It took me a while to figure out that a building is basically just a structural framework with control layers. Yeah, there's also electrical, plumbing, mechanical systems, and finishes, but the heart of a building is the stuff that holds it up and that moderates the flows of heat, air, and moisture between in and out.

One of those control layers is the air barrier. Of course, everyone knows now that a house can never be too tight (right?), so we want the air barrier to stop as much air flow across the building envelope as possible.

Many people believe that by putting house wrap on a building, you've got your air barrier taken care of. Although house wrap can qualify as an air barrier material, it usually doesn't behave as an air barrier when installed. Here's why:

  • All seams must be sealed. Builders usually do a decent job here. After installing the layers of housewrap, they go back and tape the seams.
  • Top and bottom edges must be sealed. This rarely happens, and there's a good reason why you shouldn't seal the bottom edge - You'll trap water inside when it gets behind the house wrap and can't drain out the bottom.
  • All the edges where it's cut at rough openings must be sealed. Doesn't happen. Also, not a good idea in places where water needs to be able to drain out.
  • Cladding contractors cut it with their box cutters to get it to lie flat. When house wrap goes through an inside corner, it often 'cuts the corner,' making it impossible to install siding without slitting it.
  • Innumerable tears, rips, and cuts allow air to move across it. They rarely get sealed before being covered with the cladding.

Because there are so many places that air can move across the house wrap, it doesn't really perform as an air barrier when installed. There is one type of air leakage that it does help reduce, however - infiltration, air moving into the house (as opposed to exfiltration, air moving out of the house).

When the air pressure outside the house is higher than the pressure inside, air wants to move to the inside. This pulls house wrap into the seams, gaps, and penetrations and inhibits the flow of air from outside to inside (infiltration). If the house pressure is higher than the outside pressure, on the other hand, the house wrap pushes away from the holes and air moves out of the house (exfiltration).

So, if house wrap isn't an air barrier, why do we use it?

House wrap's best use is to act as the drainage plane on a building. This control layer keeps liquid water that gets behind the cladding from wetting the building materials. Tar paper (also called building paper or felt) is the traditional material used for this application, but house wrap has is the dominant choice these days. It's kind of like Goretex for the house. It stops liquid water from going through, but it allows water vapor to pass so when the building materials do get wet, they can dry through the house wrap.

The more general term house wrap is weather resistive barrier (WRB), which implies that it's there to keep the weather out. It does that for rain that gets behind the cladding, but it won't resist air leakage due to wind, since wind puts a positive pressure on a house.

Bottom line: Don't think of house wrap as an air barrier. It's there to be the drainage plane.

 

This article has been cross-posted from the Energy Vanguard blog.

Views: 513

Tags: air, barrier, house, resistive, weather, wrap

Comment

You need to be a member of Home Energy Pros to add comments!

Join Home Energy Pros

Home Energy Pros

Home Energy Pros was founded by the developers of Home Energy Saver Pro (sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy,) and brought to you in partnership with Home Energy magazine.

Latest Activity

Hal Skinner replied to Hal Skinner's discussion The 'Touchy - Feely' sales pitch. in the group Radiant Control Coatings
"The 2nd bestsales tool I ever came up with.  aI will be happy to send anyone a test strip like…"
22 minutes ago
Patrick Michaelyan joined Hal Skinner's group
Thumbnail

Radiant Control Coatings

A group where people who work with radiant control coatings can share their success stories and let…See More
2 hours ago
Joseph Lamy posted a blog post

After 70 years on the fence, knotty LED light fixtures hide the Ductless in splendor

After the first week, the ductless heat pump and I became so close that could never even think of…See More
5 hours ago
Profile IconHome Energy Pros now has Member Map
6 hours ago
Profile IconLaura Spencer and Ann Griffin joined Home Energy Pros
6 hours ago
Tom White posted a video

The Animals Save the Planet - Energy Efficient Penguin

"Energy saving bulbs use one fifth of the energy of ordinary bulbs." Help the animals save their planet and ours, use energy saving bulbs! http://fartingcow....
10 hours ago
Laurie DiDonato posted an event
Thumbnail

Hybrid HERS Rater Training at Online + Manchester, NH or Berlin, CT

September 22, 2014 at 9pm to October 10, 2014 at 7pm
Online Component- September 29th-October 10thChoose from 2 Classroom Sessions: October 27-30 –…See More
13 hours ago
William Reid replied to James White's discussion What happened to Home Energy Pro's website?
"It appears that a Plugin called HTTPS Everywhere was stopping some of the content in my case."
13 hours ago

© 2014   Created by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service