UPGRADING YOUR HOME’S INSULATION AND ATTIC EFFICIENCY
BY CHERYL ALEXANDER
Every smart homeowner is looking for ways to reduce costs wherever possible. Unless your home is on the newer side and specially constructed to conserve energy, then you should think about adding more insulation. Upgrading insulation and attic efficiency will result in reduced energy bills, plus it’s a project that can pay for itself within a few years.
An energy assessment, or home energy audit, will help identify areas of your house that need air sealing. Air sealing, which should be done before adding insulation, is a cost-effective method to cut heating and cooling costs, improve durability, increase comfort, and create a healthier indoor environment. Two common techniques that offer a quick return on investment (one year or less in most cases) are caulking and weatherstripping.
After sealing leaks, you must determine whether you should add insulation and where, what type of insulation you have, and the R-value and thickness of the insulation. Keep in mind that thickness should be the sole factor determining the R-value of loose-fill insulation, particularly for attic insulation.
A label you’ll find on the insulation will disclose the R-value per inch — a measure of resistance to heat transfer. A higher number means more effective insulation. In tight spaces, like wall cavities, you’ll need a high R-value per inch. You can increase the value in roomier spots like the attic or under a floor simply by using a thicker layer.
Also, realize that the more insulation you add, the more you’ll generally save. Consult the Department of Energy’s website for zip-code-specific recommendations for the right amount of insulation for the Texas climate.
Start in the attic because adding insulation there is quick, costeffective, and easy. Research the recommended amount for your area, then subtract the value of your existing insulation to determine how much you should add. In an unfinished space, simply add layers to what is already there. However, if finishing the attic is on your future radar, you should insulate against the roof, which is a better method for humid climates.
For DIY jobs, blanket-type material is easiest. Be aware that if compressed, it loses effectiveness. If you’re hiring a contractor, use loose-fill cellulose or fiberglass to better fill crevices. Sprayed foam polyurethane often works best for roof insulation because it molds to rafters, blocks water vapor, and has a high R-rating per inch. Pro Tip: Federal tax credits are usually available to defray the cost of materials.
Adding insulation in stud bays (the cavities between the studs) is easy when you use a professional installer to blow-in insulation materials. The three most common types are loose-fill fiberglass, cellulose, and rock wool, also called mineral wool.
BASEMENTS AND CRAWL SPACES
Besides the top and sides of your house, the bottom should also be insulated. You can add insulation beneath the bottom floor and consider the crawl space or basement as outdoor space, or you can insulate the walls and consider it as indoor space. If you decide to consider it indoor space, shut off all exterior vents except those required for combustion air or exhaust. While floor insulation is more conventional, wall insulation has advantages, including a lower cost because only about one-third of the material is required for wall insulation versus the subfloor above.