8 Ways to Limit Energy Loss in HVAC Air Ducts

August 30, 2023

According to the University of Florida, between 25% and 40% of heating and cooling energy is lost by ducted HVAC systems. The United States Department of Energy (DOE) asserts that a large portion of these losses exists even when ductwork is well-insulated, well-maintained, and fully sealed. If you’ve been paying a veritable fortune to regulate the temperature in your Seattle, WA home, deficiencies in your air ducts are a likely reason why. Fortunately, there are several effective strategies for limiting this energy loss. The following are eight of them.

1. Add or Improve Air Duct Insulation

Although the DOE recognizes insulated and sealed ductwork as still causing energy loss, having your air ducts properly insulated is always better than not. Per Energy Star, leaky, uninsulated ducts decrease the efficiency of HVAC systems by up to 20%. With the right insulation techniques and the best insulation type for your living environment, you may be able to see a reduction in your home energy costs of as much as 30%. This is especially true during chilly Western Washington winters when heated air has to travel through long sections of ductwork before reaching individual rooms.

When you lack insulation, your forced air heating systems will take a lot longer to establish comfortable temperatures indoors. Your heating systems will also work harder to maintain them. Adding or upgrading insulation will lower your carbon footprint and reduce wear and tear on your heating equipment. It can also lead to quieter HVAC system operation and greater resistance to the spread of airborne fibers, mold spores, and other particulates.

2. Choose the Right Location for Your HVAC Air Ducts

Concealment has long been the driving factor behind residential ductwork designs. To preserve indoor aesthetics, many companies have gone to great lengths to hide air ducts behind drywall and other building materials. These tactics limit the impact that ducted systems have on the usable, livable space of properties. However, they often also mean that heated and cooled air must travel a lot longer to reach their intended destinations.

If your home already has HVAC air ducts, you can modify their locations when replacing them. After all, most ductwork is expected to last just 10 to 15 years. Ductwork replacement projects give homeowners the opportunity to leverage modern and efficient design strategies such as:

  • Hiding air ducts behind dropped ceilings to shorten their length
  • Installing air ducts under raised floors
  • Hiding sections of ducting in the attic
  • Installing smaller sections of ductwork in discreet corners

Many of these same strategies are employed when adding ductwork to pre-existing construction that was built without these features. Whether you’re retrofitting an old home with new ducting, custom-designing a brand-new house, or simply replacing the aging ductwork that you already have, leveraging techniques like these could limit energy loss significantly, especially when paired with quality duct insulation.

3. Adjust the Diameter of Your Air Ducts

Oversize air ducts can either improve or inhibit airflow. Depending upon the size and capabilities of your heating and cooling systems, larger ducts could mean better airflow. However, in certain configurations, larger ducts slow the movement of air down, thereby giving heated air more time to lose heat and cooled air more time to return to a lukewarm or ambient temperature.

The need to choose air duct diameters that are perfectly in line with the heater or air conditioner being used is one of the top reasons why homeowners are advised to replace or refine their ductwork whenever having new HVAC equipment put in. Most heaters and air conditioners are expected to last 15 to 20 years. With the maximum lifespan of HVAC ducting capping out at just 15 years, it’s generally best to replace everything at once. Not only will you have new ducting that’s completely free of structural damage and air leaks, but you’ll also have ductwork that’s perfectly streamlined to support your new equipment.

4. Get Rid of Air Ducts With Rough, Rugged Interiors

Whether due to aging or deficiencies in design and manufacturing, some air ducts have rough, rugged interiors. Although this poses no danger to residents or to heating and cooling equipment, it does increase air friction. Even incredibly small protrusions can have a slowing effect on air movement so that warm air and cold air distribution take longer. Replacing ducts with options that have smooth, blemish-free interiors is another easy way to cut energy losses over the long-term.

5. Have Your HVAC Air Ducts Inspected and Sealed

There’s really no way for homeowners to know whether their air ducts are too large or too small, improperly located, or rough at their interior apart from scheduling full-on ductwork inspections. During these visits, our technicians can make recommendations for modifying or relocating certain sections of ducting during your next replacement project. We’ll also identify and address areas of energy loss by sealing up all cracks and other leaks. While having your air ducts insulated is important for minimizing energy loss, having these features sealed is even more so.

6. Know Which Air Duct Cleaning Method to Use and Use It

Using your HVAC system with excessively dirty ductwork can wreak havoc on your home energy bills. Although duct cleaning services are frequently scheduled by Washington homeowners as a way to improve their indoor air quality (IAQ), build-ups of debris inside of ducting inhibit airflow and force heaters and air conditioners to work harder. While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends scheduling duct cleaning on an as-needed basis, the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) recommends maintaining a duct cleaning schedule every three to five years.

However, not all air ducts are optimally responsive to all air duct cleaning techniques. For instance, if your HVAC air ducts have already provided more than 10 years of service, opting for certain cleaning techniques could leave you with structural damage and air leaks. Our vacuum cleaning method involves the use of specially designed tools that eliminate buildups in even older ducting without negatively impacting the integrity of these structures. Our duct cleaning services additionally include air duct sealing so that you can tick multiple boxes on your efficiency list at once. We even offer optional dryer vent cleaning for enhanced IAQ benefits.

7. Go Ductless

Although ductless mini-split heat pumps and air conditioners aren’t for everyone, they may be the right choice for your home. This is especially true if your home was built without the ducting that’s necessary for supporting central heating and cooling. Many Western Washington residents seeking to update their older properties opt for ductless systems because they’re cheaper and easier to install than paying for major ductwork retrofitting projects. They also distribute heated and cooled air right where it’s produced.

8. Take Advantage of Integrated HVAC Accessories

Airflow obstructions and other system-related problems affecting the efficiency of your ductwork may be possible to resolve if you have the right integrated accessories. If your ducts are constantly dirty despite regular cleanings and routine filter changes, having a whole-house air purifier put in could be the best solution. We offer UV light sanitization and other IAQ technologies that both improve the quality of indoor air and keep conditioned air moving freely through ducted systems.

When it comes to saving residents of Seattle money and lowering their carbon footprints, we do it all. We offer heating, cooling, electric, and IAQ services. We also provide water heaters, duct cleaning services, ductless mini-split systems, whole-house fans, and more. To find out more about improving the efficiency of your ductwork, give Brennan Heating & Air Conditioning a call.

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