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The worst air leaks in the home are those that are not visible to the eye. For instance when your home was built, it had some material applied to the stud framing to finish off the inside, probably wallboard, paneling, or something similar.
This created a gap at floor level between the wall covering and the subfloor. When the trim carpenters installed the baseboard, the crack was hidden from view, but air still could pass around the baseboard from the outside, entering and occupying areas in the exterior and interior walls.
How to Determine If There is a Problem
This is not noticeable so much when a house is not being conditioned, but when your heat system is running you may feel a draft coming from under the baseboard. As the warmer air rises, it leaves a void where other air must come in to replace it, causing a draft.
Baseboards hide the crack between the wallboard and the floor, but they don’t stop the air if the problem isn't addressed in the construction phase. Signs of a problem include the draft this creates, and small black streaks left behind caused by dust and dirt in the air.
Identifying the problem and solving it are two different things. The best solution is to remove the baseboard and seal the crack behind it. This assures that every possible infiltration is taken care of, but it is a labor intensive solution. The baseboard would need replacing afterward and paint would have to be touched up.
Addressing Baseboard Air Infiltration - Hardwood Floors
A simpler way to stop air leaks on hardwood floors is to use a clear silicone caulk to address three areas where the air can enter; at the top of the baseboard where it meets the wall, and above and below the quarter round or shoe mold. This requires some expertise in using a caulking gun and wiping down the bead to be certain the cracks are sealed.
Addressing Baseboard Air Infiltration - Carpeted Areas
Carpeted areas are more difficult to seal because the carpet has to be moved out of the way to allow baseboard access. The crack between the baseboard and the subfloor is often rather wide to allow the edge of the carpet to be tucked under after it is stretched to the tack board. Once the carpet is pulled back, foam can be applied to fill the gap between the wall surface and the subfloor. Once dried, the carpet is rolled back into place.
Sealing around your baseboards addresses only a small portion of your energy consumption and waste, but the small things all add up to both money and energy savings.