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Sealing your Attached Garage

Sealing your Attached Garage

For many people an “attached garage” is an asset in a home: the convenience of parking and walking inside under cover is very attractive when there’s extreme weather outside!  However, from an air quality perspective, attached garages are actually a liability, unless the garage has been air-sealed from your house!

In our articles about negative air pressure here and here, we talked about how contaminants can enter your home from the garage.  The garage not only has car exhaust fumes, it can also have paint or chemical fumes from your hobby, VOCs from pesticides and insecticides stored there, and possibly even exhaust gases from your gas water heater, furnace or clothes dryer.  Need we  mention the mold and mildew spores when humidity and cardboard boxes create the perfect environment for mold?  It’s almost like having an unsanitary neighbor in the apartment next to you…now, does an attached garage still seem like an “asset” to your clean, healthy home?

If you are coming around to a healthier way of thinking about your garage, it’s essential to consider installing some boundaries with this unsanitary neighbor!  “Air sealing” is more than just a tight-closing door.  It goes from the ground (foundation), through walls and insulation and even into the attic.  That’s right–if the attic over your garage is not sealed from the attic over your home, you got it–there is shared airspace and the possibility of contaminants crossing over from the air that circulates there due to changing temperatures. 

As with most air-sealing projects, creating this boundary is easiest if it’s done during the building phase.  The easiest way is to build your attached garage as a “separate” building…as in this article.  Jake Bruton of Airow Building in Missouri does it this way: do all the framing for the house, install your air barrier, and only then, frame the garage on the other side of the air barrier.  Finally, any penetrations like electrical and ventilation must be properly sealed. 

Another way to airseal during construction is to hang drywall on the shared wall inside the garage, foam the penetrations like light switches and outlets on that wall, and also run plywood sheathing above it to the roofdeck, using sprayfoam to seal the entire barrier in the attic as in this video.  Sprayfoam really is the only way to effectively seal around ceiling joists, which often run straight over the wall from the home into the garage.     

This is all great...for new construction.  What if you are buying an existing home, or just now want to upgrade your home?  First of all, examine that shared wall from the garage side, from floor to ceiling. 

  • If the drywall is finished, that’s good.  Finished drywall can be an air barrier.  However, you’ll want to remove any trim like baseboards or trim around doors, faceplates like electrical plates, and uncover any penetrations.  Get some spray foam in a can and seal all of these cracks with spray foam.   You’ll want to cover the space from the sill plate to the drywall, the spaces around electrical boxes, and around any pipes sticking through the wall like gas pipes or hot water pipes if you have a hot water heater in the garage.  Make sure to seal around the door frame if there’s dead space there. 

  • If the drywall is not finished (no tape and mud or just insulation), that’s even better!  Consider removing the existing drywall on the garage side (you can install it again later if screws were used), as well as any fiberglass or rolled insulation, and sprayfoaming the entire wall.  Spray foam can be an excellent air barrier if it’s done by a pro.  Before you schedule the job, however, go to the next point and prep the attic space so that they can foam there as well.

  • If the attic space between the garage and home are shared, you’ll need to build a partition wall between them.  Of course this is not a fun job, because attics are typically low, cramped and have extreme temperatures, but it’s critical if you’re going to do a thorough job.  Then, the wall can be sprayfoamed on the attic or house side, or at least foamed around the roof, rafters and joists and taped where plywood sheets come together.  

  • Ventilation (air conditioning and heating) is something that should never be shared between a house and garage, because that is a sure way to pull those contaminants right in and distribute them around your home!  If you do have a shared system, consult with an HVAC company about terminating the vents to the garage and installing a dedicated mini-split.  For small garages, a window air conditioner and portable heater will do the trick!  

  • If flexible ventilation ducts go over the garage with no vents, it’s really hard to get an air seal around flex ducts.  If you can’t/don’t want to switch to metal ductwork, install a collar in the attic wall that separates the garage and house (the one you build as in bullet #3 above), and attach the ends of the flex duct to it, so the wall can still be adequately airsealed.  

  • The door between the house and garage, of course, is an area that needs to seal tightly.  Adjust the door so that no daylight shows around the perimeter (I know, this is easier said than done!) and use weatherstripping around the sides so that it seals when closed.  If necessary, install a “sweep” on the bottom or replace the rubber seal in the threshold so the bottom seals as well. 

Here are some product recommendations for air sealing the garage:  

  • Air-sealing tapes can be expensive, but don’t scrimp: don’t use duct-tape, vapor-barrier tape or anything less than a product that is for air-sealing.  ZIP System is a great brand and be sure to buy more than you think you will need, because there always seems to be another seam to seal!  Use this tape to seal plywood edges together, seal the door frame to the drywall (if you can’t foam it), etc. 

  • Spray foam cans come in lots of formulations: small cracks (less than ¼”), larger gaps and cracks ( ), pest block formula (who knows what kind of chemicals are in there), but just be sure to buy a good number of the small and large gap formulations before you start the job.  Wear gloves, safety goggles and old clothing (long hair safely tucked away) because this stuff is super sticky!  Also, if you use a can quickly, you can reuse the same straw on the next can, and save the extra straw in case one gets plugged or lost.  Unless you buy the “smart dispenser” version, the straws and remainder in the can cannot be reused after about 30-40 minutes, so be sure to have several spray areas ready when you start spraying!  After it hardens, you can use a utility knife or hacksaw blade to cut away excess foam.  Consider these different products:

    • Great Stuff Window and Door gently expands so that frames will not warp under pressure.

    • Great Stuff Gap and Cracks (use in gaps up to 1”)

    • Loctite Tite Foam, pack of 2 for $19

    • Great Stuff Pro (large cans, $14 each–a great tool for a large job because it’s easier to dispense and can be reused for up to 30 days); however it requires a special gun.  Users report that a can goes a LONG way (3-6 cans on a large home) but if you have more air-sealing to do, it’s worth having several more on hand.

    • And more…

Not only will your house smell better and stay cleaner after these airsealing improvements, you’ll probably notice less cold drafts in winter and hot air in summer, since most attached garages are not conditioned.  Finally, complete your sealed garage upgrade with a funny sign reminding everyone to “close the door”...after all, airsealing can only go so far when the door is open!!

Photo by Kevin Wolf on Unsplash

A Sticky, Fragrant Solution to an Old Problem

A Sticky, Fragrant Solution to an Old Problem

While reading a new scholarly article on creating water filters from ceramic pots with nanoparticles of silver in them, I thought, I’ve read about this before; it’s not new.  This type of system has been used in Africa and other disadvantaged areas that lack access to clean drinking water.  In fact, the authors disclosed that “Using silver particles for water filtration is not the main innovation. Others have used this technology in the past. The key is controlling the release of nanoparticles, which can reduce the usable life of the filters.”

This filter has roots in proved science: that silver is antibacterial.  Silver has positively charged ions that fight bacteria in three ways (check out our article to understand them).  Silver nanoparticles can also penetrate through the bacterial biofilms (the slime that bacteria make to live on surfaces) to completely destroy them and can even prevent microbes from developing biofilms.  (This is a great attribute for water pitchers, where standing water can allow biofilms to develop.)

So, the new part about this water pitcher/filter is what the silver nanoparticles are suspended in: pine resin.  Apparently, pine resin is an old source of a “newer” category: polymers.  Polymers have gained a lot of attention in the last few years because they have a lot of desirable properties such as versatility and durability.  By definition, polymers are large molecules made by bonding (chemically linking) a series of building blocks. The word polymer comes from the Greek words for “many parts.” Each of those parts is scientists call a monomer  (which in Greek means “one part”). (Explainer: What are polymers?)  DNA and keratin (the material our hair and nails are made of) are natural polymers. 

Pine resin is the hardened form of the sticky sap that runs out of pine trees when they are cut, but inside the tree it carries water, nutrients, sugar and mineral elements throughout tree trunks—similar to how blood functions in the human body. (5 Uses for Pine Sap: How to Harvest and Utilize Pine Resin

Although it’s possible to get resin from the tree by cutting into it to harvest sap, this kind of damage can kill the tree.  Otherwise, you can collect resin crystals that have formed on the outside of the tree from natural damage, heat them, and use the liquid resin for many means, such as firestarters (pine resin is high in turpenoids, the VOCs that make it smell like a pine tree), herbal remedies and soap, and natural glue.

This semi-solid, sticky nature of pine resin is also what makes it great for coating the inside of a water pitcher filter.  Without it, the silver nanoparticles could react quickly to chemical impurities, which would make them unavailable for killing bacteria.  The following diagram shows how silver nanoparticles embedded in the pine resin can be released more slowly to allow the pitcher to last longer as a filter.

(And, in fact, the other new part about this outreach was that the community in need of these filters is in the United States.  According to this article from March 2023, the Navajo Nation reservation stretches across 27,000 square miles in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. Fifteen to thirty percent of the 170,000 people who live there do not have access to clean, reliable drinking water.  Although estimates vary according to the EPA vs. the tribe, it’s the “why” this continues…according to an EPA article, in 2003 the Navajo Nation estimated that up to 30% of the population did not have piped water to their homes.  The EPA and HUD have worked to reduce this number, which they estimate has helped lower the percentage of the population without access to piped water to their homes to about 15%.  Twenty years later, many must drive miles to haul water home or use unregulated water sources, which are susceptible to bacterial contamination and/or exceed drinking water standards for uranium and other chemicals, because some homes are located near abandoned uranium mines.)

Source: Pottery Becomes Water Treatment Device for Navajo Nation 

Since the pottery and the resin are very natural elements that the Navajo respect and use, this type of filter could be very important to many in easing their burden of getting clean drinking water, and even after every home receives piped water (but given the history of this project, the “when” is not in sight).  At HypoAir, we like natural elements too, so learning about the properties of a material that has been all around us for centuries is very exciting!  

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash