One the most common areas that homeowners overlook to help with energy costs is the attic. Most homes when they are built use the bare bones minimum amount of fiberglass insulation. Insulation levels are specified by R-Value. R-Value is a measure of insulation’s ability to resist heat traveling through it. The higher the R-Value the better the thermal performance of the insulation. If a home has a low R value this is going to cause the house to become cooler in the winter therefore your heat will have to make up for the lost heat. This leads to higher energy bills.
Insulation is made from a variety of materials, and it usually comes in four types: rolls and batts, loose-fill, rigid foam, and foam-in-place.
Rolls and batts — or blankets — are flexible products made from mineral fibers, such as fiberglass and rock wool. They are available in widths suited to standard spacing of wall studs and attic or floor joists: 2 inch x 4 inch walls can hold R-13 or R-15 batts; 2 inch x 6 inch walls can use R-19 or R-21 products.
Loose-fill insulation is usually made of fiberglass, rock wool, or cellulose in the form of loose fibers or fiber pellets. It should be blown into spaces using special pneumatic equipment. The blown-in material conforms readily to odd-sized building cavities and attics with wires, ducts, and pipes, making it well suited for places where it is difficult to effectively install other types of insulation.
Rigid foam insulation is typically more expensive than rolls and batts or loose-fill insulation, but it is very effective in exterior wall sheathing, interior sheathing for basement walls, and special applications such as attic hatches. Foam insulation R-values range from R-4 to R-6.5 per inch of thickness, which is up to 2 times greater than most other insulating materials of the same thickness.
Foam-in-place insulation can be blown into walls, on attic surfaces, or under floors to insulate and reduce air leakage. You can use the small pressurized cans of foam-in-place insulation to reduce air leakage in holes and cracks such as window and door frames, and electrical and plumbing penetrations.
There are two types of foam-in-place insulation: closed-cell and open-cell. Both are typically made with polyurethane. With closed-cell foam, the high-density cells are closed and filled with a gas that helps the foam expand to fill the spaces around it. Closed-cell foam is the most effective, with an insulation value of around R-6.2 per inch of thickness.
Open-cell foam cells are not as dense and are filled with air, which gives the insulation a spongy texture. Open-cell foam insulation value is around R-3.7 per inch of thickness.
The type of insulation you should choose depends on how you will use it and on your budget. While closed-cell foam has a greater R-value and provides stronger resistance against moisture and air leakage, the material is also much denser and is more expensive to install. Open-cell foam is lighter and less expensive but should not be used below ground level where it could absorb water. Consult a professional insulation installer to decide what type of insulation is best for you.
One of the most cost-effective ways to make your home more comfortable year-round is to add insulation to your attic, including the attic trap or access door, which is relatively easy.
To find out if you have enough attic insulation, measure the thickness of the insulation. If it is less than R-30 (11 inches of fiberglass or rock wool or 8 inches of cellulose), you could probably benefit by adding more.
If your attic has enough insulation and proper air sealing, and your home still feels drafty and cold in the winter or too warm in the summer, chances are you need to add insulation to the exterior walls. This is more expensive and usually requires a contractor, but it may be worth the cost—especially if you live in a very cold climate. If you replace the exterior siding on your home, consider adding insulation at the same time.
You may also need to add insulation to your crawlspace or basement.
In most climates, you will save money and energy when you build a new home or addition if you install a combination of cavity insulation and insulative sheathing. Reduce exterior wall leaks by taping the joints of exterior sheathing and caulking and sealing exterior walls. Cavity insulation can be installed at levels up to R-15 in a 2 inch x 4 inch wall and up to R-21 in a 2 inch x 6 inch wall. These help to reduce the energy that would otherwise be lost through the wood frame.
Consider products that provide both insulation and structural support, such as structural insulated panels (SIPs), and masonry products like insulating concrete forms.
You should consider attic or roof radiant barriers (in hot climates), reflective insulation, and foundation insulation for new home construction. Check with your contractor for more information about these options.
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