Leaky ducts can eat into your energy bill–and not just during winter.

Winter is generally the time of year when folks seem to primarily focus on air leaks. Maybe that’s because cold air seeping in between gaps in your doors and windows – and your wallet leaking due to those higher heating bills – is such a chilling thought. But the truth is that leaky ducts impact your energy bills during every season of the year – particularly during summer.

Just think about your air conditioning bills in the heat of the summer. If your ducts are leaking, the air that you are paying to cool is seeping right back out of your home – and taking your hard-earned money with it. In fact, some agencies estimate that over time, the typical home’s duct system is losing as much as 25% – 40% of it’s conditioned air. So how can you tell if your home has leaky ducts?

One of the telltale signs is a utility bill (electric for cooling and gas or electric for heating) that gradually creeps higher over time, even as your home seems to take longer to heat up or cool down. That’s a signal that your HVAC system is working harder than it should to achieve the same results. In fact, homeowners sometimes believe their HVAC system needs to be replaced when it’s really just their ductwork that needs to be sealed.

Excess dust is another symptom, since leaky ducts give dust more ways to escape from your HVAC unit into the air inside your home. As more dust and pollen enters your interior air, it’s common for homeowners to notice their allergy symptoms getting increasingly worse.

Other signs are when one or more rooms in particular are difficult to keep at the temperature you want. That may indicate a problem with the ductwork that leads to that room or area of your home.

Finally, a visible hole in a duct, being able to feel heat or cool air escaping from a duct, or black marks around the areas where two pieces of duct work join are obvious signs of a problem.

Why do ducts fail?

It’s often a combination of circumstances, such as the age of your system, a lack of regular maintenance, sharp bends in the line that eventually give way, or exposed ductwork (such as in a crawl space, garage or attic) sustaining typical dents and dings over time.

Why does it matter?

Since you’re losing air that you have paid to heat or cool, your utility bills will increase. The extra workload on your HVAC system also may reduce the life of these very costly units. From a health perspective, increased dust and allergens are hard on your family, while moist air in the home can cause mold. Finally, it can create potentially a dangerous situation if your system is not venting out fumes from cleaners or if vehicle exhaust fumes are finding their way inside your home from an attached garage.

What to do?

It’s always best to consult a professional if you think you have issues with your ductwork. While many homeowners opt for a quick fix with a roll of duct tape, improperly patching a leak can actually cause more issues than it solves, resulting in pressure imbalances or the buildup of condensation, which in turn, can lead to mold and mildew. And contrary to what you might think, duct tape actually doesn’t provide a long-term solution for sealing ductwork, since it won’t hold up over time.