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caring for your air conditioning equipment

Airflow Problems? Reseal Your Ducts With This Handy Guide

by Amy Henry

Having a central HVAC system can be an amazing way to provide your home with climate-controlled temperature regulation and fresh air. If you've noticed issues like poor temperature regulation or stale air, the problem may be associated with your ductwork. Cracks or breaks in the seals found at the junction of each individual section can allow air to escape, creating poor airflow throughout your home. Learn how to save money by identifying and fixing broken or cracked ductwork in this easy-to-follow DIY guide.

Learn How to Identify a Problem

Children of the 1980s will fondly remember the cartoon G.I. Joe and his important quote, "Knowing is half the battle." This is true when it comes to your ducts, too. Knowing how to spot the signs of leaky ducts is the first step towards resolving your HVAC issue.

Firstly, you'll need to access the ductwork itself. In the majority of homes, you'll find this through the attic or an access hatch.

Once you've gained access to your ductwork, use a flashlight to inspect the metal carefully. Look for issues like small chewed holes, chips, or cracks on the sides. If you find one of these, make a note of it and move on to the sealed junctions.

Next, look carefully at the area where each piece of ductwork meets the next. Streaks of dust are one of the common symptoms of air leakage. Outflow ducts will have streaks running away from the furnace, while intake ducts will have streaks running towards it.

If you don't see any streaks, gently run your fingers over the sealed junctions. Feel for cracks, jagged areas, or deep indentations--these can also be a sign of broken ductwork

Finally, turn the system on. Using one hand, hold a strip of tissue paper or very light cloth over the seal. If the cloth moves, you've found your leak.

Quick Note: Be sure to check the junctions at the furnace, too; the intake pipe just below the filter is one of the most common areas for ductwork to break. This is due to the increased pressure found in the area.

Sealing the Broken Areas

If you've identified a problem, it's time to move on to the next step. How you move forward will depend largely on the type of ductwork you have within your home. If you have soft, flexible ductwork, then follow the instructions in method 1. If you have rigid metal ductwork, follow the instructions in method 2. For a mixture of both, use each set of directions for each unique type within your home.

Method 1--Flexible Ductwork

Flexible ductwork is the most prone to rips and tears, but it's also the easiest to fix in a pinch. Stop by your local hardware store and pick up some high heat foil tape--that's all you'll need!

Next, use the foil tape to cover the crack or sealing issue. Start from about 3" above the problem area, and continue to about 3" below it. For best results, tape from the top to the bottom first, and then from side to side.

Once applied, test its strength by turning on your system and checking for air leakage. If you still notice an issue, add more tape around the sides and test again.

Method 2--Rigid Ductwork

For rigid metal ductwork or the stabilizing sections found on most flexible ductwork, foil tape usually isn't enough. Instead, you'll need to apply fiber-reinforced paste. You can purchase this at your local hardware store for just a few dollars. It's very easy to apply.

Quick note: Fiber-reinforced tape can be purchased in a pre-loaded gun or a bucket--depending on how much sealing you need to do, either may be appropriate for your needs. If you have a large area to seal, you'll want to choose the bucket and apply it with a wide-bristled paintbrush.

Next, carefully mark the problem area with a permanent marker--just a couple of dashes will help you to remember the area you need to cover. Then, power down your HVAC system.

Sealing With a Paste Gun

If using a gun, start by applying the paste directly into the joints themselves. Squeeze the trigger firmly but gently to discharge the paste. Continue by adding layers of paste over and beside the crack or joint until you have at least a 1" diameter coating surrounding it.

Sealing with a Paintbrush

If using a paint brush, your application will vary slightly. Start by brushing the paste over and into the joints. Once the joint or crack is filled, continue to paint layers of paste over and around it. Because the paint brush tends to flatten the paste, you will need more layers to achieve the same results gained with the gun.

Your goal is to seal the crack or joint, as well as a 1" diameter above, below, and beside it.

Quick note: Don't press too hard with the gun or the paintbrush. A firm, light touch and multiple layers is better than rushing, as this is more likely to hold up to pressure.

Once you've totally sealed the crack or break, allow it to dry for at least 24 hours without turning your system on. Although it may be inconvenient, this drying time allows the seal to strengthen and become more rigid, so avoid the temptation to rush things.

Finally, turn on your system and check the area for leaks as in the first step. If you don't find any leaks, you've finished the job.

When it comes to maintaining your HVAC system, maintenance is the key to best performance. While professionals should always handle electrical issues or replacement, you can maintain your ductwork easily right at home. To get assistance with this or any other HVAC concern, schedule a maintenance call with an air conditioning contractor today.