Insulation Pays Big Dividends

Reader Contribution by Bruce Mcelmurray
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When we built our home I’m glad I paid attention to adequate insulation.  As I sat here today watching the wind blow 30+ MPH carrying snow horizontally past our front window I reflected on how thankful I am that we had insulated our home well.  With a wind chill hovering near zero degrees it is nice and comfortable inside -where I plan to stay for the moment. While some of the heat from the wood stove rises to the top of our A-Frame home, more than a sufficient amount remains at living level to keep us toasty warm on blizzard days like today.  So as the wood stove is crackling and radiating heat it is well to reap the dividends from the care we took in properly insulating our home when we built.  When it comes to insulation it is better to get it correct from the start rather than have to go back to add more later.  

Most building supply companies can give you sufficient information on how to properly insulate your home for maximum effect based upon your particular zone or area.  Our electric co-op is also an excellent source for how to best insulate our home so it is as efficient as possible.  The U.S. Department of Energy is another good source. For our geographic area we need R-30 to R-60 in our cathedral ceiling.  We need R-13 to R-21 in our walls and our floor requires R-25 to R-30. We also have double pane window glass. We removed the aluminum  frame windows the builder installed and replaced them with vinyl frame windows made for high elevation. We found the aluminum windows formed condensation/ice on the inside and also allowed  a substantial amount of cold to penetrate inside.  

Our home is an A-Frame so 70 percent is roof.  Our builder used tongue and grove 2 X 6 fir on the inside. We had 4 inches of rigid foam insulation placed on top of that  then the decking, and then the roof. That gives us a R factor in excess of the R-30 required.  The metal roof is dark brown and coupled with the insulation serves as a massive solar collector in keeping the roof warm. Our home is positioned so that it gets the morning sun as well as afternoon sun. With over 300 days per year of direct sun we have an efficient system to retain the heat in the cold months and to keep us cool in the summer. When the sun sets we drop very slightly in inside temperature. That is quickly remedied with opening the damper a little on the wood stove to increase the heat output.  Air conditioning would be a waste of money as summer is very short at 9,750′ elevation and for the one or two weeks of hotter temperatures a fan is more than sufficient for cooling.  

Our walls have Corning fiberglass insulation and coupled with the insulboard we have well over the recommended amount of R factor insulation.  The floor under the house is insulated with R-19 and the lower walls with the same. With the stonework on the exterior the area under the house remains a constant 40-45 degrees all year long.  Even though it is not heated it never gets cold enough to freeze so we call it our wine cellar. While we do not imbibe often, it is a great place to store things that require cool temperatures in a dry environment.  Even though the floor is a dirt floor it still remains  a constant temperature and the upstairs floor is well insulated from drafts or cold.

So as I sit here basking in the warmth of the wood stove; even though I can’t see the insulation,  I know it is there quietly doing its job well.  I should also mention that it is best to locate any exterior air  leaks and caulk them to keep drafts out. When the wind is blowing I use a candle to detect air leaks but I’m sure there are other ways that may be better.  It is not particularly good to heat with a wood stove and have a 100% air tight house but ours is pretty close to 100% and we have CO2 detectors to warn us if our oxygen is getting low or CO2 is getting high.  As much as we are in and out that has never really been a problem but the detectors are important in any case. Let the dogs out, let the dogs in etc…  So while the wood stove keeps us warm, the effort we invested in insulation makes the heat from the stove stay in the house where it should be and keep us nice and comfy while the blizzard rages outside.  

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