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Short #72 – Vapor Diffusion

HVACR School

In this short podcast episode, Bryan explains what water vapor diffusion is. He also explains why it matters to the everyday HVAC technician.

Vapor diffusion is the transfer and distribution of water vapor through a solid surface. New constructions sometimes have vapor barriers on the outside of buildings in hot, humid climates or on the inside of buildings in cold, dry climates. (Even so, vapor barriers are not 100% effective.) We are NOT referring to water or mist wicking through the buildings via capillary action; we are referring to water vapor.

Drywall, a common building material, is quite permeable and allows moist air to diffuse through it. The vapor diffuses through the drywall from the unconditioned attic to the conditioned living space. Of course, we have to focus on air sealing before anything else, but we also may need a vapor inhibitor or a means of controlling the attic dew point to prevent water vapor from moving through.

The driver that causes moisture to move into the space is surprisingly NOT relative humidity. Instead, we need to focus on the actual moisture content as a driver, and it would help us more to look at the dew point. Dew point is the key to controlling vapor diffusion. If the dew point in the unconditioned space is higher than that of the conditioned space, then you will get vapor diffusion into the conditioned space. However, if the dew points are the same in the conditioned and unconditioned spaces, then there won't be a differential that would cause vapor to move.

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