According to Energy Star, air leakage can cause 20 percent of a building’s energy usage to go to waste. This significant loss occurs when conditioned air escapes through various points of vulnerability in a commercial building.

Common culprits of air leakage include poorly sealed windows and doors, gaps and cracks in the building envelope, and leaks in ventilation systems and ductwork. These invisible escape routes allow valuable heated or cooled air to escape unnoticed. Properly air sealing your building closes these gaps, preventing conditioned air from escaping.

What is air sealing?

Simply put, air sealing is the process of closing gaps, cracks, and leaks in a building to stop the exchange of air between the inside and outside. It aims to create a strong barrier that keeps your carefully heated or cooled air from escaping, defeating energy waste. Sealing these openings stops the energy waste when air leaks out, saving both money and the environment.

Understanding its concept, purpose, and significance

But it can help improve the indoor comfort of occupants by maintaining a consistent temperature. When paired with thermal mass materials, commercial buildings can minimize temperature and humidity fluctuations. Sealing the air in a building may seem simple, but it can be massive.

How is air sealing done?

Let’s now explore the practical process of air sealing. Here’s a simplified breakdown of how it’s done in three steps:

  1. Inspection: Conduct a thorough examination of your commercial building to identify areas where air can enter or escape, such as windows, doors, attics, basements, and exterior walls.
  2. Gather tools: Gather the necessary tools like caulk, weatherstripping, foam sealants, and gaskets.
  3. Air sealing application: Apply caulk to seal small cracks and gaps, use weatherstripping for moving parts like doors and windows, utilize foam sealants for more significant gaps, and install gaskets around electrical outlets and wall openings. Follow the instructions provided with each material, ensuring surfaces are clean and properly prepared before applying the sealants.

Remember, air sealing is a continuing process. Regularly inspect and maintain your seals to address any new gaps that may appear or existing ones that may deteriorate over time. This will help preserve the effectiveness of your air sealing efforts.

How much of a difference does it make?

Sealing air gaps helps you improve insulation and gain better temperature control by preventing the energy waste of air leakage. This also reduces the strain on your HVAC system and can decrease the size requirements of the system. On top of improving temperature control, air sealing also improves humidity control, reducing moisture-sensitive equipment’s durability issues.

Its impact on energy efficiency and cost savings in CRE

Air sealing can help improve real estate energy efficiency and reduce costs in a few key ways, including:

  • Enhanced temperature control: Air sealing minimizes drafts and air leaks, creating a more comfortable environment for occupants and reducing the need for constant HVAC adjustments.
  • Improved insulation: Closing any air gaps that leak conditioned air enhances the insulation of your building resulting in more efficient heating and cooling systems.
  • Extended equipment lifespan: Air sealing reduces the workload on your HVAC equipment, mitigating wear and tear and minimizing the need for repairs and replacements.

How much money can you save by properly air-sealing your buildings?

On average, buildings can save 20% of their energy bill with proper air sealing. However, the exact amount you can save by adequately air-sealing your buildings depends on a wide range of factors, including:

  • Building size: Larger buildings typically have more air leakage points, which, when addressed, can result in higher energy savings.
  • Current energy consumption: If your building consumes a substantial amount of energy to condition the air, sealing air gaps can reduce those costs.
  • Climate: In regions with extreme temperatures, such as hot summers or cold winters, air sealing becomes even more critical. It can also help buildings maintain more consistent humidity levels.
  • Building usage and occupancy: Buildings with high occupancy or energy-intensive operations experience more significant savings from proper air sealing.

Enhancing HVAC system performance

Proper air sealing minimizes the air leaks that force your HVAC system to compensate for lost air. It also reduces the frequency of repairs and maintenance.

Monitoring building envelope air leaks

A comprehensive energy audit is a powerful tool for monitoring air leaks. It thoroughly examines potential leakage points like windows, doors, ductwork, and insulation. Techniques such as thermal imaging and blower door tests can pinpoint areas with leaking air and assess its impact on energy efficiency.

In addition to professional audits, smart sensors can help detect air leaks by constantly monitoring the energy use of HVAC systems. Then, building management systems can automatically alert maintenance teams of any irregular energy usage that an air leak could cause. You can expand these capabilities by using products from ProptechOS partners such as Multisoft to create automated maintenance workflows.

Air sealing solutions for commercial buildings

Creating an effective air barrier in commercial buildings is crucial for energy efficiency and reducing air leakage. The most common air sealing solutions for commercial buildings, according to the National Grid, include:

  • Insulation boards: These boards are commonly installed on exterior walls or roofs to provide insulation and act as air barriers.
  • Roof membranes: Specialized membranes like EPDM or TPO serve as reliable air barriers for commercial roofs.
  • Self-adhesive sheets: Applied directly to building surfaces, self-adhesive sheets create a seamless air barrier by sealing gaps and cracks.
  • Spray-on coatings: Versatile coatings can be sprayed onto surfaces like concrete, masonry, or wood to form an airtight barrier.
  • Foil-backed insulation boards: Combining insulation and a vapor barrier, foil-backed insulation boards offer moisture and temperature insulation.
  • Engineered facade assemblies: These assemblies incorporate air barrier components into the building’s facade, ensuring effective control of air infiltration.

Integration with Proptech for full effect

Integrating air sealing practices with Proptech solutions offers significant benefits for commercial buildings. Property owners and managers can detect air leaks in real-time by automating the monitoring process with smart sensors. Proptech solutions can also use historical data to inform proactive maintenance and assess the overall efficiency of heating and cooling systems.

With ProptechOS, you can create a unified ecosystem for all your Proptech solutions. This enables seamless communication between your technology solutions, which allows integration between occupancy tracking, energy sensors, and HVAC systems to optimize HVAC performance. Try ProptechOS for free to see how an operating system for your buildings can enhance their efficiency.

Dr. Erik Wallin

Chief Ecosystem Officer, and founder of ProptechOS and RealEstateCore is recognized as a leader in Building Operating Systems (BOS) and making the buildings of the world smarter. He holds an MSc and a Ph.D. in Media and Computer Science from KTH Royal Institute of Technology.

Read his full bio and information here.