Insulation

By Sharon Naylor

January 7, 2011 5 min read

When the temperature soars during the summer months, it can seem as if your air conditioner never gets a break, and when your cooling systems and fans never turn off, your energy bills may just break your budget. Home insulation improvements can solve both problems, keeping you cool and saving you impressive amounts on your utility bills.

In this era of careful spending and energy conservation awareness, more homeowners are making insulation a summertime priority, not just a wintertime task. Here's why: Heat is a form of energy that will try to move through any surface or crevice to reach a cooler space. In the hot months of summer, all of that hot outdoor air rushes into your cooler home environment, raising the temperature inside. If your home is badly insulated, if there are areas of your home (e.g., electrical outlets and other nooks and crannies) that you haven't thought to insulate, you likely are wasting energy and money as your home is invaded by excess heat.

Where do you start? Begin with a home energy audit. The experts at Energy Star offer a free do-it-yourself energy audit tool that lets you compare your past 12 months of energy bills with what is spent in other homes in your area. They also suggest that you hire a professional home energy auditor, who can assess the condition of your existing insulation in your attic, in your basement, around ductwork, in dormers and other lofty spaces, and around your windows and doors. A professional auditor also can make suggestions on new insulation steps to take, tailored to each space.

Then decide whether you'd like to install your own upgraded insulation or hire a professional insulation company to complete the work in your home. As an added perk, the government now offers a tax rebate for insulation improvements you make in your home. Visit Energy Star's website (http://www.EnergyStar.gov) for more information, and visit the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association's website (http://www.naima.org) to find out the tax rebate rules near you.

As you embark upon your insulation improvement quest, you'll learn about many new and improved forms of insulation, as well as safety requirements for installing them. Most require you to wear protective gloves, coveralls, safety glasses and a respirator to keep particles out of your lungs. Some, such as various kinds of blown insulation, are best installed by professionals, using specially designed equipment and air purifiers.

Here is a brief primer on the types of insulation you may choose to use throughout your home:

--Fiberglass batts: You've seen those rolls of pink, blue or green insulation "blankets" in the home improvement store, and these often are laid in long lines in your attic to create a strong barrier between hot attic air and your home below. Fiberglass offers the benefit of being a terrific sound absorber, providing "acoustic insulation" inside your home.

--Plastic fiber insulation: Made from recycled milk bottles, which are processed into tiny particles to make batt insulation just like those fiberglass blankets.

--Foam insulation: Can be sprayed around pipes and in walls.

--Cotton fiber insulation: Made from 85 percent cotton and 15 percent plastic fibers. It costs 15 to 20 percent more than insulation made from fiberglass.

--Natural insulation: Made from mineral wool (also called rock wool or slag wool) in both batt and spray form, sheep's wool, hemp or even recycled bluejeans.

--And more as recommended by your insulation expert.

Insulation is coded for its strength and impenetrability levels with R-value. "R" stands for resistance to heat, and the higher the number following "R" on any insulation product the higher its insulation strengths.

Keep in mind that your home's spaces and features may require more than one method (for example, spray insulation for inside walls and batt insulation for your attic).

*Where To Insulate

According to the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association, insulation is not just for attics and outside walls. Plan for insulation improvements on your ceilings with unheated spaces, basement walls, floors above vented crawl spaces, cathedral ceilings, floors over garages or porches, and interior walls (particularly in bathrooms), as well as around ductwork, doors and skylights. Electrical outlets also can be a concern, so make an easy switch to an insulated outlet cover for each outlet in your home.

As for additional coolness protection inside your home, look to new energy-saving window shades, blinds and curtains to keep the sun from heating up your home, and think about replacing old windows with new Energy Star-qualified windows, specially designed to improve the energy efficiency of your home. Another perk: Your insulation tasks vastly raise the value of your home, which is a very cool benefit.

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