Insulating Your Home Can Save You Money!

For a relatively small up-front cost, you can save a lot of money in the long run by insulating your home. Especially if you do part or all of the job yourself.

| December 2010/January 2011

Few people would go outdoors on a cold winter day without a warm coat. But many of us live in homes that are, for all intents and purposes, standing out in the cold wearing nothing more than a light sweater. On cold winter days, we either shiver inside our underinsulated homes, or we crank up the heat — and that wastes a lot of energy. If it has little or none, insulating your home is one of the easiest and most cost-effective measures you can take to save energy and money.

While you may choose to do some of the insulation work yourself, you also have the option of hiring a professional. If you hire an energy auditor, he or she will assess your home’s insulation needs and recommend the proper amount and types for the different parts of your home. Another option is to hire a professional insulation contractor, who will recommend the amount and type of insulation and install it. Whichever option you choose, these tips will help you get started.

How to Assess Insulation Levels

The Attic. With a ruler, measure the depth of the attic insulation and note which type you have. You’ll most likely find fiberglass, either in blankets or as loose fill. If you have roll- or blanket-type insulation, pull up a piece and look at the backing, which should have the R-value printed on it. You may also find loose, brownish material known as vermiculite. Be careful, as vermiculite is sometimes contaminated with hazardous asbestos (call an insulation specialist if in doubt).

If the attic is a finished living area, you may need to remove a floorboard or cut a small hole in the floor to check the insulation between the ceiling joists. If the ceiling is finished, you may need to remove a ceiling light fixture to check for insulation. Be sure to turn off the power to this circuit beforehand.

Outer Walls. Now turn your attention to the outer walls of your living spaces. The easiest way to check insulation here is to remove the cover plates on a few electrical outlets or light switches located on outside walls in different parts of the house. First turn off the circuit to the outlet or switch, and then peek into the wall cavity to look for insulation.

Using a wooden ruler, pencil or wood skewer, probe the wall cavity next to the outlet or light switch to see whether it’s insulated. If the probe passes through the cavity without resistance, there’s no insulation. If you run into some resistance, it’s insulated. Bear in mind, however, that electricians sometimes trim away insulation from electrical outlets and light switches for fire safety, so the absence of insulation near a light switch or electrical outlet may not mean the rest of the wall is uninsulated. You can also check for insulation by drilling a small hole in an out-of-the- way place, such as in a closet against an outside wall.

12/20/2013 4:42:37 PM

I was surprised: no mention of furring out the exterior walls, adding insulation and new siding...that maintains interior space dimensions, especially in tiny homes. Also, how about "Rock-wool"? That stuff is fireproof, critter-resistant, mold-proof; if the house is flooded, the rock-wool insulation MIGHT be able to stay, and only need to replace the dam aged wall board. [[in the old days, uninsulated houses didn't have modern building materials that are so damage-prone; they let waters flow thru, helped the bldg dry out after, and no problem--Rock-wool is one of those products that might kinda allow that. It comes as batts, though a bit heavier to handle, insulates nicely, similar to fiberglass batts. And because it's fireproof etc., home insurance Might be lower premiums. ALSO, what about "AirCrete" foam insulation? That stuff IS non-toxic, sound-proofs, fireproofs, mold-proof, bug and rodent repellant--and can tolerate high-temp applications....and more insulative than fiber or fluff---a Cementitious Foam insulation made from magnesium oxide derived from sea water and blown in place with air. No CFCs or HCFCs are used. Because of its inorganic composition, it has very low VOC emissions, is totally inert, and non-combustible. Cementitious foam insulation is available commercially in one product: Air-Krete. Demo showed person licking it to make their point--it tastes salty; or trying to shave with the uncured wet foam--joking around. And, because it is so fireproof etc., it MIGHT allow lower home insurance rates...

Laurie Rocke
1/23/2011 4:56:14 PM

Quick question for you...our basement is not heated (except for ductwork)and the stairs are absolute draft breeders. I can see the cellar lights through the cracks between the steps on the first to second floor! How in heck can I insulate them? I've been all over the 'net, but can't seem to find a single sensible suggestion. This would be a DIY project for a 63 yo woman.

B Knight
1/8/2011 10:49:37 AM

Certainly adding insulation, be it fiberglass or cellulose, with help. Don't forget about sealing air leaks too. This is often a cheaper fix, with very big paybacks... though doing both would be best. Here's another article on sealing air leaks as well as more info an adding insulation: Bottom line, performing either activity will quickly payback it's costs and provided benefits via a less drafty, warmer (and cooler in the summer) environment.

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