November 2011 Edition 

Do I Need More Insulation 

We want to make our home more energy efficient and reduce our heating and cooling bills. How do we tell if we need more insulation? 
Does your home need more insulation? Unless your home was constructed with special attention to energy efficiency, adding insulation will probably reduce your utility bills. Much of the existing housing stock in the United States was not insulated to the levels used today.
Older homes are likely to use more energy than newer homes, leading to higher heating and air-conditioning bills.
Where and How Much 
Adding a little more insulation where you already have some, such as in an attic, will save energy. You can save even greater amounts of energy if you install insulation into places in your home that have never been insulated. The figure shows which building spaces should be insulated. These might include an uninsulated floor over a garage or crawlspace, or a wall that separates a room from the attic.
A qualified home energy auditor will include an insulation check as a routine part of an energy audit. For information about home energy audits, call your local utility company. State energy offices are another valuable resource for information. An energy audit of your house will identify the amount of insulation you have and need, and will likely recommend other improvements as well. If you don't have someone inspect your home, you'll need to find out how much insulation you already have.  
If your home was built before 1970, it is a good possibility you do not have any exterior wall insulation. Sometimes you can look into the wall cavity by removing an electrical receptacle cover plate and looking beside the box into the wall.  
All exterior walls should have 3 ½ inches of fiberglass batt insulation or equivalent. If you have white, yellow or pink fiberglass insulation in your attic, you should have approximately 12 inches. If you have 10 inches or less, we recommend adding additional insulation to bring the area up to R-38 which is approximately 16 inches. If you have coarse grey insulation, you probably have cellulose which only requires approximately 8 inches. You may have rolled fiberglass which should be 9 ¼ inches thick for R-30. If you want to add additional insulation yourself, you can install unfaced fiberglass batt over your existing blown insulation. Just be sure it does not have the vapor barrier. Run the insulation perpendicular to the ceiling joist where you can butt the edges together to eliminate openings between the sections. Once you do this, you will not be able to see the joist, so be very careful.
The current standards require R-13 in exterior walls, R-19 in floors over unheated spaces, R-19 in attic walls between heated and unheated spaces and R-30 in attic floors. If you are going to add attic floor insulation, go ahead and increase it to R-38.
Look At Your Ductwork 
Don't overlook another area in your home where energy can be saved - the ductwork of the heating and air conditioning system. If the ducts of your heating or air-conditioning system run through unheated or unconditioned spaces in your home, such as attic or crawlspaces, then the ducts should be insulated. First check the ductwork for air leaks. Repair leaking joints first with mechanical fasteners, then seal any remaining leaks with water-soluble mastic and embedded fiber glass mesh. Never use gray cloth duct tape because it degrades, cracks, and loses its bond with age. If a joint has to be accessible for future maintenance, use pressure- or heat-sensitive aluminum foil tape. Then wrap the ducts with duct wrap insulation of R-6 with a vapor retarder facing on the outer side. All joints where sections of insulation meet should have overlapped facings and be tightly sealed with fiber glass tape. Avoid compressing the insulation, thus reducing its thickness and R-value.  
Return air ducts are often located inside the heated portion of the house where they don't need to be insulated, but they should still be sealed off from air passageways that connect to unheated areas. Drywall- to-ductwork connections should be inspected because they are often poor (or nonexistent) and lead to unwanted air flows through wall cavities. If the return air ducts are located in an unconditioned part of the building, they should be insulated.
Look At Your Pipes 
If water pipes run through unheated or uncooled spaces in your home, such as attic or crawlspaces, then the pipes should be insulated.
Air Sealing 
Air sealing is important, not only because drafts are uncomfortable, but also because air leaks carry both moisture and energy, usually in the direction you don't want. For example, air leaks can carry hot humid outdoor air into your house in the summer, or can carry warm moist air from a bathroom into the attic in the winter. 
Most homeowners are aware that air leaks into and out of their houses through small openings around doors and window frames and through fireplaces and chimneys. Air also enters the living space from other unheated parts of the house, such as attics, basements, or crawlspaces. The air travels through:
Any openings or cracks where two walls meet, where the wall meets the ceiling, or near interior door frames.
Gaps around electrical outlets, switch boxes, and recessed fixtures.
Gaps behind recessed cabinets, and furred or false ceilings such as kitchen or bathroom soffits.
Gaps around attic access hatches and pull-down stairs.
Behind bath tubs and shower stall units.
Through floor cavities of finished attics adjacent to unconditioned attic spaces.
Utility chaseways for ducts, etc.
Plumbing and electrical wiring penetrations.
These leaks between the living space and other parts of the house are often much greater than the obvious leaks around windows and doors. Since many of these leakage paths are driven by the tendency for warm air to rise and cool air to fall, the attic is often the best place to stop them. It's important to stop these leaks before adding attic insulation because the insulation may hide them and make them less accessible. Usually, the attic insulation itself will not stop these leaks and you won't save as much as you expect because of the air flowing through or around the insulation.
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If you have a question, change of address, comment, home tip or would like to send Home Tips to your clients, send your letter to Home Tips, Christian Building Inspectors, Inc., 3697 Habersham Lane, Duluth, Georgia 30096. You can E-Mail your questions to us at We reserve the right to edit questions for length. 

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