What to Look For Before Insulating Your Home
October 13, 2017
Are air leaks and a low insulation level robbing you of comfort and increasing your household energy costs? If you want to boost your home comfort and energy efficiency year round, adding more insulation is a good strategy.
To help you gain the greatest return on your investment, we've put together a brief guide on the best areas to insulate and the most beneficial R-value for each one, as recommended by the Department of Energy (DOE). The DOE defines R-value as, “An insulating material’s resistance to conductive heat flow is measured or rated in terms of its thermal resistance or R-value -- the higher the R-value, the greater the insulating effectiveness.”
Performing quick checks in the following areas can tell you whether an experienced professional should investigate if air sealing and adding more insulation is necessary.
Types of Insulation
There are nine categories of insulation, each which has a number of materials within them. Homeowners will mostly be deciding between a few different options in these categories like:
- Batts and rolls which used for foundation walls, floors and ceilings. These materials include fiberglass and other plastic and natural fibers.
- Sprayed foam which can be used to insulate homes after they are built or for new areas of homes.
What you Need to Know About Attic Insulation
Your attic is a large space at the very top of your home. If you don't insulate the floor of the attic and the door area, warm air will easily travel up where it is not needed. Cold air will be swept into the basement and into your living space as an air-replacement effect, and your HVAC system will be required to run more often.
Having enough insulation on the attic floor is vital, because this is where up to 40 percent of energy loss occurs in an average home. For our the Greater Des Moines area, the DOE recommends installing sufficient loose fill or rolled batt insulation between the attic floor joists to reach a total of R-60. To tell if you have enough, take a good look around your attic:
- If the joists are visible in any area of the attic, you could benefit from having more insulation added.
- If the joists are completely hidden by evenly-distributed insulation, you likely have enough.
Finding the Gaps in Your Attic’s Insulation
To locate gaps and leaks between the attic and living area, wait until it's dark out and turn on all the lights in your home. Then, go up to the attic, shut the hatch and look around. Any spots where light is bleeding through from the rooms below are sources of air leakage.
If you have leaks and insufficient insulation, it's wise to get an expert opinion about having the attic sealed and more loose fill or batt insulation installed between the floor joists. Before you tackle insulating the floor:
- Make any necessary roof repairs.
- Seal sources of air leakage between the attic and living areas.
- Properly insulate the attic knee walls and access hatch.
Checking Exterior Walls For Insulation Issues
Up to 20 percent of energy loss occurs through the walls in the average home. To reduce these losses, the DOE recommends insulating the wall cavities up to R-21. You can have dense-pack insulation blown in from outside if you don't want to disturb your finished interior walls. If you're remodeling and the interior wall cavities are accessible, you have a choice of using spray foam, wet-spray cellulose or rolled batt insulation.
A check of your electrical outlets on exterior walls can tell you if the cavities have insulation:
- Flip the circuit breaker that controls the outlets first.
- Remove each cover and use a flashlight to illuminate the outlet box.
- If you can't see any insulation around the boxes, the walls probably lack sufficient insulation.
It's easiest to find leaks through the exterior at night. First, turn off your interior lights, then walk through the house shining a flashlight at your exterior walls. Have someone follow you around outside to locate leaks where light is shining through.
How Well-Insulated is Your Basement?
Concrete has about the same R-value as single-pane window glass, so a considerable amount of energy can be lost through your uninsulated basement walls. To curb this waste, you need to f take care of any water issues and use spray foam insulation all around thesill. As a final step, put wood framing up on the walls and insulate up to R-19 with either rolled batt or a rigid foam product.
Landscaping Tricks to Insulate Your Home
What you plant in your yard can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of your home's insulation. During the summer, you want to block the sun, but during the winter, you want the sun to be able to enter and naturally heat your home.
How can these opposing goals be accomplished at the same time? In the summer, the east-rising sun is not of much concern. Your home is already cool from the evening and the sun doesn't have as much of a heating effect. As the day wears on, the sun passes over the south side of your home, but it's angled so high in the sky that the roof overhang is typically all you need to keep the sun from entering your home.
Plant Trees that Lose their Leaves on the South Side
If you choose to plant a tree on the south side of your home, make sure it is deciduous so it will lose its leaves in the fall. This is important for allowing the sun's rays to heat your home in the winter. In the summer, the side of your home that really benefits from using landscaping as insulation is the west side. The late afternoon sun in the western sky is at its maximum heating capacity. Therefore, trees that are planted up to 25 feet away and in line to block the sun from 3:00PM to 5:00PM are the most effective. This can be a deciduous tree as well, so the sun can shine through in the winter.
Incorporating Bushes and Fences to Insulate a Home’s Exterior
With landscaping that allows winter sun access to your home, you can increase your home's insulation against the winter wind by planting bushes and trees near your home. Slatted fences ease the power of the wind as it approaches your home as well. For blocking those cold harsh winds from the north, plant evergreen bushes and trees on this side of your house so they have greater wind-blocking effect in winter.
Remember to Insulate Ductwork
Leaky, uninsulated ductwork can cause the loss of up to 20 percent of your HVAC system's conditioned air output. To end this energy drain, use metal-backed tape to seal all accessible ducts, then wrap them with an R-6 insulation.
Insulation provides an extra protective barrier to your home. It allows the interior of your house to stay dry and warm throughout the year, regardless of the weather in the Des Moines area. There are several areas in your home that are important to insulate for many reasons.
Contact us at Lozier Heating & Cooling
for more expert advice about boosting the insulation level and sealing leaks in your Des Moines home.