When it comes to energy conservation, proper insulation of your home is often overlooked in favor of efforts like “turning out the lights” or “turning off the water while brushing your teeth.” But haphazard, hit-and-miss tactics for conserving energy are not effective in significantly reducing energy costs. While some savings may be realized, many of the things that can provide great savings are overlooked altogether. The single most important aspect to saving energy is actually proper insulation of your home.
Efficient Space Conditioning
Heating your home in the winter and air conditioning your home in the summer is generally grouped into one category “space conditioning” while discussing energy saving. Space conditioning costs rise in the winter due to inadequate insulation and the allowance of warm air to escape the home; and vice versa in the summer. It is significantly easier to determine if your home is in need of additional insulation in the winter than the summer. In the winter, the difference in temperature between the outside air and conditioned air inside is much greater, depending on where you live.
Space conditioning starts with insulating your attic as most air leaks occur throughout the attic space. Once your attic is properly insulated it is also important to ensure that wall and floor insulation is keeping your heat and air conditioning in as well. As cost is always a consideration, rest easy, the money you save on space conditioning costs will eventually pay for insulation fees.
What is R-Value? (Learn Even More!)
R-value is a measure of thermal resistance, which basically means how well a material holds back heat. Insulation products are measured in R-value; the higher the better. The R-value of a concrete block is one, while the R-value of the average insulated attic is 20. If you’re interested in calculating the recommended R-value of your home, the U.S. Department of Energy lists a ZIP code insulation calculator on its website.
Let's Talk Savings!
Any energy-related project should be justified by comfort and economic benefit. If the amount of money spent will be returned to you in approximately 7 years or less, that is an improvement that should be considered. If it will take much longer, it is probably not economically beneficial. For example, if the attic does not have any insulation and you know that you can save 60% to 70% of the losses through the attic/ceiling by installing 9 inches to 12 inches of insulation, you should evaluate the cost versus payback.
In a house with a standard fossil fuel heater, assuming a fuel cost of $1000 to heat the house for one year, the losses through the ceiling (assuming there is no insulation) would be approximately $250 to $300. Having a professional install new insulation costing $1.50 per square foot (SF) to insulate a 1000 SF attic, would run roughly $1,500. This will be about a 5 to 6 year payback. If the homeowner himself sufficiently insulates the attic, spending, say $300 for the insulation, this would yield a payback in roughly 2 years.
Insulating the walls is much different. If it costs $2.00 per SF to insulate the walls, plus possibly some cosmetic repairs, and the house has 3,500 SF of wall area, the cost would be approximately $7,000. If the savings are annually only $250 to $300, the payback will be over 20 years. This would not be beneficial.
A simplified breakdown of where our $1000.00 fuel cost goes is as follows:
- Approximately 1/3 goes up the chimney carrying moisture, unburned gases, and hydrocarbons.
- Approximately 1/3 goes straight up through the house (without insulation).
- Approximately 1/3 goes through the walls (without insulation).
- Approximately 1/3 is lost to normal entry and exit, and the windows and doors.
- There are other considerations, such as air infiltration, relative humidity, and occupants of the property. One adult adds approximately 50 BTUs per hour to the living space.
Properly Insulating Your Home
Here are the areas you should address in order to properly insulate your home. A little time and money now will save you in the long-run.
- Install storm windows and doors and/or upgrade existing units.
- Install thermal drapes.
- Increase attic ventilation. Low-high is the most effective.
- Install attic fan with thermostatic and humidistatic controls and/or upgrade existing unit.
- Install band joist insulation.
- Install insulation on the boiler lines.
- Install insulation on the water lines.
- Install insulation on the water heater. (check manufacturer's warranty)
- Evaluate weatherstripping; determine the need for more or upgrade the existing weatherstripping.
- Evaluate basement insulation and need for upgrading.
- Evaluate the existing levels of attic insulation and/or need for upgrading.
- Evaluate the existing crawl space insulation and the need for upgrading.
- Evaluate temperature of the water from the water heater.(120F-140F)
- Evaluate installing a timer on the water heater.
- Evaluate installing a "setback" or "programmable" thermostat.
- Evaluate the need for the installation of a humidifier.
- Evaluate the need for the installation of a dehumidifier.