Energy tip #9: get your ducts in a row

ducttape.gifDuct tape. Everyone’s favorite utilitarian product has been used for many, many things: hanging posters on walls, taping packages, wrapping up a wiffleball to get extra distance on your home-run swing. It’s one of the most useful products on the market, except when it serves it’s namesake purpose of wrapping the ducts in your home to prevent leakage.*

Air ducts are tubes, pipes, or channels through which hot and cold air flow when summoned by your thermostat. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), “in homes heated with warm-air heating, it is not uncommon for ducts to leak as much as 15-20% of the air passing through them.”

It’s therefore important to make sure the leaks are covered and the ducts are as efficient as possible. This can cost a good bit of moolah. A couple hundred dollars worth. But it’s worth it. The ACEEE claims that a thorough duct sealing can cut heating and cooling costs in many homes by as much as 20%.

A 20% reduction sounds like big savings for both CO2 and money. Let’s check out the numbers:

For a home in the Midwest, the average yearly energy bill is about $1900. Typically, heating and cooling represents represents 40-50% of the total bill, or about $750-950.

Heating and cooling bill: $750-950
Cost of duct sealing: $350
20% savings: $152-190
CO2 savings: 3600-4000 pounds

You may balk at having to drop a fair penny on the home fix-up project, but it certainly has a major environmental benefit, and pays for itself in about 2 years.




Last week 62 people pledged to look into a low flow showerhead (Tip #8). If we can find one that truly keeps reasonable water pressure, then 62 people will be helping to save roughly 24,000 lbs of CO2.

* [ed — We knew we were going to catch flack for this, and yet we plowed heedlessly forward anyway, unwillling to let anything stand in the way of a cute intro. Anyhow, for the record: we know that duct tape isn’t useful for taping ducts. Please use it only for its intended purposes: securing your child in amusement park rides and unwanted body hair removal. Thank you.]

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  1. Anonymous - August 30, 2006

    This is a great idea, but there is one problem. Duct tape is not what should be used to seal ducts and leaks like this. Duct tape won’t seal all that well or stay sealed very long. Mastic should be used on air ducts, and for large holes, foam sealant, and for small cracks, silicone caulking.

  2. Bill - August 30, 2006

    Technically, you don’t want to use duct tape to tape ducts. There are better products now to permanetally seal the joints in heating/cooling ducts. One is a super-sticky backed product that is Aluminum but like duct tape. For other solutions, do an Internet search. …bill

  3. Adam Stein - August 30, 2006

    Yep, we’re definitely aware. Here’s an oddly fascinating report on duct tape (did you know it comes in “nuclear grade”?) that documents its complete uselessness as a duct sealant:
    http://www.lbl.gov/Science-Articles/Archive/duct-tape-HVAC.html
    Anyway, we were just being cute in the first paragraph, and we would like to stress that duct tape should only be used for its intended purposes: repairing cracks in a car’s engine block and patching up bullet wounds.

  4. Chet R. - August 30, 2006

    It is true, DUCT tape would be a poor choice for trying to correct the issue of air escaping your air duct system.

    I found that using a good foil tape works very well and is quite easy and mess free. Personally, I have noticed quite a difference. One thing to keep in mind…make certain your surface is clean prior to applying any sealant. I found out the hard way.

  5. Anonymous - August 30, 2006

    What are the 5 words you will never hear…
    I’ve never tried duct tape.

  6. Alice - August 30, 2006

    Please don’t advocate duct tape. It loses its adhesive properties when exposed to heat. Recommend that people first screw the ducts lengths together with sheet metal screws, then use either furnace cement, or a butyl-backed foil tape, or a clear tape rated “UL-181-B” or “UL-181-FX 99DJ”. One such product is “FlexMate 285″. Check the tape packaging toverify that the product meets this standard. You should also alert people that their ductwork may be covered with asbestos, and that they should call a professional if they suspect that this is the case, and not attempt a removal themselves.

  7. disdaniel - August 30, 2006

    My parents spend the winter in a drafty wood and glass house on a windy hilltop. In the winter they use duct tape to seal around all the doors and french-windows (about 15 total) except the main entrance. Although the duct tape is a bit unsightly, they have insane electric heating bills in winter. Would any of the discussed duct sealing solutions work as well and look better, or work better for similar uglyness?