How did you fare this winter? If you’re a homeowner in a cold climate, the level of insulation in your home might have made a huge difference in your comfort and also in your pocketbook these past few months. If you found your house felt too cold and you broke into a sweat each time you had to face another energy bill, consider making an improvement by adding insulation.
Here are some tips on how to proceed:
Think ‘found’ money
Some municipalities, cities, states, the federal government and utility companies offer incentives and tax rebates when you purchase high-efficiency products and materials, says Daniel DiClerico, co-author of “The Just Right Home.” Start by checking the U.S. Department of Energy’s database for state-specific tax credits, rebates and efficiency-related savings.
Get a home energy audit
If you own an older home, consider a home energy audit to identify air leaks and areas where insulation may need improvement. Think of it as a physical exam for your house. An audit may include a blower door test, which uses a high-powered fan to lower the air pressure inside; the higher outside pressure then finds its way back in through unsealed openings and cracks, revealing your air leaks. A home energy audit will also examine existing insulation’s R-value, which is a measure of how well it resists heat — and cold — traveling through it.
Hire the right contractor
Many contractors are capable and honest, but it helps to work with a contractor who is licensed, bonded and insured (make sure to ask for references). To find a home energy audit pro, try the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET) and the Building Performance Institute (BPI) as starting points; in many cases, the same contractor who does your audit can also do the insulation work. Make sure to check with your electric or gas company, too, because many perform home energy audits — some even for free.
Know your insulation
Contractors will use different materials, methods and amounts, depending on your area. Check Energy Star’s recommendations on the levels of insulation for different climates and in different areas of your home.
Here’s an overview of the different types of insulation:
- Blanket insulation, the most common type of insulation, comes in sheets or rolls. While it has traditionally been made of fiberglass, it can now be found in plastic or natural fibers. It’s sized to fit nicely between the standard spacing of studs on unfinished walls, and the joists and rafters of floors and ceilings. It’s also relatively inexpensive, and DIY types can find it in home improvement stores.
- Blown-in insulation consists of recycled fiberglass, newspaper (cellulose) or other material that is blown into a space. Because of its loose nature, this type of insulation conforms to fit an existing area without disturbing the surrounding structure and is well-suited to renovations.
- Spray foam, a mix of chemicals, expands into liquid foam that becomes rigid after it cures. It acts both as insulation and an air sealant. This type of installation requires more experienced installers, and tends to cost more (though the Department of Energy says that because it has a higher R-value and acts as an air sealant, it may ultimately save money by eliminating the need for other home weatherization tasks).
Install in the right places
Focus on where insulation needs beefing up or is missing (a home energy audit can help here). Many contractors suggest working from the top down, if your budget is tight:
- Attic: If you have one, you might install insulation on top of the floor or under the roof deck, depending on your home’s configuration and where heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment is located.
- Walls: In cold climates, you might add insulation in interior or exterior walls by drilling 3-inch holes, blowing in cellulose and then covering openings.
- Basements: Install insulation along the rim joist around your home’s perimeter and where wood meets concrete to seal gaps.
- Additions: Room additions are frequently neglected when it comes to insulation; consider filling this gap.
Remember ‘low-hanging fruit’
Many do-it-yourself improvements can also increase your home’s insulation. Caulking and weather stripping around windows, doors and thresholds; plugging light holes and plumbing gaps; installing storm windows; and adding a programmable thermostat to lower temperatures automatically are all good tactics.
Planting can help, too, says BPI-certified contractor Scott Fischer of Ciel Power in New Jersey: Shrubs and foundation materials can help diffuse wind, he says, while leafy trees on a south-facing lawn can help cut summer heat.
Take on your insulation project now while the winter chill is still fresh — and definitely before summer’s hot days, as good insulation helps keep your house cool, too.