Duct testing and repair is one of the most exciting new areas for potentially huge energy savings. Recent studies and pilot programs show that these savings can be realized in southern and northern latitudes... and that the per home savings can be as high as 8-10% of total household energy use, or as much as 10-15% of household electrical use. In short, duct testing and repair represents one of the newest and largest gold mines for residential energy savings.
The recent focus on duct testing and repair is really the brainchild of three independent energy analysts. John Tooley and Neil Moyer of Natural Florida Retrofit had the insight that a tremendous amount of energy is wasted as a result of leaky ducts. They also gained the respect and support of Jim Cummings of the Florida Solar Energy Center who was simultaneously working on the same concept. Fortuitously, the three teamed up and began to champion the cause with the critical financial support of the Florida Energy Office. They found that leaky ducts are a common, if not universal problem in Florida.
This profile, unlike others in The Results Center’s 1992 and 1993 Profile Series, does not focus on any one specific utility, but instead presents brief descriptions of the "founding fathers" of duct testing and repair (the Florida Solar Energy Center and Natural Florida Retrofit), then some of the base concepts involved with duct testing and repair, and then presents the experiences of several utilities to date in this field. These utilities include The City of Lakeland (FL) Electric and Water Utility, Florida Power Corporation, Florida Power and Light, Pacific Gas and Electric, and Duke Power Company.
As alluded to above, repairing leaky ducts bears a great potential for energy savings (both electric and gas and other home heating fuels as well.) But repairing leaky ducts can have significant air quality benefits as well. Often leaky duct returns, which are under negative pressure or a mild vacuum, pull poor quality air from attics, garages, and basements. Tightening these ducts can thus enhance indoor air quality. The flip side of this equation is that by reducing leakage from a home there is a potential to upset delicate pressure balances, and with it the chance of exacerbating safety issues related to appliances that rely on combustion, such as gas hot water heaters. Thus care has to be taken and most utilities perform combustion safety tests before and after their duct repair efforts.
One of the great ironies of this emerging field is that ducts ought to be installed correctly in the first place. If they were, there would be much less need for costly and time-consuming retrofits. PG&E’s new duct testing and insulation program discussed in this profile includes a "High Performance Ducts" component in its residential new construction program. As such, builders can earn incentives for installing and testing duct systems in accordance with requirements set forth by PG&E, obviating the need for later repairs.
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