How Air Barriers Can Save On Energy Costs


Getting a business off the ground is an expensive process. There are costs for employing people in the right departments, hardware and software needed for your business to run smoothly. Not to mention the basic things like somewhere to house your business, electricity, water, heating and air. You may be looking for ways your business can cut costs. If you are considering building a commercial building for your company, having an air barrier is a one way you can save money in energy bills.

According to the United States Department of Energy, air leakage is responsible for six percent of the total energy used by commercial buildings in the U.S. In another report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, they conducted a study with different types of commercial buildings in the U.S. in which they compiled data on the amount of air leakage and energy consumption. They found a substantial difference in energy usage where the reduced air-leakage numbers corresponded to easily attainable building airtightness where an air barrier was used. An air barrier can significantly reduce your energy consumption and there are a few reasons why.

First, let us tak about what an air barrier is. Air barriers are systems of materials designed and constructed to control airflow between a conditioned space and an unconditioned space, according to Building Science. The air barrier system is the primary air enclosure boundary that separates indoor, or conditioned, air and outdoor, or unconditioned, air.

They can be located anywhere in the building enclosure whether at the exterior surface, the interior surface, or any place in between. The location of the air barrier determines its use. In locations that receive cold temperatures, interior air barriers control the exfiltration of interior air with lots of moisture. The exterior air barrier systems control the infiltration of exterior air and prevent wind-washing through cavity insulation systems.

Air barriers must be installed correctly. Otherwise, it will hardly pass as an air barrier. The air barrier must be continuous and durable. They must be continuous over the entirety of the building enclosure or at least continuos over the enclosure of any given unit. In some states it is required by law. It should be able to hold up against forces that may be faced during and after construction. It has to be durable through the entire expected lifespan of the building. 

Now that you know what an air barrier is and why they are important to have in preventing high energy costs, it is also important to know the different types of approaches when installing an air barrier system. One of the most common is exterior barrier systems using self-adhered modified bituminous membrane sheets, like AIR-SHIELD SMP. Another common approach is an exterior barrier system using precast, site-cast or tilt-up concrete panels. One other common approach is an interior air barrier system using gypsum board. It is also common to approach an interior air barrier system using sheet polyethylene. 

There are advantages and disadvantages to every type of approach. Exterior barrier systems may be easier to install and do not require serious attention to detail as it regards to intersecting partition walls and service penetrations, but they do not easily control the entry of air transported moisture into insulated cavities from the interior. Meanwhile, interior barrier systems can do a better job of controlling the henry of interior moisture-heavy air during heating periods, but they do not do a good job of controlling wind-washing. Sometimes it is good to have both so that one makes up for the other’s weakness.

Air barriers should not be viewed solely as a layer included in a wall system. It is very important to saving energy. It is important to control the airflow in a building as it carries moisture that makes a difference in the materials that make up the structure, allowing it to perform to the best of its ability. It also affects the building’s behavior in a fire, indoor air quality and thermal energy use.

Air barriers can save you big time in energy costs. It all depends on what type of material used and the approach.