When you realize that a sizeable sum of your hard-earned money goes to heating and cooling your home, you’d think of as many ways to reduce your energy consumption. Think no further: insulation could be the answer to helping you create a more energy efficient home. Insulation is, by far, the most practical and potent way of reducing your energy bills without sacrificing comfort. But, before anything else, one needs to know how insulation, or the lack thereof, affects a building’s thermal environment – and why so much energy is potentially saved or wasted, as a result.
While it is your home’s HVAC system that conditions the air coming in and out of your home, it is insulation that adds layers of thermal and moisture protection which allows heating and cooling to occur most efficiently and suitably. In the U.S., however, the decision to insulate a home comes down to the regulations that exist where you live. Tropical or arid regions may not need insulation at all. But, it’s not to say that insulation is solely for cold climates. In temperate regions, the immediate or pressing need for insulation may not seem as great, and it becomes a matter of choice to arrive at how much insulation, R-values, and weatherizing your home requires.
While Kansa City is in the humid subtropical region of the Midwest, its proximity to large bodies of water makes it susceptible to hot and cold swings, all year round. Thus, every home requires additional layers of thermal protection. As far as insulation is concerned, homeowners must stay in compliance with the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code.
Why Insulate Your Home?
Insulation offers numerous benefits to homeowners and the environment. On top of creating a suitable home environment, it increases energy efficiency, resulting in lower energy bills. These advantages become more apparent down the line, making insulation projects a worthwhile investment. To find out exactly how much savings your insulation is generating, you can hire a qualified energy auditor for a thorough assessment of your home’s energy needs.
An audit is also useful if you’re planning to install new insulation or to upgrade your equipment. Either way, the results of the audit can help you make wiser decisions when it comes to consuming energy. Moreover, it will give you an idea on which insulation technique or material will get the job done. On top of that, watch out for state and federal incentive programs for your insulation investment, and see if they can amp up your home’s ROI.
Mapping Energy Loss in Homes
Before digging into which areas in your home require insulation, it’s important to understand heating and cooling mechanisms inside the home and how energy losses occur daily. It’s safe to say that any area of the home has the potential to lose and to save energy. By conducting a thorough walk-through of your home, you’ll spot many areas which allow outdoor air to seep in, and indoor air to escape.
The principles of heat transfer explain how heat from the outdoors is transferred to your home then to your body. There are three processes involved, namely conduction, radiation, and convection. Heat is carried away by air, which absorbs the heat and then rises. Warmed air rises around you while cooler air moves in to take its place and takes in more of your body’s warmth. How much energy you lose depends on your local climate and existing insulation.
Buoyancy is the relevant principle at work in indoor environments. Heat rises and falls, but temperature difference is what drives heat to move in any given direction. When the air is colder outside, we consume more energy and spend more money pumping heat into our homes. If scrimping on energy bills or increasing efficiency is the goal, a little consistency and effort are necessary to control indoor-to-outdoor variances.
Understanding the thermal conductivity of insulation materials is the key to maximizing energy savings. Thermal resistance or conductivity is the principle behind measuring R-values. Thermal performance is better when the R-value of the insulation material is higher. In other words, the higher the thermal performance of a material, the better its insulating properties are. Therefore, each area of your home that needs insulating may not necessarily require the same thickness or material.
Whereas thickness is the main consideration when measuring R-values, U-values consider the amount of heat lost through a given thickness or building material. It also considers the three ways in which heat loss occurs (convection, conduction, and radiation), as well as indoor and outdoor temperatures and additional thermal resistances.
Insulating Your Home
Knowing where you need to add insulation is the first step. Any area in your home that allows air to enter or escape should have sufficient insulation. These areas include your attic, walls, floors, crawl space, and basement. By insulating these areas, you will achieve the desired level of thermal protection, prolong the life of your HVAC equipment, and keep your family cozy and comfortable all year.
Attic insulation is one of those home upgrades you need to prioritize as early as possible. Since heat rises, logic follows that warm air will try to escape your home through your attic and roof. Studies reveal that insulating your attic will account for approximately 30% of your energy savings. A poorly insulated attic not only places bigger demands on your HVAC equipment, it also allows nearly 85% of your home’s heat to escape. Moreover, gravity will take its toll on your home, as poor insulation can yield damages from the top down, such as weakening the integrity of your ceilings and walls.
After the attic, your home’s walls are major escape routes for heat. Most household heat escapes though windows and gaps around doors. Outdoor winds may also push cold air inside, via these gaps, displacing the warm air that’s inside your home. Heat may likewise escape through conduction, which you can address through double-glazing, caulking, and cavity wall insulation. Cavity insulation also prevents air from circulating inside the crevice, resulting in a reduction of heat loss by convection.
In-floor heating takes up a large percentage of your monthly energy bills, accounting for approximately 15% of the total amount. During cold winter months, we greatly depend on our warm floors to keep cozy and comfortable at home. Under-floor heating utilizes the principle of radiation (heat radiates through the flooring); but convection also takes place, resulting in potential heat loss. Insulation, on the other hand, traps the air in its fibers, and this reduces heat loss by conduction. While up-front costs of improving your floor insulation can be sizable, the monthly energy savings you’ll enjoy may very well compensate for that. And in as little as three years, your investments will start paying off.
A crawl space is out of sight, but should not be out of mind. Without proper insulation, outdoor elements will take over. When it is perpetually damp, your crawlspace will become susceptible to pest infestations and mold and mildew formation, given that it is unventilated. Consequently, these will result in structural damage and reduced underfoot comfort. For homes in areas with colder climates, filling crawl space joists with a thick layer of fiberglass insulation or closed-cell spray foam can function both as thermal and moisture protection.
Insulating a basement works similarly as with a slab or crawlspace. But, if you intend your basement to be functional, such as for storage or extra living space, expect it to make a significant dent on your utility bill. As ventilation in basements is either minimal or nonexistent, keeping it comfortable will eat into a big portion of your energy budgets. To help keep costs down, consider insulating the room. When finishing your basement, fill the spaces between joists with insulation materials of high R-value, such as spray foam, which don’t hold moisture and lock in conditioned air. With proper framing and insulating techniques, you can achieve a comfortable, moisture-free basement that’s optimally energy efficient.
Other Issues to Consider
On top of meeting local building regulations, homeowners should also ensure that their insulation upgrades are appropriate to the home’s overall design. You should give a lot of thought to the material and the possible hazards that come with each. In fiberglass insulation, for instance, improper handling could pose safety issues. Some insulation products, such as fibers, beads, or foam, also pose fire and health hazards. And, more importantly, before installing insulation, the area and building components should be completely dry, clean, and structurally sound. Hiring a reputable contractor takes this burden off your shoulders and ensures that your investment is beneficial, worthwhile, and safe. Additionally, you should look at the need for minor repairs or improvements on any of these areas of your home as an opportunity to improve the standard of insulation. So, the next time you see your utility bills soar or experience inefficiencies in your home’s HVAC system, always consider that poor insulation (or the complete absence of it) may be contributing to the situation.
In the cold, drab days of winter, nothing could be better than being enveloped in warmth. Insulating these key areas in your home enable you to save money and to maximize efficiency gains from the top down, all while ensuring year-round comfort.