Winter is upon our door, but it’s not too late to add insulation to your home. Adding insulation to your attic and crawl space will easily pay for itself in as little as one year, depending on which material and method of insulation you use.
If you live in an apartment, one of the best ways to conserve heat is to add insulation under rugs. If you have wall-to-wall carpeting, this may not be possible; but if you have throw rugs, there is a product called radiant barrier foil insulation, commonly called double bubble, which is a foil-covered insulating mat measuring about 3/8 inches thick. By adding it under rugs, you will substantially reduce heat loss through your floor. Double bubble can be used in many ways and it is very effective. It costs roughly $0.60 per square foot, so you can cover a 4-foot by 10-foot area for about $25.00.
There are many factors to consider when choosing which insulation will work best for your particular situation, including price, ease of installation, and the effect it will have on the environment in your home. Regardless of which type you end up using, be sure to work safely and cautiously so as to avoid inhaling it or tracking it in to your home. Also, be sure not to cover or bury any air vents when adding insulation, especially in the attic.
The potential of any insulative material is measured using R-value, which is the measure of thermal resistance used in the building and construction industry. The higher the R-value, the better the insulative effect.
Fiberglass batt insulation is the most common, and for a given R value, it is the most affordable type of insulation. Most people associate fiberglass batt insulation as being itchy and uncomfortable to work with—and for good reason. But now there’s an ecofriendly option: formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation. Contrary to its predecessor, formaldehyde-free fiberglass does not make you itch, nor does it give off poisonous gases into your home after being installed.
Formaldehyde-free fiberglass is rapidly replacing the traditional product, but be sure you buy the ecofriendly variety. You can add fiberglass insulation anywhere there is access and some sort of support. When adding it to the underside of your floor, you may want to consider going over it with a layer of ridged foam insulation or double bubble. This will support the fiberglass, as well as seal it in to a degree, and at the same time it will add more R-value to your floor.
Though the prospect of getting under the house can be a bit intimidating, it really is a good thing to get under there to clean it out and improve the insulation. If your insulation is falling down, it will be well worth your effort to fix it. Adding rigid foam under the fiberglass makes your crawl space stay clean and much more inviting for future visits. It will also lower your heating bill and add to the comfort of your home. Warm floors make happy feet and happy feet make happy people, especially kids.
For insulating attics, loose cellulose is a very good option. It costs a little more than fiberglass, but is much easier to install. Cellulose insulation is made from paper. It is likely to contain a high percentage of recycled newsprint, which makes it very good for the environment. However, cellulose is usually treated with borate as a fire retardant and mold inhibitor. Borate is a great fire retardant, but if it inhibits mold it has to be poisonous to some degree.
Be sure to avoid cellulose processed with ammonium sulfate. It can produce an ammonia smell, which is really toxic. Cellulose can be purchased in bags and installed right over the top of existing fiberglass batt or existing cellulose. It’s very easy to install by simply pushing the loose cellulose around with a broom or a rake. If you do use loose cellulose and install it yourself, it is very important to be sure not to cover up the soffit vents, which allow air to circulate through the attic. Also be sure to wear a face mask even though it doesn’t smell, in case you are sensitive to dust.
Blown-in cellulose insulation is a great way to go, both economically and ecologically. R-11 blown-in cellulose costs around $0.69 per square foot. In many ways, it can be considered the best for open attics and floors, as well as existing wall cavities. If the framing is exposed, a mesh is applied over the joists or studs to support the insulation. Then it needs to be covered with sheet rock, plywood, or rigid foam insulation. If you are adding it to an attic you, don’t need to add any other support. The installer will just spread it over the top of whatever is there.
Blowing in cellulose into wall cavities requires a 1 1/2-inch hole for the installer to blow it in through. The insulation will be blown in under pressure, filling all the voids in the cavity. This is a great way to treat older homes that might be lacking insulation. As well as being the best for the environment because it uses recycled newspaper, cellulose insulation provides higher R- value per dollar the best mold inhibition and dampens air infiltration better than fiberglass batt.
Rigid Foam Insulation
Rigid foam insulation is a good option for many applications where there may be excessive moisture or when you want to cover up existing insulation. It can be used to box in plumbing, such as pumps and filters. It is the best option for outdoor use, since it does not absorb water and will not rot. Polystyrene insulation is made out of compressed beads and tends to fall apart. So if you need permanent rigidity, use Polyisocyanurate commonly known by the trade name Foamular instead.
Spray foam insulation, or foamed-in-place as it’s referred to in the industry, has a tremendous R-value of 6.5 per inch, which adds up to 22.75 in a 3 1/2-inch space. But the cost for R 22.75 is around $2.55 per square foot. Pros call it the king of insulation materials, because it outperforms all other types of insulation in terms of R-value per inch. It also completely seals out, and in, moisture and air, and also adds strength to the buildings.
But along with its fancy price, spray foam insulation is also the most toxic to the environment, since it uses a huge amount of CFCs to apply and it gives off gases into your home long after it’s been installed. It is sprayed into the framing bays and against the sheathing of walls, floors, and ceilings as a liquid. It quickly expands to become an impermeable barrier to moisture, air, and temperature coming into and going out of the house.
But from a ecology perspective, using such impermeable spray foam insulation as the only type of insulation in your home might not be the best idea, since anything that comes into your home has a very hard time getting back out. Though you don’t want wind blowing through your house, neither do you want to live in a plastic bag.
Installing extra insulation is a great thing to do not only for yourself, but for the planet as well. Cutting down on our carbon footprint is a responsibility we all share. By adding insulation to your home, you will not only gain a cheaper heating bill, but the gratification of knowing that you have done your part to reduce our carbon footprint.
Installing insulation has a bad reputation in the building trades as being one of the most thankless jobs—and for good reason. Insulation just sits there. The skill required to install it varies depending on what type is used, but once it is in place it is covered up and you kind of forget about it. But when approaching an insulation job yourself, you will quickly gain a lot of respect for the people that install it for a living. Though they make it look so easy and do it so fast, in reality there is a fair amount of process to it.
If you live in an older apartment building, consider suggesting insulation to your building managers. If they install insulation sooner rather than later, they will thank you down the road when the energy savings become apparent.
Gordon Elliot has over 30 years of experience in working on homes and is on a mission to arm people with the skills and confidence to do home projects they would not have otherwise attempted.
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