If you live in a home built before 1980, you may be able to slash your energy costs by increasing your home’s insulation. Here’s what you need to know.
How to know if you have enough insulation
Energy awareness began rising in the 1970s. By 1980, homebuilders began increasing the amount of insulation in houses, and manufacturers began producing more energy-efficient windows, siding and other building materials. But homes built before then may not be as energy-efficient as they could be.
Even if your home was built more recently, it doesn’t hurt to check your attic insulation. You might also check the insulation of your exterior walls by removing exterior electrical switch plates so you can peek inside. If you think your house has some energy deficiencies, find a certified energy auditor to assess your home’s overall energy fitness.
Three primary areas to check
Attics and walls need proper insulation, so it’s important to check to see if you have enough. If you have a basement, check the first-floor joist spaces, too.
The U.S. Department of Energy offers a web page that recommends the amount of insulation you need throughout your house depending on where in the U.S. you live. Insulation’s ability to limit heat transference is measured by the “R” factor, with the letter R followed by a number. The higher the number, the more energy the insulation preserves.
Start at the top
The attic is the place where you’ll get the most bang for your buck by adding insulation. Unless proper insulation keeps it down, heat from inside the living areas rises through the ceiling into the attic during the winter. Likewise, improperly insulated attics allow summer heat to seep into your living space.
Adding rolls of insulation, called batts, is the easiest way to improve attic insulation as a do-it-yourself project. If you hire a professional, he will likely blow in cellulose fiber for a price about double the DIY cost.
While you’re evaluating your attic, be sure to check its ceiling, which is the underside of your roof decking. Is there a radiant barrier, a form of insulation that keeps heat inside in the winter and outside in summer? If there’s a thermal decking material on the underside of your roof decking, that’s a radiant barrier. Where there isn’t one, a spray-on insulating foam barrier is the most effective retrofit.
Exterior walls should have insulation in their cavities, but walls with living space on one side and a garage on the other may not. Pumping in foam insulation is the most energy-efficient option if additional insulation is needed.
If you have a basement, you need adequate insulation in the basement ceiling’s joist spaces to regulate temperatures in both the basement and the first floor overhead. Foam injected into the cavities is the best insulation for Sheetrocked ceilings.
An important add-on
While you’re checking your home’s insulation, inspect the caulking around the outside of your windows and doorframes. Energy loss in these areas could undermine your insulation upgrades.
How much does insulation cost?
Upgrading your home’s insulation can cost on average $1,500 to $2,400. But this project could cut 10 to 40 percent off your annual energy costs, depending on where you live and how much insulation you add. Improving insulation is one of the most cost-effective home improvement projects, more so than some cosmetic improvements.
Once your home’s insulation levels reach the Department of Energy recommendation, stop. Adding more insulation won’t return any additional savings.
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