The Green Skeptic had a great post yesterday on his blog about energy efficiency possibly being the best alternative for now, in the face of economic challenges. As he said: "...[there's] less green to spend; less incentive to spend it on green." He also noted in the post that as Van Jones likes to say, the tool of the new green economy is the caulking gun. I couldn't agree more.
Buildings generally have a ton of gaps and cracks in them, whether commercial or residential. And believe it or not, when you add all the gaps and cracks up, you can have a hole up to two or three feet square. That's a big hole for air to get in and out of. Most of the gaps and cracks are a result of construction and materials meeting other materials, walls meeting roofs and floors and so on; it's tough to avoid them completely. It is not tough, however, to anticipate where they might occur and seal them tightly to prevent air infiltration, the latter being the bane of any HVAC system intended to work efficiently and optimally. And any architect or contractor committed to green building and worth his/her salt -including me, will tell you this. A green building first and foremost has to have a tight and thermally efficient building envelope (walls, roof and floor system) -on top of being sited correctly of course.
An efficient building envelope is of course much easier when building new, but what do you do with an existing one, without tearing the building apart? As the Green Skeptic said, caulk, baby, caulk. I might add spray foam, baby, spray foam. Steve Bertasso has an excellent post at his blog Decoding Green Building on sealing doors and windows at the residential scale. I would add to his information that removing casing around doors and windows (albeit time consuming and tedious) and spraying in foam in the gap between a door/window and the drywall/plaster will further cut down on air infiltration.
An existing commercial building poses a bit more of an issue. In a future post I'll talk a bit about air barriers and why spending some more money on drywall will make the building's HVAC system work much more efficiently. For now though, get your caulk gun out and go at it. The less cold or hot air getting in and out of the building means the less hard your HVAC system has to work to maintain your desired set temperature which means the less money you spend on heating and cooling which means... You get the idea.