How to Insulate HVAC Ductwork to Lower Your PG&E Power Bill Over Elk Grove’s Hot Summer

It’s hard to pick which of the towns in our area was hardest hit by this year’s winter storms. The weather websites that measure rainfall aren’t a big help, because they only keep numbers for certain areas. Sacramento seemed to show up on the news quite a bit, but that’s because it’s also the biggest city—and the one the area pays the most attention to. If you ask me, I think Elk Grove was one of the most affected because, on top of rainfall, they also had troubles with levees. The Point Pleasant neighborhood was placed under an evacuation order this winter after heavy rains in the area caused one along the Cosumnes River to break.

All this moisture can add up to corrosion in the ductwork of your home. Too much moisture can then lead to leaks and holes in your HVAC system that decrease energy efficiency and raise your power bill. This becomes an issue during the hot summer months when you have to run your air conditioner.

This is an especially important issue in our area because PG&E, one of the largest power providers in Northern California, has been raising its rates in Elk Grove, as well as the rest of the region. With that in mind, today I’d like to talk about how you can insulate HVAC ductwork to lower your energy bill, which is especially important after Elk Grove’s rainy winter made your system more vulnerable to corrosion than ever. Better insulation in your ducts keeps moisture out, cold air in, and money from being leached out of your wallet. It’s smart homeownership to know as much as you can about sealing and insulating your ducts.

Sealing Ductwork for Energy Efficiency

hvac ductwork insulationThe average home loses between 20 and 30 percent of the conditioned air that moves through its ducts due to leaks, holes, or poor connections, according to Energy Star. If 30 percent of air is lost, that means your AC or furnace is running 30 percent longer to get the same results as if you had sealed ducts. That’s a lot of power you don’t need to be wasting, especially now that PG&E’s rates are continuing to go up. Insulation in your ducts keeps moisture out, reducing corrosion, which also reduces the risk that ducts will develop holes and leaks. Sealed ducts make HVAC systems much more efficient, meaning they run less often and use less power.

The average home loses between 20 and 30 percent of the conditioned air that moves through its ducts due to leaks, holes, or poor connections.

Ducts with poor insulation are also more susceptible to temperature transference. For years, ducts were made from galvanized steel, a material picked almost entirely for its durability. The problem with galvanized steel, though, is that it lacks any sort of insulative properties, which means that not only are they affected by moisture, they also become heated and cooled when located in your attic or basement, as ducts often are, because those rooms aren’t climate controlled like the rest of your house. If the ducts are too warm, they will actually heat the air inside them, making it harder for the air conditioner to keep your home cool in the hot Elk Grove summer sun.

A major problem I see in terms of HVAC energy efficiency is that many folks in our area live in older homes and don’t even realize that their ducts are poorly insulated. Cities like Elk Grove, as well as Sacramento, Roseville, and Folsom, have homes that have been there for decades, long before rising power rates—a problem exacerbated by improperly insulated ductwork—were even a concern.

How to Insulate HVAC Ductwork in Your Home

The good news is that as rates continue to rise, HVAC ductwork technology continues to improve as well. In modern homes, galvanized steel ducts are largely a thing of the past, and in historic or older homes that inherited them, HVAC professionals now have relatively affordable ways to retrofit insulation. In fact, insulation for ducts has come so far that you now have several choices when it comes to enhancing energy efficiency, enough that as a responsible homeowner interested in counterbalancing rising energy rates, you owe it to yourself to do some homework. Let’s take a look at some of the options:

  • Flexible ducts: Flexible ducts, sometimes called flex ducts, are usually made of flexible plastic over metal wire coil. These ducts are shaped like a tube, and they do an outstanding job of preventing moisture, even during a rainy winter in Elk Grove, from causing corrosion. These ducts don’t let moisture get inside in the first place. The problem with these, however, is that they aren’t very durable and are prone to breaks.
  • Combination flexible and galvanized steel ducts: This is ideal when building a new home or retrofitting your existing one with better-insulated ducts. You can put galvanized steel ducts in the driest areas of a house. Meanwhile, you can install flexible ducts in out of the way places where they won’t be damaged, such as in an attic, crawlspace, or basement. If you work with a trained HVAC professional, you’ll end up with an ideal mix of durability and energy efficiency.
  • Retrofitted insulation: If you’re not in a position to replace your ductwork, there are now options to retrofit existing galvanized steel ducts with certain materials. Here are your two primary options:
  • Regular fiberglass insulation with a foil back: This is the most common choice, available in various thicknesses and in flexible or rigid forms.
  • Bubble wrap duct insulation: This insulation is double-wrapped foil bubble wrap. It’s cheaper than the regular fiberglass variety, but may not necessarily be as effective as you want or need it to be.

A trained HVAC technician can help you pick the material that’s right for you, your home, and for your ducts. Regardless of what your ductwork is made of, your power rates are going up. After a winter like the one that just pounded Northern California and breached a levee in Elk Grove, chances are your poorly insulated ducts have weathered some moisture.

One bad season won’t weaken your ducts to the point of breaking, but it will lay the groundwork if the rains come back again next year. Before you know it, your poorly insulated ducts will have breaches that unevenly distribute the warmed or cooled air to your home, making your HVAC system run longer and use more power. So, invest in energy efficiency now, and avoid the higher PG&E energy bills that come from poorly insulated ductwork in the long run. Did you know there’s an indoor surf park in Elk Grove? You could take the kids there to have fun in the water with the money you save keeping your ducts dry.

Are you concerned about PG&E’s energy rate increases? The trained HVAC professionals at Bell Brothers can help you better insulate your ducts, which goes a long way to saving money on your power bill.

Image courtesy Unsplash user Veronica Ivanov