cylinders in your engine block. If we put gaskets in, those would eventually wear out and be a real pain to replace. Sealed by design isn’t going to work for this.


The Cost

Estimates for energy losses for leaking ducts vary. In some cases, it can easily be as high as 30%. Perhaps the easiest calculation is to simply look at everywhere your ducts go and ask “how much power would it take to cool every place they go?” If you have ducts in your attic and basement, you’re probably paying to heat and cool your attic and basement. If the basement has half the area of the rest of your house, then you could be losing perhaps a quarter of your cool air. Remember, it’s not a wide-open hole in the duct, so not all of it is dumping out.

Overtime, this is going to add up. You’re going to be wasting energy, to run the hardware more often, to control the temperature of rooms you’re not using. Just imagine if you left every light in your office on, 24/7. Your electric company would be throwing a part. Even with efficient LED lights, it adds up.

This is however, a fixable solution. Duct sealing technology has come a long way. You can readily do it DIY or have a contractor do the dirty work.


Duct Tape

First off, leave the duct tape on the shelf. Yea, it’s called Duct Tape, but chances are it’s actually not the best tool for the job at hand. Duck Tape can be traced way back to 1942, where it got it’s name from the Duck Cotton it was made from. At the time, it was invented to quickly and easily seal ammunition containers. At the time, bullets, grenades, artillery shells, and everything else needed for the war, was incredibly vulnerable to water. Duck tape was water-resistant, cheap, and easy to apply. After the war, Duck Tape evolved into numerous other tapes. Duct Tape, Gaffer Tape, and numerous foil tapes soon saw widespread use in every industry.

The problem here, is that most things labelled Duct Tape, aren’t actually meant for use in ducts. They usually become brittle and fail very, very easily. The constant, significant temperature changes just wears the material beyond any hope of actually working. Then of course, there are actually good Duct Tapes, that are designed to do the job. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know which ones work and which ones don’t. In large part, things called Duct Tape aren’t UL Certified and we advise leaving them all on the shelf in favor of what we know will work.


Duct Mastic

In most cases, you’re better off with a compound called Duct Mastic. It’s a gooey substance you paint into and over the gaps in your duct work. The material forms a nice, air-tight seal and because it starts out as a liquid, it can be made to fit any shape and connection. This makes it easy to apply in tight spaces, easy to re-apply if a new leak forms, and also incredibly messy. You’ll want to prepare your work area about the same as if you were going to paint the walls. Put down giant plastic sheets, where old/unwanted clothes and gloves, and use eye protection.


The Disclaimer

That said, we at Procure Inc. aren’t taking the blame if you ruin your carpet, if Sparky manages to coat himself in an air and water-tight sealant, or anything else. If you choose to seal your ducting by hand, it’s on  you to do your research, learn more than the contents of this blog, and be careful. If you’re not experienced in DIY work or you’re worried you might not get the job done right, we recommend contacting your contractor. Depending on the size of your home or business, it could be as little as a day’s work, plus whatever time consultation and planning takes.


The Wrap Up

Did we get anything wrong? Is there any topic you want us to cover? Do you use Duct Tape over Mastic compounds? Let us know in the comments below!

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