Dear Pat: Winter will be here before we know it, and I’m wondering if more insulation could help keep my heating bills low. Where should I look to add insulation? — Loreen
Dear Loreen: Sealing and insulating your home to efficient levels can cut your heating and cooling costs by an average of 15 percent and sometimes much more — all while making you more comfortable in your home.
Your attic is one of the first places you should consider insulating. It is usually accessible and easy to inspect, and most homes do not have enough attic insulation. Insulation standards for new homes increased in 2012, and many homes built before then do not have the current recommended amount.
Insulation is graded by its “R-value” — the higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power. If you live in a mild climate, your attic should have a minimum grade of R-38, or about 13-14 inches of insulation. More may be needed depending on your home and exact climate.
As a general rule, if you go into your attic and can see the ceiling joists on the attic floor, there is not enough insulation. Hiring a trained energy auditor is the best way to diagnose shortcomings with insulation or any other energy-related issue. Check with your electric co-op to see if it offers energy audits or can refer you to a local energy expert. Your co-op may also offer rebates for adding attic insulation.
Once you have determined that you need more insulation in your attic, there are a few things you can do before laying down additional layers:
- If you must use your attic to store items like holiday decorations, build a platform high enough to allow installation of the recommended insulation levels.
- If you live in an older home, check your attic’s electric wiring. Is the insulation around the wires degrading? Do you have knob and tube wiring? In either case, you will likely need to replace the wiring before proceeding.
You will then need to decide who will do the insulation work. If a “do-it-yourself” project interests you, you’ll need to do some homework. Installing insulation is messy, potentially dangerous and requires special equipment. Fortunately, there are many experienced insulation contractors. You should discuss a few things with contractors before you agree to hire them:
- Be sure that you or your contractor seals any air leaks that can bring warm, moist air from your home into the attic, which can reduce the insulation value and create mold.
- Pay particular attention to your attic door or hatch. This entry point is a significant contributor to heat loss and heat gain in the home.
- If you have existing attic insulation, it is usually not necessary to remove it unless it is wet, moldy or contains animal waste.
- Make sure there is sufficient ventilation in the attic. Warmth and moisture can build up in an improperly ventilated attic, which can lead to roof problems such as roof rot or ice dams.
There are two types of insulation that you could place on your attic floor: batt/roll or blown-in/loose fill. Blown-in insulation requires special equipment to install, but it fills the space better than batt insulation, which can leave gaps and voids without careful cutting and placement around ceiling joists, vents and other attic impediments.
Insulation is most commonly made from fiberglass, cellulose or mineral wool. Many energy advisers recommend blown-in cellulose insulation due to its superior coverage, high R-value and air-sealing abilities; blown-in cellulose insulation is treated with boric acid, which acts as a fire retardant and insect repellent.
Before you get started, consult with your local energy auditor or insulation contractor for help in determining what type and material of insulation will work best in your home.