When it comes to comfort and energy efficiency, insulation is a vital component of any home. Upgrading insulation in an existing home can significantly lower your energy bills too! How it works is a fascinating dive into the science of homes.
Types of Insulation
There’s a wide variety of insulation materials available on the market, but for existing homes, three popular options stand out: blown-in insulation, batt insulation, and spray foam insulation.
Blown-in insulation, typically made of fiberglass or cellulose, is blown into wall cavities or attics. It’s an excellent choice for adding insulation to hard-to-reach areas and providing a tight seal against air infiltration.
One of the best qualities of blown-in insulation is that it can conform to irregular shapes and fill spaces around obstructions. If you have pipes or wires in the area, it ensures thorough coverage and optimal performance.
Made from materials such as fiberglass or mineral wool, batt insulation comes in pre-cut panels that can be installed between wall studs, floor joists, or ceiling rafters. It’s relatively easy to install and can be a cost-effective solution for many homeowners. However, despite the ease of installation, it’s not a DIY project. Gaps or compression with improperly installed batt insulation will cripple its effectiveness.
Spray Foam Insulation
This insulation material is sprayed as a liquid that expands and hardens into shape, making a great barrier. Spray foam insulation provides excellent thermal performance and can be particularly effective at sealing gaps and cracks in the building envelope. There are two types of spray foam insulation: open-cell and closed-cell. While both types offer excellent insulating properties, closed-cell spray foam has a higher R-value and provides a more effective moisture and air barrier.
How Insulation Lowers Energy Bills
The effectiveness of insulation is measured by its thermal resistance or R-value. A higher R-value means better insulation, which translates to reduced heat transfer and, ultimately, lower energy bills. We always use an analogy, think of how mulch protects your flower garden. It slows the heat flow from the ground to the air. For mulch, it retains the heat for the plants. For your home, insulation helps to keep the heat in (or out) to reduce energy use.
To maximize your energy savings, you and your insulation contractor should select insulation materials with appropriate R-values for your climate and the specific area of your home being insulated. The U.S. Department of Energy provides guidelines on recommended R-values based on your geographic location.
Reducing Heat Transfer
Insulation works by minimizing heat transfer between your home’s interior and exterior. In the winter, it keeps warm air inside, while in the summer, it prevents hot air out.
By reducing heat transfer, insulation helps maintain consistent indoor temperatures, allowing your heating and cooling systems to work more efficiently and use less energy. According to EnergyStar, homeowners can save up to 15% on heating and cooling costs by adding insulation to attics, floors, and walls.
The Stack Effect
The stack effect occurs when warm air rises and escapes through the upper levels of your home, causing the pressure differential to draw in cold air through gaps and cracks at lower levels. This natural air movement can increase your home’s heating and cooling demands, leading to higher energy bills. The stack effect is more pronounced in taller buildings and those with poor air sealing, which allows air to flow more freely between the indoors and outdoors.
Minimizing the Stack Effect
Insulating walls, basements, and attics can effectively minimize the stack effect. Properly installed insulation creates a barrier that reduces air movement and helps maintain comfortable indoor temperatures year-round, leading to significant energy savings. Additionally, addressing air leaks around windows, doors, and other openings can further reduce the stack effect and its impact on your energy bills.
Radiant barrier insulation
Radiant barrier insulation consists of a reflective material, usually aluminum foil, that’s designed to reduce radiant heat transfer. It’s typically installed in attics, where it reflects heat away from your living spaces during hot summer months. Radiant barriers can be used in conjunction with other insulation materials to enhance performance.
Effectiveness of Radiant Barriers
Radiant barriers are especially useful in climates that have hot summers, like St. Louis. They can help lower cooling costs by reducing heat gain from the sun. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, radiant barriers can reduce cooling costs by 5% to 10% . In cooler climates, the benefits of radiant barriers may be less pronounced, but they can still contribute to overall energy savings when used as part of a comprehensive insulation strategy.
Duct insulation is wrapped around heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) ducts to reduce heat loss or gain and improve system efficiency. It is particularly important in unconditioned spaces such as attics or crawl spaces, where temperature differences can be more pronounced.
Importance of Insulating Ducts
Uninsulated ducts can lose a significant amount of the energy used to heat or cool your home. According to Energy Star, insulating your ducts can improve the efficiency of your HVAC system by up to 20%. Well-insulated ducts can help maintain consistent temperatures throughout your home, reducing the need for frequent adjustments to your thermostat. Plus, you’ll feel more comfortable!
A Comprehensive Approach with Air Sealing
Air sealing and insulation go hand in hand when it comes to maximizing energy efficiency. By sealing gaps and cracks in your home’s building envelope, you can prevent drafts and reduce the amount of conditioned air that escapes. Combining air sealing with proper insulation can further enhance energy savings by creating a more effective barrier against heat transfer. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends a comprehensive approach that includes both air sealing and insulation to achieve optimal energy efficiency.
Contact the Professionals
I it’s always a good idea to consult with a professional insulation contractor to assess your home’s insulation needs. By working with an experienced and knowledgeable professional, you can ensure that your insulation upgrades are performed correctly and deliver the energy savings and comfort you deserve.
Investing in insulation can pay off for years to come. Take control of your energy consumption, enjoy a more comfortable home, and contribute to a more sustainable future.