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Air bypass leak stains on building insulation © Daniel FriedmanStains on building insulation
How to Diagnose Building Air Bypass Leaks in Insulation - Building Energy Cost Impact

  • INSULATION STAINS - AIR BYPASS LEAKS - CONTENTS: How to Recognize & Diagnose Air Bypass Leaks Marks on Insulation - stains can indicate un-wanted heat loss (or heat gain) due to air leaks. How to recognize poorly insulated building walls or ceilings and how to pinpoint building air leaks. Black "mold" stains on building insulation may be house dust deposited by air bypass leaks. Black or gray stains on building insulation in attics, walls, or other areas often indicate points of building heat loss due to air bypass leakage
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Dark stains on insulation, thermal tracking stains indicate air leaks or heat loss:

This article describes How to Recognize & Diagnose Air Bypass Leaks Marks on Insulation and discusses other interior wall and ceiling stains and explains how to recognize thermal tracking, thermal bridging stains, building air leaks, and building insulation defects.

Our page top photograph shows black air-bypass leaks on building insulation in a wall. Often thermal tracking stains are mistaken for toxic indoor mold, especially when they are even more "black" than in our page top photo.



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How to Recognize Air Bypass Leaks and Thermal Bridging Marks on Fiberglass Insulation

Photograph of thermal tracking on an indoor wall

Black, brown or gray stains on building insulation

We have frequently observed evidence of air bypass leaks and thermal tracking as black or gray dust deposition on attic insulation, a condition some owners have mistaken for mold (and wasted money on mold testing and remediation).

In this photo (left) we've removed a "nearly new" insulation batt that was installed in a cantilevered floor which was leaking air up through the overhanging floor and into the building wall cavity. In just a month of exposure the insulation is already showing dust tracking at its lower right corner, marking the air leak path in this building.

Gray or black marks on or in building insulation, particularly fiberglass insulation, we see thermal tracking as grayish deposits (actually house dust) left where air is leaking from the conditioned space into the unconditioned space (say from a top floor bedroom into an attic floor and attic above).

The warm air passing by the insulation leaves house dust which sticks by moisture condensing out of the warm air and onto the fibers, or the debris may adhere simply by static to the insulation fibers.

On building insulation, debris stains left behind by thermal tracking will show us where we have air bypass leaks in a building, such as around ceiling light fixtures, electrical box openings, or where the insulation blanket was not uniformly and thoroughly installed.

Look at the Insulation Stain Location and Patterns to Diagnose Insulation Marks or Stains

Insulation Stains (C) Daniel Friedman M B

If the stains are usually around the edges of insulation batts in a wall or attic floor, they may be due to air bypass leaks around or close to building framing.

The insulation stain photograph at left was contributed by reader M.B. Notice that the black marks are only on the edges of the fiberglass batts. We suspect these marks are due to a combination of

Look for Obvious or Subtle Insulation Voids - Even Small Ones

Small openings along building framing where insulation has not been uniformly installed often form thermal bypass points or leak points that move warm building air into the cooler space, depositing airborne housedust in the insulation as it passes by.

Look for water or leaks that may have wet building insulation to Diagnose Insulation Stains

If insulation has been wet it may indeed be moldy. But if the stain pattern on attic or wall fiberglass insulation does not track to building leaks, be sure to consider air bypass leakage instead.

On the other hand, if insulation is visibly water or leak stained, or is below or adjacent to an area that has been wet from roof leaks, plumbing leaks, or wall leaks, then it may indeed be moldy. The first place that we see mold on building insulation is often on its kraft facing, particularly if the facing is the non-foil type facing paper.

Insulation that is stained and perhaps moldy due to building leaks may show water marks, debris, even rot or insect debris from adjacent wet or damaged surfaces right in the area that has been wet, and not elsewhere. But mold contamination may be more extensive (if not visible) in previously wet insulation.

Photograph of  thermal tracking or soot tracking - cool surface, moisture condenses, soot is deposited - Daniel Friedman 02-12-16

Our photo shows modest staining at a building eaves where insulation was pulled back; these stains may be due to ice dam leaks and may have wet wall cavities.

Certainly if the insulation is left in this position we can expect to see (in the finished space below this spot ) thermal tracking or ghosting stains on the building ceilings where insulation is missing.

Testing stained building insulation insulation to identify whether or not the "stain" is mold, dirt, insect debris, animal urine, or something else, is certainly possible, but it should not be necessary in most cases and may not be cost justified.

We welcome more thermal tracking, soot tracking, air bypass leaks, and similar photos of indoor stains as well as text suggestions to expand this detail and would be glad to credit contributors. CONTACT us to contribute or ask about air bypass leaks and insulation stains.

Usually soot marks, thermal bridging, or thermal tracking stains appear, if at all, in the building interior locations discussed in the remaining sections of this article series.

When investigating a building for a mold problem, you can save mold test costs by learning how to recognize Stuff that is Not Mold or is only Harmless Mold but may be mistaken for more serious contamination - save your money.
See MOLD APPEARANCE - STUFF THAT IS NOT MOLD

Moldy building insulation is discussed in detail beginning
at INSULATION MOLD CONTAMINATION TEST

If you are not sure what kind of insulation you are examining,
see INSULATION IDENTIFICATION GUIDE - home

...


Continue reading at GHOSTING DARK STAINS on INSULATION, AIR BYPASS LEAKS or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see AIR LEAK DETECTION TOOLS

Or see AIR SEALING STRATEGIES and also AIR LEAK DETECTION TOOLS as well as AIR LEAK MINIMIZATION.

Or see FIBERGLASS INSULATION MOLD for examples of mold contaminated building insulation

Or see STAIN DIAGNOSIS on BUILDING INTERIORS - home

Or see THERMAL TRACKING BRIDGING GHOSTING - home

Suggested citation for this web page

INSULATION STAINS - AIR BYPASS LEAKS at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES: ARTICLE INDEX to BUILDING STAINS

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