Checking your home’s insulating system is one of the fastest and most cost-efficient ways to use a whole-house approach to reduce energy waste and maximize your energy dollars. A good insulating system includes a combination of products and construction techniques that provide a home with thermal performance, protect it against air infiltration, and control moisture. You can increase the comfort of your home while reducing your heating and cooling needs by up to 30% by investing just a few hundred dollars in proper insulation and weatherization products.
First, check the insulation in your attic, ceilings, exterior and basement walls, floors, and crawl spaces to see if it meets the levels recommended for your area. Insulation is measured in R-values—the higher the R-value, the better your walls and roof will resist the transfer of heat. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recommends ranges of R-values based on local heating and cooling costs and climate conditions in different areas of the nation. The map and chart on pages 6 and 7 show the DOE recommendations for your area. State and local codes in some parts of the country may require lower R-values than the DOE recommendations, which are based on cost-effectiveness. For more customized insulation recommendations, visit Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) Zip Map. ORNL’s Zip-Code Insulation Program can tell you the most economic insulation level for your new or existing home.
Although insulation can be made from a variety of materials, it usually comes in four types—batts, rolls, loose-fill, and rigid foam boards. Each type is made to fit in a different part of your house. Batts are made to fit between the studs in your walls or between the joists of your ceilings or floors. Batts are usually made of fiber glass or rock wool. Fiber glass is manufactured from sand and recycled glass, and rock wool is made from basaltic rock and recycled material from steel mill wastes. Rolls or blankets are also usually made of fiber glass and can be laid over the floor in the attic. Loose-fill insulation (usually made of fiber glass, rock wool, or cellulose) is blown into the attic or walls. Cellulose is usually made from recycled newsprint treated with fire-retardant chemicals.
Rigid foam boards are made of polyisocyanurate, extruded polystyrene (XPS or blueboard), expanded polystyrene (EPS or beadboard), or other materials. These boards are lightweight, provide structural support, and generally have an R-value of 4 to 7 per inch. Rigid board insulation is made to be used in confined spaces such as exterior walls, basements, foundation and crawl space walls, concrete slabs, and cathedral ceilings.
The answer is probably “yes” if you:
Consider factors such as your climate, building design, and budget when selecting insulation R-value for your home.
The easiest and most cost-effective way to insulate your home is to add insulation in the attic. To find out if you have enough attic insulation, measure the thickness of insulation. If there is less than R-22 (7 inches of fiber glass or rock wool or 6 inches of cellulose) you could probably benefit by adding more. Most U.S. homes should have between R-22 and R-49 insulation in the attic.
If your attic has ample insulation and your home still feels drafty and cold in the winter or too warm in the summer, chances are you need to add insulation to the exterior walls as well. This is a more expensive measure that usually requires a contractor, but it may be worth the cost if you live in a very hot or cold climate.
You may also need to add insulation to your crawl space. Either the walls or the floor above the crawl space should be insulated.
For new construction or home additions, R-11 to R-28 insulation is recommended for exterior walls depending on location (see map below). To meet this recommendation, most homes and additions constructed with 2 in x 4 in walls require a combination of wall cavity insulation, such as batts and insulating sheathing or rigid foam boards. If you live in an area with an insulation recommendation that is greater than R-20, you may want to consider building with 2 in x 6 in framing instead of 2 in x 4 in framing to allow room for thicker wall cavity insulation—R-19 to R-21.
When shopping for insulation watch for the ENERGY STAR® label and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) certification.
Warm air leaking into your home during the summer and out of your home during the winter can waste a substantial portion of your energy dollars. One of the quickest dollar-saving tasks you can do is caulk, seal, and weatherstrip all seams, cracks, and openings to the outside. You can save 10% or more on your energy bill by reducing the air leaks in your home.
Areas that leak air into and out of your home cost you lots of money. Check the culprit areas listed here:
Plumbing access panel
Door sashes and frames
Electrical outlets and switches
Electric wires and box
Warm air register
Plumbing utilities and penetration
Window sashes and frames
Water and furnace flues
Baseboards, coves, and interior trim
For more information on insulation, weatherization, and ventilation, contact:
Cellulose Insulation Manufacturers Association (CIMA), (937) 222-2462,
ENERGY STAR®, (888) STAR-YES (888-782-7937)
Insulation Contractors Association of America (ICAA), (703) 739-0356
National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), (800) 368-5242
North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA), (703) 684-0084
Owens Corning Customer Service Hotline, (800) GET-PINK (800-438-7465)
Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA), (202) 624-2709