Energy tip #15: Insulate your home

insulation.gifWool you or won’t you? All puns aside, don’t be sheepish about insulation. With fall here and winter quickly approaching, some seasonal preparations could help turn your heat-hemorrhaging home into a model of efficiency and conservation. How? By giving your attic and walls a winter coat of fiberglass, mineral wool, recycled cotton, or even vegetable-based foam.

Insulation can come in many different forms and is in many cases regionally specific. Depending on where you live, your home will require insulation with a specific R-value. The higher the R-value, the greater the degree of insulation needed. Here in Northern California, for example, our Mediterranean climate requires an R-value of 49 for the ceiling and 21 for the walls. You can find a general guide for your region here.

Remarkably, 10-50% of a home’s energy losses come through improper insulation, particularly in the attic. A survey done a few years back showed that nearly 46 million homes in the U.S. are under-insulated. Needless to say, that’s a lot of heat loss.

Let’s take a look at the numbers…

Heating and cooling bill: $850
Cost of insulation: $800
Tax rebate: $80
10-50 % savings: $85-425
CO2 savings: 1,900-9,500 pounds

So, it seems that if a) roughly 30% of our nation’s energy requirements are for residential and commercial buildings and b) we’re losing 10-50% of our energy in 46 million homes, a national insulation campaign coupled with significant tax incentives could go a long way towards significant CO2 savings. Anyone willing to lead that charge?

Last week (Tip #14) 37 people gave a thumbs up to taking the dry cycle of their dishwasher out of the equation and drying their dishes passively or with a towel. At 100 lbs per vote, readers reduced their collective footprint by 3,700 lbs, or about the weight of a standard 4-door sedan.

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  1. dangerouspenguin - October 18, 2006

    While I agree with you in principle, I would argue that the cost of insulation is far more than $800. Opening a house up to its studs, insulating, drywalling and painting costs thousands of dollars (not to mention the days/weeks of domestic chaos). It’s simply not affordable for most home owners when compared to the savings in their heating/cooling costs.

  2. julie - October 18, 2006

    I’d love to work on the insulation in my apartment, but since I don’t own it, I don’t get to make improvements. I was celebrating earlier this year when some of my windows rotted out and had to be replaced (my landlord even got Energy Star replacements). Is there anything a renter can do to improve heating efficiency without actually modifying the structure?

  3. Jen - October 18, 2006

    I would definitely upgrade my insulation for $800, but like dangerouspenguin said, $800 would be nowhere near the final cost of that venture. My house does have new windows though and that makes a big difference.

  4. Kevin - October 19, 2006

    It’s important to remember that by itself,fiberglass insulation will not stop air flow. Most attics have chases for plumbing, heating and other utilities that are not closed at the attic level. Even if you place fiberglass insulation over an open chase in the attic, cold and hot air still flow up the chase and into the attic.

    If you are going to take the trouble to insulate your attic, it’s well worth sealing the chase (as well as any other openings) with plywood, foam insulation, wallboard, etc. before installing the fiberglass insulation.

    The same logic applies to any unsealed opening that leads to the living space of a home.

  5. Anonymous - October 19, 2006

    Hey guys, thanks for the good comments. A couple of follow-up points…

    Dangerouspenguin and Jen: I think I failed to make this clear in the post, but $800 was what I found to be the typical cost for an attic insulation. A call to a local contractor clued me in to the fact that insulation for a 1400 sq. ft home would run about $2200. This probably would have been the better number to include in the tip.

    What’s interesting is that here in California, PG&E provides a rebate of $.15/sq. ft for insulation projects. So for the same 1400 sq. ft. home, you could receive a rebate of about $210. In addition, you can claim a federal tax deduction of 10% on the cost of insulation materials on the bottome line of your tax form. So, for the same job, it would represent an additional $80-90 ‘rebate’.

    Julie: I agree it’s often difficult and sometimes frustrating to implement many of these energy savings tips as a renter. However, I think a few things may help to get the ear of your landlord. Many renters shy away from talking to their landlord. Appealing to your landlord’s sensibilities when asking for improvements is a great start. Some improvements can add significant value to the home or commercial buildings, which may improve the landlord’s interest.

    It could also be worth suggesting that you could contribute a little bit extra a month for the improvements. Depending on the energy savings project, this could still end up saving you some money.

  6. dangerouspenguin - October 24, 2006

    Thanks for the clarification on pricing — that does seem more reasonable. And thanks to Kevin for that handy tip.

  7. todd - November 9, 2008

    I Have insulation in attic flooring, but am hearing a lot about foil insulation- if I put in attic ceiling will it reduce electric bills enough to off-set a few hundred dollars in costs?