Raymond Yoder of Indianapolis, Ind. learned his lesson in home insulation the hard way. "It was cheaper to buy one of the new model homes without insulation. We figured we'd save the cash," Yoder says. That was in 1954. He has since moved from that home but not before, he admits, adding a lot more insulation to keep his home at a reasonable temperature. So much for "saving cash" -- it was lost in the costs to heat and cool his insulation-less home.
A home without insulation? That sounds to most modern buyers like buying a new car without wheels. But even homes built as recently as the mid-1970s have insulation at levels far lower than recommended today. As energy costs continue to rise, it only makes economic sense to equip your house with the correct amount of insulation to conserve energy.
With the addition of insulation to your home, you'll reap rewards -- saving money while doing your part for the environment -- and your home will be a more comfortable place to live in all year long. Here's everything you need to know about insulation:
How does insulation work?
Insulation works by slowing the transfer of heat. That's why the same insulation shields you from the summer sun and retains warmth in the winter. Insulation is rated in terms of thermal resistance, called R-value.
Energy audit and assessment
Before you climb into your hot attic to unroll insulation be sure to call on the assistance of a professional home energy audit. An energy audit will tell you a few important things. First, is your home properly sealed? Adding additional insulation won't be as effective if the heat in your home is escaping. Auditors will give you a customized report on ways you can improve the energy efficiency in your home.
Call your utility company or search for providers in your area. Many utility companies will perform an audit for free or for a nominal cost. Some cities and localities even have incentives - homeowners in Washington, D.C. are eligible for a free energy audit, for example.
Next, you'll need to determine the R-values of your existing insulation. The Department of Energy has an excellent, in-depth fact sheet on the topic, including tips on where to add insulation for best results. (Hint: adding insulation where it's never been before will give you the best return on your money. So, start in these places first.)
The site also includes a ZIP Code look-up tool which will provide you the latest recommended insulation levels in your area.
The ZIP Code tool will also calculate approximate returns on your insulation investment. You can also do a cost calculation using an insulation calculator. If your rate of return looks paltry next to today's costs remember that energy prices will continue to rise. Most insulation will pay for itself over a short period of time.
Newest insulation options
You're probably familiar with the pink, itchy fiberglass insulation common for many decades. Most common is the fluffy kind sold in rolls or batts at your local home store. This kind of insulation requires dust masks and long sleeves to install for both safety and comfort concerns.
Now there are more options, some of them made from "green" materials. Today, insulation is made from cellulose, foam, wool or even shredded blue jeans (but don't try the latter on your own -- they need to be fireproofed first). One type made from agricultural byproducts is called Greensulate. This rigid board insulation is made of fiber produced from cottonseed and buckwheat hulls.
"It's used in different applications than, say, the fluffy insulation," explains Sam Harrington of Ecovative Design, the company producing Greensulate. "It won't settle like blow-in insulation options and it really gives a home a tighter envelope." Expect Greensulate to hit the market in 2011.
But back to Yoder's original folly -- a lack of any insulation. He added insulation soon after the initial purchase of his home and added more over the years. Additional insulation helped the home stay warm during Midwestern winters and cool during sweltering hot summers. His family agrees that the home was most comfortable after the last round of insulation was installed, shortly before it's sale.