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The Stack Effect - When Air Circulation Negatively Affects Your Home

Wednesday, September 29th, 2021 by Chelsea Bowen

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Effectively heating and cooling your home is more than just adjusting the thermostat. The size of your home, the difference between the indoor and outside temperature, and your home’s insulation play a larger role.  All of these factors contribute to a home energy term called the “Stack Effect.” 

What is the Stack Effect?

Remember the science lesson from elementary school about heat rising? Well, you're in luck, you can apply that concept here! The "Stack Effect", sometimes called the "Chimney Effect" describes the way that air travels vertically throughout your home. As inside air is warmed by your heating system, it naturally rises upwards, escaping to the attic via gaps and cracks in the ceiling, joints, windows, uneven floors, and even lighting fixtures and electrical outlets. 

As the air exits the top of your home, this negative pressure creates a sort of vacuum, sucking in more air through the bottom level of your home - typically through a basement or crawl space. This air exchange is a continuous cycle and is something that all homeowners should be aware of, especially in northern climates like MN and Wisconsin. The Stack Effect is strongest in cold weather because as heated air escapes, it is replaced by equal amounts of cold outside air. The result is high heating bills and uncomfortable temperature differences throughout your home. 

Does the Stack Effect Happen Year-Round?

Yes, it does. Differences in pressure and temperature also occur during the summer months when your HVAC system is working to cool your home's air. While a bit of air circulation in a home is not a bad thing, it can be problematic if your home’s lower level has moisture and humidity issues. Humidity build-up is costly to cool during the summer months and can be problematic to the overall health and wellness of your home.

Musty, moist below-grade environments are a breeding ground for mold and other airborne particles. With up to 50% of the air you breathe coming from your basement or crawl space,  reducing contaminants from traveling through your home is a must.

Saving Money on Home Energy Bills

Although building science is improving, all buildings have air leaks, including your home. As unconditioned air is pulled into your home, your HVAC system works harder to keep up with the air loss and subsequent intake. Over time, this adds up to thousands of wasted dollars in high energy bills.

It's hard to measure exactly how much money homeowners spend on an inefficient system, but Energy.gov estimates that on average homeowners can save upwards of 20% on heating and cooling bills with proper air sealing and insulation. If your home insulation system is older than that, replacing it will save you even more money over time.

How can you stop the Stack Effect?

Air Sealing Throughout Your Home

Air Sealing House Map, Energy.gov
Air Sealing Map, Energy.gov

In order to stop the stack effect, it's important to focus specifically on your home's basement or crawl space, where cold air tends to leak in, as well as the attic, where conditioned, warmed air tends to escape. Proper air sealing and insulation in both of these places will eliminate temperature differences and unwanted conditions caused by the Stack Effect.

Beyond the basement and attic, it's important to identify other areas where air leaks are common. Inspecting your walls, windows, and doors should be the first place you start. But homeowners also need to consider all instances that interior building materials are cut to make way for lighting, electrical outlets, plumbing fixtures, ducts, and furnace flues. Air travels throughout the inside of your home via these gaps and cracks. Caulk, expanding foam, and weather stripping are DIY fixes you can do but it's best to have an expert design an insulation system that will stand up year-round in your area.

Insulation to Boost Energy Efficiency

DBS uses insulation products and techniques developed by Basement Systems® to offer whole-home energy solutions for your home and cabin. The SuperAttic™ insulation system consists of air sealing and insulating the attic deck using spray foam, and is topped with 17-inches of high R-value cellulose. Proven to prevent warm air from escaping into your attic, this hinders ice dams and condensation issues that commonly occur during cold winter months.

TerraBlock™ crawl space insulation and graphite-infused SilverGlo™ are just a few of the products we install to insulate your home's below-grade spaces. Rim joists insulation is commonly skipped, but it's crucial in preventing air leakage and the overall energy efficiency of your home.

DBS Can Diagnose Your Home's Energy Issues

DBS's mission is to provide homeowners with solutions for healthy, safe, and comfortable homes. That's why we provide thorough inspections at no cost to you to stop drafts, reduce ice dams, and prevent cold floors. DBS offers basement waterproofing, crawl space encapsulation, and whole-home energy solutions to help you combat the negative results of the Stack Effect. Call us at 1-855-259-9625 today for a FREE, no-obligation estimate with one of our highly trained Design Specialists.

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