Blanketing Your House...Getting Ready for Winter

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 percent by investing just a few hundred dollars in proper insulation and weatherization products.


Insulati.gif (12170 bytes)Batts, Rolls and Boards

First, check the insulation in your attic, ceilings, exterior and basement walls, floors and crawl spaces to see if it meets the recommended levels. (Exterior walls can be checked by removing a telephone or cable TV wall plate, or by drilling a small hole in a closet wall or other inconspicuous location). Insulation is measured in R-values the higher the R-value, the better your walls and roofs will resist the transfer of heat. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends ranges of R-values based on local heating and cooling costs and climate conditions in different areas of the nation.

In Nebraska, the following minimum insulation levels are recommended for areas in homes. In many cases it may pay to exceed these minimum values:

Minimum Insulation Levels in Nebraska:

Ceilings below ventilated attics  gas, oil or electric heat pump R-38 (13" of batt or blown-in insulation)
electric resistance R-49 (16" of batt or blown-in insulation)
Floors over unheated crawl spaces and basements R-19 (6.5" of batt insulation or 3" to 6" of foam board insulation)
Exterior walls (wood frame) R-19 (6.5" of batt insulation or 3" - 6" of foam board insulation)
Crawl space walls and band joints R-11 (3.5" of blown-in insulation)

Although insulation is made from a variety of materials, it usually comes in three types batts, 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 joists of your ceilings, walls 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 materials from steel mill wastes. Batts can be laid over the ceiling in the attic. Loose-fill insulation, usually made of fiber glass, rock wool or cellulose, is blown into the attic or walls. Cellulose is made from recycled materials, such as newspapers, and treated with fire-retardant chemicals.

Rigid foam boards are made of polyurethane, polyisocyanurate, and extruded or expanded polystyrene. These boards are lightweight, provide a small amount of structural support and generally have an R-value of 4 to 7 per inch of thickness. Rigid board insulation is made to be used in confined spaces such as exterior walls, basements, foundation and stem walls, concrete slabs and cathedral ceilings. In most cases, these boards must be covered with a fireproof material such as 1/2" gypsum board.


Things to Note

Consider factors such as your climate, building design and budget when selecting insulation R-value for your home.
Get several bids from different contractors if you intend to hire the work. Ask for references and check with your local Better Business Bureau before making a final decision.
Use higher density insulation, such as rigid foam boards, in cathedral ceilings and as sheathing on exterior walls.
Ventilation plays a large role in providing moisture control and reducing summer cooling bills. Install attic vents to help make sure that there is one inch of ventilation space between the insulation and roof shingles.
Keep insulation at least three inches away from recessed lighting fixtures or other
heat-producing equipment unless they are marked "I.C." designed for direct insulation contact.
Follow the product instructions for installation and wear the proper protective gear when installing insulation. 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-19 (six inches of fiber glass or rock wool or five inches of cellulose) you could probably benefit by adding more.

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 is usually worth the costs if you live in a cold climate such as Nebraska. As a general rule, it is more cost effective to add insulation where there is none, rather than increasing insulation in areas that already have some.

How Do You Know If Your Home Needs Insulation?

The answer is probably "yes" if you:

Have an older home and haven't added insulation. In a recent survey, only 20 percent of homes built before 1980 were well insulated.
Are uncomfortably cold in the winter or hot in the summer adding insulation creates a more uniform temperature and increases comfort.
Build a new house or addition, or install new siding or roofing.
Pay excessive energy bills.
Are bothered by noise from the outdoors insulation helps muffle the sound.
Are concerned about the affect of energy use on the environment.
Notice snow melts from the main part of your roof more rapidly than from the eves.
Information for these consumer tips is based on Energy Savers: Tips on Saving Energy & Money at Home by the U.S. Department of Energy.


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