Add Insulation for Better Energy Efficiency this Winter

It’s no secret that energy costs are on the rise. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that U.S. homeowners will see increased energy costs this winter. They forecast price increases of 22 percent for natural gas, 28 percent for heating oil, and 26 percent for propane this winter compared to last winter. Increases in the cost of electric heating are also expected to rise. When you consider that heating and cooling accounts for 50 to 70 percent of the energy used in the average American home, these increases can add up significantly.

Sealing your home to prevent air leakage and improving insulation are two of the most effective ways to reduce your heating bills. Regardless of the age of your home, unless it was specifically built for maximum energy efficiency, you could probably benefit from installing additional insulation. Older homes certainly don’t have adequate insulation, but even most homes built today are not insulated to optimal levels. Adding insulation to your home will offer enough cost savings to pay for itself within a few years.

In addition to reducing energy bills, sealing leaks and adding insulation offer several other benefits:

  • Improves the comfort of your home
  • Reduces noise from outside
  • Improves humidity control
  • Reduces pollen, dust, and insects that can enter your home
  • Decreases the risk of ice dams

The first thing you need to do is determine how much insulation you already have and where it is located, what type of insulation you have, and the R-value and thickness of your insulation. An insulation check should be included as part of a routine whole-house energy audit conducted by an HVAC professional. An energy audit will also identify areas that need air sealing, which should be done before adding any insulation. But you can take some steps to gauge your current insulation levels yourself. To determine if a wall has insulation, remove the cover plates on outlets on the exterior walls and look to see if there is insulation. Make sure to turn off power to the outlets first. You can also pull out a small amount of insulation if needed to determine the type of insulation. Be sure to check outlets on all floors of your home rather than assume that if one wall is insulated that all of the walls are insulated. Once you’ve determined how much insulation you currently have, you can use the U.S. Department of Energy’s home energy saver tool to determine how much insulation you need to add and where you should add it to achieve maximum energy efficiency.

The difficulty of adding insulation will depend on the type of insulation you use and where you need to add it.

Walls – Adding insulation to walls that already contain insulation is costly and labor-intensive. It is best in this situation to wait until you are remodeling or replacing the siding to add insulation. If you have walls that don’t yet have insulation, a contractor can drill holes through the wall and blow in material.

Attic – Adding insulation to the attic is usually quick and cost-effective. If your attic is unfinished, you can simply add layers of insulation to what is already there. You can also add insulation against the roof, which is a good idea if you are finishing the space, if heating and cooling ducts pass through the space or if you want to reduce musty smells coming from the attic, a problem common in humid climates. If you are adding the insulation yourself, chose the blanket-type insulation. If you’re having a professional install it, go with loose-fill cellulose or fiberglass, which can fill crevices. Sprayed foam polyurethane works well for insulating the roof.

Basements and crawl spaces – Because as much as 30 percent of energy loss can occur in the lower level of your home, adding insulation to your basement or crawl space offers a great return on investment. If you have a crawl space, you’ll want to add insulation under the bottom floor and treat this area as an outdoor area. For basements, however, insulating the foundation walls is more effective and will help prevent moisture problems in your basement that can be made worse by insulating the floor above.

While you can add some types of insulation yourself, it is a good idea to hire a professional. Having it professionally installed will help you avoid moisture problems and air quality issues, as well as backdrafting, a dangerous situation that can occur if you have combustion appliances and seal your house too tight. The professionals at Overland Park Heating and Cooling can help you audit your home for energy efficiency and get your home sealed and properly insulated for maximum energy efficiency.