As mentioned in earlier articles, HVAC ductwork has not received the attention it deserves. Take a look at my HVAC Duct article to evaluate and inspect your existing duct work. If you have determined that it is in need of attention you have three choices, 1) do nothing, 2) have them replaced or 3) re-insulate them.
Duct Replacement: Be prepared, HVAC contractors typically want to sell new systems. Here is the SW part of the US, their big season is the summer, having this done during the cooler months may be a better choice. Duct replacement is not as profitable as system replacements, but keeping their technicians busy can be better than not working them at all.
Considerations when discussing this issue with a HVAC professional:
- Flex ducting is a widely used proven product but does not have the long-term performance rating found with a typical sheet metal product. But is widely used in the residential market and most professionals like to use it because it is easy to install and not as labor intensive as rigid duct work. This product can easily be mis-installed by creating kinks and sharp bends that can reduce the product performance. Read this flexible duct inspection method before you meet with the contractor to better understand the product and how it is applied.
- After an evaluation, most HVAC specialists will want to replace the ducting in lieu of repairing or re-insulating. Why? It’s quicker, cheaper and it becomes a known value. This is not a bad thing, these folks are trying to make a living and attacking the problem by replacing everything may be an economical solution for both of you.
- If you allow a professional to replace the ducts, make sure to ask some of these questions. Will all the joints and edges be sealed with (paint on) mastic? What is the R value of the new duct? What is the life expectancy of the duct product? What is the product warranty? What preventative measures are followed to avoid kinking (of the ducts). Will the system be tested for leaks after completion?
- If the professional didnt mention it, also consider having all the output and return registers (this is the box in the wall/ceiling where the vent cover is attached) replaced or re-insulated. Most new registers are sealed and insulated to insure a tight fit. Also, ask them to use spray foam insulation between the register protrusion and the sheet rock, this will further seal the interior from the attic space. Most HVAC professionals do not address register penetration into the interior space.
- If you have any rooms that never seem to adequately heat or cool, make sure and mention this to the professional too as he may have to resize or reroute the new duct work to better balance the system.
Duct Re-insulation (for rigid ductwork): This is a great DIY project if you consider yourself cheap labor and you dont mind working in the attic. Consider this a mult-weekend project. Before you start, ask yourself these questions.
- Does your system work reasonably well? If you have any rooms or areas in the house that never properly heat or cool, consider adding an additional output duct as this would be the time to address it. Consider using a professional to perform this work as you may need to rebuild some of the system to retain the system balance.
- Is your attic adequately insulated? If not, plan to do it, but after all you other attic work is complete.
The process if fairly straight forward and here is an outline of the necessary work.
- Strip the existing insulation material
- Ensure all joints are secure and snapped and screwed together
- Use duct mastic to seal ALL seams and joints
- Use HVAC tape to complete any seals not treatable with mastic
- Use expanding foam insulation to fill any cracks between the duct registers and the sheet rock
- Use duct wrap to re-cover all the exposed duct, seal with duct tape and mastic
Material Required for the Job
- Duct wrap rated at an R value based on your region (see table below)
- 1/4,1/2, and 3/4 self tapping sheet metal screws
- HVAC Duct Mastic
- Take adequate precautions while working in the attic. Avoid stepping directly on the sheet rock ceiling and wear protective clothing and dust masks.
- If a professional indicates the duct are under/oversized, you may ask them to provide the Man L or Man J duct analysis supporting their position. (This is an engineering schedule that is used to properly size ducting.)