Most homes I inspect have a fair amount of insulation but not enough to maximize energy efficiency. Insulation is a very complicated topic with so many types and the science of heat transfer. My goal in this post is to clear up some of that confusion so you can maximize your home’s energy efficiency.
First and foremost, houses need to be properly air sealed to be energy efficient. Air sealing is so important that a home that is well insulated but not air sealed will not perform at all up to par with expectations. Step one in preventing heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer is air sealing your home. While this can be done in a few ways, spray foam is typically one of the best options, and closed cell spray foam in particular.
After thoroughly air sealing all gaps, insulating your home well should be the next priority. Check your climate zone to find out the minimum recommended R-value for your area. The R-value refers to the insulation’s ability to resist air movement. The higher the R-value, the better job the insulation does at preventing the movement of air by trapping air particles in small, empty pockets. Here in western Pennsylvania, the minimum recommended R-value for attics is R-49; in your area it may be different.
There are many types of insulation, and all serve their purpose in certain circumstances. Common types include fiberglass batts, blown insulation (cellulose or fiberglass), mineral wool, rigid foam, and closed cell or open cell spray foam. I recently insulated and refinished my own attic and used all of these types, excluding fiberglass batts and open cell spray foam. I spray foamed around windows and all electrical and plumbing penetrations, blew fiberglass onto the floors behind the knee walls and above the collar ties, installed rigid foam behind the knee walls, and installed mineral wool batts between the rafters along the diagonals. As you can see, different types of insulation are better suited for different applications, and consulting a qualified insulation expert is definitely a good idea.
Adequate air sealing and insulation is homeownership 101 – right up there with prevention of water intrusion. When your home is properly sealed and insulated, it is more energy efficient, more comfortable, more capable of preventing ice dams and other problems, and less costly to heat and cool. I strongly encourage you to check the type and depth of your insulation and add more if necessary. As a general rule, insulation should not be compressed and should be left “fluffy” because compressing it actually decreases its ability to resist air movement and, thus, its R-value.
If you view insulation as something not so important, think again! Have a professional come out and evaluate your home’s energy efficiency, and consider air sealing and adding insulation as recommended. It will take a while to make back the money you spend in utility bill savings, but it will be well worth the investment in the long run and you will see and feel the results immediately.
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