Sealing the Envelope – Save on Energy Costs by Reducing Air Leakage

By: | Posted in: Green Plus News |

airsealchartLast night, the Institute for Sustainable Development hosted its quarterly event for Certified Green Plus businesses at Mez – the Chapel Hill Restaurant Group’s newest restaurant located in Research Triangle Park.  When Mez opened last year, it became North Carolina’s first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) designed restaurant.  Mez is housed in a gorgeous new structure that has tons of energy efficiencies built in.  How does a business that doesn’t have the plans or the budget to build something from scratch incorporate some of those same energy efficiencies?  The answer is there are tons of places you can start.

The most thorough way to start is to get an energy audit. They are discussed in the How-To section of the Green Plus website here.  A full energy audit includes blower door testing and infrared thermography, as well as other tests to tell you exactly where your structure has air leakage and recommended next steps for sealing off your building’s envelope.  One of the most common recommendations after an energy audit is wall insulation.  Wall insulation is one of the best ways to save on heating a cooling costs, but it is also one of the most expensive and most laborious tasks at around $6,000.

For buildings more than 5-10 years old, it is a pretty safe bet that the attic and basement should be your focus if you have a tight budget.  More specifically air sealing and attic insulation are sure ways to improve your building’s envelope.

  • Air Sealing  – seals where the house frame meets the foundation with caulk and foam. The cost is about $1000-2000 for a small building, and has approximately a 5-year payback period.
  • Attic Insulation – while attic insulation is slightly more expensive at $2000+, the attic is where approximately 40% of energy loss occurs. Attic Insulation also has an estimated 5-year payback period.

For handy do-it-yourselfers, the Sierra Club has a new Green Home website with lots of tips on air sealing and weatherproofing here, which are accompanied by videos from the Green Dream Group.  Both of these websites  have more information about air sealing, attic insulation, and many other options to prevent air leakage.
When it comes time to expand, think LEED design.  In the mean time, though, consider all the ways you can tighten the seal on your already existing buildings.

Teddy Salgado is a master's student at Duke's Fuqua School of Business pursuing his MBA with concentrations in Social Entrepreneurship and Decision Sciences. His professional interests include business strategy and development, particularly with environmentally and socially sustainable...
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