Have you considered what a great opportunity you have when you remodel? Your home’s walls, floors, and ceilings may not have been open for decades, and when you're done, they'll be closed up for decades again.

Whether you're opening walls or adding new ones, working in the attic, basement, or crawl space, air sealing should be part of the job. Here are four reasons why:

  • To keep conditioned air inside. Air leaks waste energy. If you're spending money on air conditioning or heating your home, why would you want to make it easy for that expensive air to escape?
  • To keep unconditioned air outside. Air leakage works both ways. When a cubic foot of conditioned air goes outside, it must be replaced with a cubic foot of unconditioned air coming inside. That adds to the heating or cooling load of your home, costs you money, and can make your home uncomfortably hot, cold, or moist.
  • To keep bad air out and stay healthy. Not only does the air that leaks in cost you money, but it's probably not the most healthful air. Moldy air from the crawl space, CO and gasoline fumes from the garage, dead animal parts from the attic, pollen from outdoors—none of it’s good.
  • To keep moisture out of your walls. When it's hot and muggy outside, you don't want to pull that moisture into your building cavities and start biology experiments. When it's cold outside, the warm, relatively humid indoor air can condense inside wall cavities and cause materials to rot.

Does a House Need to Breathe?

Have you heard that you shouldn’t air seal your house too tightly because it needs to breathe? It’s a common myth, but that’s all it is. Houses do need to be able to dry out when they get wet, but controlled ventilation is far more effective and healthful than having a house that leaks air randomly.

This myth probably originates with the supertight, superinsulated houses of the 1970s, when we hadn’t yet figured out how to look at the house as a system. Home builders and trade contractors, with the best of intentions, sealed up the houses to eliminate the energy wasted via air infiltration, but some of them overlooked one key detail: Tight houses need mechanical ventilation.

A house cannot be too tight. Yes, a very tight house can have problems, but it's not because of the air sealing. The problem is the lack of systems thinking. Here, then, are five rules we could substitute for this myth about houses needing to breathe:

  • People need to breathe, not houses.
  • Don’t mix combustion air and people air.
  • Houses need to be able to dry out.
  • Avoid creating cold surfaces where moisture can condense.
  • Very airtight houses require a mechanical ventilation system.

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