Your 101 Guide to Home Insulation – Get Rid of All Your Heating & Cooling Problems
Are you struggling to maintain your desired indoor temperature, and your energy bills are skyrocketing each season? Home insulation may sound like a hassle, but you can solve many more heating and cooling problems with adequate application.
While most homeowners have a vague idea of insulation and its purpose, very few are sufficiently informed to ensure their home is properly insulated.
If you are ready to give it a detailed thought, then this in-depth guide to home insulation includes everything you need to know to get started.
Why Do You Need Home Insulation?
Through various mechanisms, heat flows from warmer areas to cooler areas until there is no longer a temperature difference. During winter, heat flows from all heated areas to unheated areas such as attics, garages, bathrooms, and even outdoors if you have gaps and crevices around windows and doors. This means your heating system works harder than it has to contribute to higher energy usage.
The opposite happens in the summer months. Heat flows from the warmer outdoors to the cooler indoors, which hinders your air conditioning.
Here is how home insulation can help! Properly insulating your home will reduce this unwanted heat transfer, additionally making your HVAC unit’s job a whole lot easier!
How Home Insulation Affects Your Energy Costs?
According to the US Department of Energy, 43% of a utility bill goes to heating and cooling for a typical home. Due to air exchange, this percentage can increase by manifolds, leaving a dent in your wallet.
However, by installing proper insulation, you can drastically reduce heat transfer. A properly insulated home leaves no space for the air to leak hence maintaining your ideal home environment. Your HVAC unit will no longer need to work overtime to heat or cool your home. Since your home is not losing conditioned air to unconditioned spaces, you’ll see a significant reduction in energy bills and a better, more comfortable home environment.
All About Insulation R-Values
The R-value measures the ability of a material to resist heat flow. The higher the R-value of a material, the better an insulator it is. It helps differentiate between insulating materials depending on their thermal resistance.
The R-value depends on several factors, including the type of insulation material, its thickness, density, and age. Generally, increased insulation thickness will increase the R-value.
When installing insulation, keep in mind that the R-value of the wall or ceiling will be different from the R-value of the material itself. This is because heat flows more readily through joists and studs. The process is called thermal bridging.
Refer to this chart by EnergyStar to find recommended R-values as per your climate.
|1||R30 to R49||R25 to R30||R13|
|2||R30 to R60||R25 to R38||R13 to R19|
|3||R30 to R60||R25 to R38||R19 to R25|
|4||R38 to R60||R38||R25 to R30|
|5 to 8||R49 to R60||R38 to R49||R25 to R30|
|Wall Insulation – Whenever exterior siding is removed on an: Uninsulated wood-frame wall:OR Insulated wood-frame wall:|
Types of Home Insulation Materials
There are many different types of insulation suitable for various purposes. Some of the most common types of insulation include blanket batts and rolls, rigid foam boards, loose-fill insulation, spray foam insulation, etc.
Each type of insulation has its advantages and disadvantages.
To learn more about different types of insulation and which one is best for you, read this in-depth guide on types of insulation.
Where to Insulate in Your Home?
There are many avenues of air leaks inside your home. Let’s go over some of the most important areas that need insulation for better temperature control.
1. Attic and Roof Insulation
The sun’s harsh rays fall directly on the roof during summers, raising its temperature to astronomical levels. The hot roof radiates heat which travels to the attic. If you are using your attic as a living space or storage room for heat-sensitive equipment, this can create a massive problem.
Even if your attic is unused, it likely contains exposed wires, ducts, and pipes, which can degrade in the presence of heat. An uninsulated roof and attic can also raise the temperature of your entire house. It then leads to creating discomfort and sky-high bills.
Here attic and roof insulation come to your rescue. According to the EPA, homeowners can save 15% on heating and cooling costs by effectively insulating attics, floors over crawlspaces, and accessible basement rim joists.
If you are tight on money, the good news is that you can DIY your attic insulation. Read this in-depth guide on attic insulation to see if you need it and how to do it yourself.
2. Exterior Wall Insulation
Wall insulation has many advantages. It is one of the best steps you can take to prolong the life of your house and make your home more energy-efficient. Exterior wall insulation can help protect your house from extreme temperature changes. This helps lower energy consumption which is also great for the environment!
Some types of wall insulation can also lengthen the lifespan of your house by preventing mold growth. Effective wall insulation is seen as a sign of a well-built home and also increases its resale value.
Exposed Exterior Cavities:
If you are in the process of building your home, chances are your exterior wall cavities are exposed. If that is the case, here are some available options for insulating your exterior walls:
- Foam Board Insulation: Foam boards are an easy-to-install insulation option with good thermal resistance and relatively little thickness. They are also good at preventing heat conduction through structural elements like wood studs.
- Batt and Roll Insulation: Batt and roll insulation, otherwise known as blanket insulation, comes in various materials, including fiberglass, mineral wool, sheep’s wool, etc. Fiberglass is the most used material, and a 3.5-inch-thick blanket offers an impressive R-value of 11. Batts and rolls are available in pre-cut sizes hence are well-suited for a DIY wall insulation project.
- Concrete Block Insulation: Concrete blocks used to build homes are insulated by filling the core or coating the exterior with insulation.
- Insulated Concrete Forms: Insulating concrete forms are structures in which concrete is poured. They remain in place even after the system is built to provide insulation. They help save up to 20% on energy and offer noise control too.
- Radiant Barriers: Radiant barriers are also a good option if you have exposed exterior cavities. They are highly effective at preventing heat transfer by reflecting incoming light.
- Structural Insulated Panels: SIPs are a building system in which an insulating core is sandwiched between two layers of structural board. SIP-built houses provide superior insulation compared to traditional building materials.
If you’re just getting started with constructing your home, it’s a good idea to talk to your contractor to see if SIPs would be a good fit for you.
Enclosed External Cavities:
If your structure is ready and you are looking to upgrade your insulation, here are some of your options:
- Blown-in Insulation: Blown-in insulation consists of tiny particles of fiber, foam, or other insulating materials. They can fit any space without disturbing existing structures, making them viable for enclosed wall cavities.
- Spray Foam Insulation: Spray foam insulation is a good option for existing walls since it requires no significant changes to the structure. Installation of spray foam insulation requires special equipment and is best done by a professional.
3. Interior Wall Insulation
Though insulating interior walls is not a must, it offers numerous advantages:
- Interior wall insulation provides energy savings by preventing heat transfer between rooms.
- It also provides sound dampening between rooms.
- Interior wall insulation in areas such as bathrooms can also prevent moisture from condensing on your walls.
- Interior walls that separate individual living spaces are often insulated with fire-rated insulation to prevent the spread of fire from one side of the wall to the other.
If you have not started construction yet, consider using insulated concrete forms, concrete block insulation, or structural insulated panels.
If you are in the process of constructing your house and have exposed wall cavities, you can consider foam board insulation or batt and roll insulation.
Spray foam insulation or blown-in insulation are non-invasive alternatives when your home is ready and you do not wish to make extensive changes to the existing structure,
4. Floor Insulation
During winter, an uninsulated floor allows cold air to enter your home from the underground. As a result, your heater must run for longer to adequately heat your home, leading to high energy costs. For an average home, approximately 10% of heat loss is through the ground floor.
However, not everyone needs floor insulation. Older houses with a suspended floor and those with a crawlspace underneath require floor insulation the most.
Here are some easy ways you can insulate your floor:
- Draught-Proofing: Caulk is a flexible material and you can use it to seal air leaks through small cracks or gaps. Use caulk to fill the gaps between floorboards to prevent cold draughts.
- Insulating Underneath Your Carpet or Floor Covering: You can use foam boards to insulate underneath your floor covering. Foam boards are a good option for DIY insulation projects.
- Rugs: If you don’t wish to spend a lot of time or money on insulating your floor but walking barefoot makes you feel chilly, throwing on a rug will help keep your feet warm. It’ll also add a layer of protection against heat loss.
- Radiant Barriers: Radiant barriers reduce heat loss downwards. Radiant barriers are installed below the floorboards, facing upwards.
- Underfloor Insulation: Underfloor insulation helps reduce cold draughts in homes raised above ground level. If you have access to the crawlspace underneath your floor, you can insulate beneath the floorboards for optimum results.
- Blown-in Insulation: If accessibility is an issue, you can use blown-in insulation.
5. Crawl Space Insulation
A crawl space is a narrow, unoccupied space between the ground and the first floor. Once a popular construction option, crawl spaces have lost popularity as people realize they have all the drawbacks of a basement with no functionality.
While crawl spaces offer easy access to ducts and pipes, homes with crawl spaces are highly prone to moisture-related problems such as mold growth, termites, and structural damage.
Here are some steps you can take to insulate your crawl space and protect your home from water damage:
- Seal Air Vents: According to conventional wisdom, ventilating crawl spaces should prevent moisture issues. However, warm air coming into your crawlspace can worsen mold growth by increasing moisture levels during summers. Therefore, experts are increasingly recognizing that unventilated crawl spaces are only better for homeowners using proper moisture control methods.
- Insulate Rim Joists: Closed-cell spray foam offers good moisture resistance. Use it to insulate rim joists.
- Insulate Crawl Space Walls: For crawl space walls, rigid foam boards are the most suitable option since they don’t trap moisture.
- Install a Vapor Barrier: Moisture in the ground evaporates and condenses on cold walls, creating the perfect environment for mold.A polyethylene plastic vapor barrier covering the ground can keep moisture at bay.
6. Window Insulation
Window insulation is an often overlooked part of home insulation; however, it plays the most significant role in your home’s energy efficiency.
Approximately 30% of a home’s heating energy is lost through windows. In summers, about 76% of the sunlight that falls on a standard window becomes heat.
Therefore, it is essential to insulate your windows. It can reduce heat transfer between your house and the outside environment, leading to significant energy savings.
Here are a few steps that you can take:
- Caulk Windows: Caulk and re-caulk any holes and places where the caulking has worn off to seal windows and prevent draughts.
- Weather Strips: Foam weatherstrips are an easy and inexpensive way to seal windows. They have an adhesive backing, and you only need to cut them to size and paste them wherever you wish.
- Blinds: Vertical or horizontal blinds are highly effective at reducing summer heat gain and are a good choice if you have hot and sunny summers.
- Curtain and Drapes: During winters, most draperies can reduce heat loss by up to 10%. During summers, medium-colored draperies with white plastic backings can reduce heat gain by up to 33%, leading to substantial energy savings.
- Window Films: Window films protect against solar heat gain and ultraviolet exposure. They are ideal for climates with hot and long summers.
- Exterior Shutter and Shades: Exterior shutters and shades are installed outside windows to reduce solar heat gain. Like window films, they are better suited for sweltering climates.
- Window Awnings: Awnings are roof-like attachments installed on the building exterior to protect windows from the sun’s glare. Window awnings can reduce solar heat gain on west-facing windows by a whopping 77%.
7. Door Insulation
A leaky door can increase energy bills by letting conditioned air outside and vice versa.
Sealing air leaks in your doors can reduce energy costs and make your living space more comfortable. For optimum performance, insulate the door itself as well as the door frame.
- Caulking: Check for gaps and cracks around the door and remove the previous caulk with a utility knife—re-caulk all affected areas.
- Weatherstripping: Cut the strip down to size and attach it to each side of the door, so it sits even to the closed door.
- Door Sweep: Install a door sweep to the bottom of the door to seal the gap between the door and the threshold.
8. Duct Insulation
If you own a central air conditioner, you must have a system of ducts running through your home to supply conditioned air.
Poor insulation or air leaks can lead to loss of conditioned air, adding hundreds to your electricity bill. Experts estimate that about 20 to 30% of the air that moves through ducts is lost due to leaks. Sealing and insulating ducts can conserve energy and reduce your AC costs.
Installing New Duct Systems:
Even well-sealed and insulated ducts will leak some air. As a result, many new homes are being built with ducts installed in spaces falling under the home’s air and thermal boundaries. This helps prevent the loss of conditioned air and helps save 15% on cooling costs.
Ducts in unconditioned spaces can lead to moisture problems, air quality issues, and of course, high energy bills. If you have really old ductwork, then it’s a good idea to opt for modern and more energy-efficient replacements.
Insulating Existing Systems:
If your ducts run through unconditioned spaces such as attics or crawlspaces, you can use mastic to seal any leaks or holes. Make sure to seal the connections where vents meet floors, walls, or ceiling.
You can also insulate your ducts with foil-faced fiberglass insulation. Cut the insulation to size with a utility knife and wrap it around the duct. Close the joint with short strips of foil tape and then apply a long strip of foil tape around it.
Preformed duct insulation is another easy option. You only need to disconnect the duct to expose one end and slip the preformed insulation on.
9. Garage Insulation
Many homeowners neglect to insulate their garage, considering it unnecessary. However, weatherizing your garage can have notable benefits, especially if you plan to use it as a home office or home gym.
Garage insulation has the following notable benefits:
- Insulation helps maintain a comfortable garage temperature so that you can use it as a home office or gym.
- You can use your garage as a storage space without worrying that your sensitive equipment will degrade due to extreme temperatures.
- If your garage is attached to your house, you will notice decreased energy bills because insulation reduces conduction through walls.
- Garage insulation can also prevent carbon monoxide from your vehicle from seeping inside your home.
These and many more benefits make garage insulation a no-brainer for the savvy homeowner. If you want to insulate your garage for cheap, you can DIY your garage insulation.
10. Basement Insulation
Basements are often the coldest part of a home since hot air rises while cold air sinks.
Basements are also prone to water damage. An adequately insulated basement can prevent damage due to water and keep your basement comfortable and mold-free.
Best Insulation Types for Basements:
Since basements are susceptible to water damage, make sure it does not trap moisture when installing insulation. Examples of suitable basement insulation include:
- Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) Foam Board
- Extruded Polystyrene (XPS) Foam Board
- Polyisocyanurate Foam Board
All three types of insulation mentioned above are suitable for basements because they do not trap moisture. However, builders avoid using XPS because it is made with a blowing agent with a high global warming potential. For ideal insulation, make sure you also insulate the rim joists with spray foam insulation.
When insulating with rigid foam, you must separate the foam from the living space by installing ½ inch drywall or another material that is equivalent in fire resistance to ½ inch drywall.
Benefits of Home Insulation
Home insulation has numerous benefits which make it a necessity for homeowners:
1. Increased Comfort
Home insulation maintains the ideal temperature settings inside your house for both winters and summers by reducing heat transfer. You no longer have to deal with cold draughts in the winters or a burning home in the summers.
2. Lower Electricity Bills
By reducing heat transfer, home insulation also decreases the amount of time your HVAC unit must run. Your HVAC unit can run at lower power for a lesser time and still maintain your ideal temperature. As a result, you can see a change in your electricity bills.
3. Better Resale Value
Well-installed home insulation is a sign of a high-quality house. You improve your house resale value by opting for insulation. Prospective buyers are typically willing to offer more for a well-built energy efficient house.
4. Environmental Benefits
According to one scientific study, properly insulating every home in the United States would result in 190,000 fewer tons of Sulphur dioxide. Furthermore, 100,000 fewer tons of nitrous oxide, and 3100 fewer tons of fine particulate matter 2.5.
5. Health Benefits
The same study found that reducing these harmful emissions is associated with 240 fewer deaths, 6500 fewer asthma attacks, and 110,000 fewer sick days.
Complementing Home Insulation With Other Energy Saving Measures
While home insulation is no doubt valuable, it is only the first step towards an energy-efficient home. For maximum savings, you should supplement your insulation with other energy-saving measures. Here a smart thermostat or a smart AC controller can be indispensable.
Smart AC controllers have countless benefits. They can automatically switch off your AC when it achieves your desired temperature or when you leave home. They ensure that your AC is never running when it doesn’t need to. By keeping track of maintenance, they also improve the performance and prolong the lifespan of your AC unit.
Home insulation has numerous advantages. It is in the best interest of homeowners to ensure that their insulation is always up to the standard. Not just for their own sake, but also for the environment. With this handy guide to house insulation, you should be ready to create an energy-efficient home.