How to Install Energy-Efficient Insulation

5 steps to improve your home's energy efficiency and comfort

In the United States alone, more than 46 million homes are under-insulated, according to the North American Insulation Manufacturing Association (NAIMA). Adding energy-efficient insulation is not only easy, it’s one of the lowest-cost options to boost your home’s energy efficiency. Insulating walls and adding other energy-efficient insulation throughout your home pays off quickly, not only in cost savings, but also in your personal comfort within your home.

Following are steps for installing energy-efficient insulation, including window insulation, and tips for insulating walls, including basement wall insulation.

Step 1: Know your energy-efficient insulation options

The different types of home insulation include blow-in insulation, rolls, batts, blankets, foam and vapor retarders.

Insulation is mainly used to increase the energy efficiency of your home by creating a thermal envelope around the living space, according to NAIMA. The different types of insulation can be added to the following to increase your home’s energy efficiency:

  • Interior walls
  • Exterior walls
  • Basement and crawl space walls
  • Floors
  • Ceilings
  • Knee walls (or garage)

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, insulation is measured in terms of thermal resistance, called R-value. R-value indicates the resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the more effective the insulation is.

Step 2: Decide if you're going to do it yourself or hire a contractor

If you’re going to do it yourself, make sure you wear protective clothing and safety glasses or goggles. Then, be sure you have complete instructions. Stores like The Home Depot and Lowe’s offer do-it-yourself online guides and in-store training classes on many household projects.

According to the DOE’s “Insulation Fact Sheet,” batts, blankets and foam insulation work by limiting air movement. These are sometimes more commonly known as fiberglass, cellulose, polycicynene and expanded polystyrene insulation. The limited air movement is effective at insulating your home because it eliminates convection and has low conduction. Some foams are filled with special gases that provide extra resistance to heat flow.

If you’re going to hire a contractor, be sure to take the following main steps. NAIMA suggests that you always check references, check that the contractor has insurance and a license, get estimates from multiple contractors, get a receipt and check the work.

Step 3: Insulate your walls

According to the DOE’s “Insulation Fact Sheet,” heating and cooling account for up to 70 percent of the energy used in your home, and energy leakage is the leading cause of energy waste in most homes. That’s why insulating walls with energy-efficient insulation is so important.

According to the DOE’s Energy Savers, you can either add energy-efficient insulation to your existing walls, or pick the best insulation option if you’re building a new house. The DOE recommends making sure your walls are properly air sealed and have proper moisture control before insulating walls.

The DOE also says that loose-fill, blow-in or sprayed foam insulation are the best options to add insulation to existing walls because they can be added without making a mess of the rest of your home.

Step 4: Insulate your windows

Insulating windows can help decrease your home’s heating, lighting and cooling costs. According to the DOE’s Energy Savers, there are four main ways to improve window insulation: install dual-pane windows, install heat-reflective window glass, add thermal reflective plastic or add heat-shrink plastic film with double-sided tape.

The DOE particularly recommends low-emissivity (Low-E) glazing or glass, stating that windows with Low-E coatings cost a bit more than regular windows (10-15 percent more), but reduce energy loss up to 50 percent. You can also insulate windows by adding caulking or weatherstripping. These air-sealing techniques alleviate drafts and pay for themselves in energy savings within one year.

Step 5: Don't forsake the basement

According to the DOE, basement wall insulation is preferable to basement ceiling insulation. Basement wall insulation offers fewer opportunities for air leakage because basement ceilings contain wiring, piping and plumbing. The DOE says basement wall insulation also requires less insulation, reduces heat loss through the foundation, reduces potential for condensation on basement surfaces and protects the foundation from the heat-thaw cycle effects.

However, the DOE adds that adding basement wall insulation to an existing building can be costly unless a perimeter drainage system is also being installed. Also, basement wall insulation material can be vulnerable to insect infestation.

Properly insulated windows, walls and basement walls can help increase your home’s energy efficiency and lower your energy bills. Energy-efficient insulation and proper air sealing improve not only your home’s energy efficiency, but your comfort level as well.

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