Imagine your home isn’t just the place you sleep, eat and store your stuff, but more like a part of your family – with its own unique needs. Ignore those needs, and both you and your home suffer the consequences. But pay closer attention, and you can find ways to enjoy a more pleasant – and efficient – living environment.
“It’s amazing how much comfort you can provide by spending a few dollars,” says Brian Sloboda, program manager for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. “You’re going to increase your quality of life.”
Knowing what your house needs is job one. Your heating-and-cooling system, appliances, lightbulbs, air leaks and insulation can affect not only how your home is behaving, but also how much you’re paying to keep it all running.
Boost your attic insulation
What you spend to upgrade your attic insulation will depend on multiple variables, including the type and depth of insulation you choose – fiberglass, cellulose, batts or loose fill – as well as the size of the attic space and the contractor’s labor costs (unless you decide to do the job yourself). Costs can range from about $1,300 to $2,000, depending on your home’s style.
The greatest benefit of adding attic insulation is that you’ll reduce your energy bills by keeping heated and cooled air in your living spaces. In addition, you can add insulation yourself with proper tools, safety gear and precautions, but it’s a job many people feel is best left to professionals.
What’s in your attic now?
A peek in most attics will reveal the tried-and-true materials commonly used to insulate homes: fiberglass, cellulose, mineral wool or spray-foam insulation. Regardless of type, the keys to effective insulation are the same – getting the right R-value for your home’s insulation, proper installation and air sealing.
- Fiberglass: This is the insulation that looks like cotton candy, commonly seen in long strips – called batts or rolls – between (and, if it’s deep enough, on top of) wall studs and ceiling joists. It might be pink, white or yellow, and it also comes in a loose-fill form, often blown into attic spaces. Made of tiny glass fibers, it can be uncomfortable to touch; wear gloves and a mask while handling it.
- Cellulose: Grayish in color, cellulose is a loose-fill insulation that can be blown in between attic joists. It’s chemically treated to be resistant to moisture, fire, insects and nesting rodents. Over time, it can settle, reducing its insulation value and requiring an additional layer to bring it back to the recommended R-value for your home.
- Mineral wool: Like fiberglass, this comes in batts, rolls or loose-fill forms. It’s made from natural and recycled materials and often appears greenish-brown in color.
- Spray-in foam: More expensive than other types of insulation, spray-in foam is becoming a more common choice because it provides more insulation and better air sealing. Sprayed on the interior of your roof, it wraps the attic into your home’s envelope. “It’s more expensive than blowing in another 6 inches of fiberglass or cellulose, but it’s certainly worth getting prices,” says Touchstone Energy’s Alan Shedd. “For new construction or an addition, it’s a no-brainer.”
When you climb up to look at how much insulation you’ve got in the attic, be sure to protect yourself. Wear gloves, eye protection and a dust mask if you’ll be handling any insulation. Bring a flashlight, so you can check your insulation in every nook and cranny and also see where you’re stepping. Only walk where you’re sure of secure footing, so you don’t drop through the ceiling below.
How much insulation do you need?
Insulation is measured by R-value – its resistance to conductive heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating effectiveness.
R-value depends on the type of insulation, its thickness and its density, and the R-value of some insulations also depends on temperature, aging and moisture accumulation. When calculating the R-value of a multilayered installation, add the R-values of the individual layers.
In Iowa, you should have insulation rated at R49-R60 in your attic.
Use this easy formula to figure out how much insulation you already have
Even if your home is only 8 to 10 years old, it may not have enough insulation in the attic. If you live in a much older home, it’s pretty likely that adding more insulation will help reduce your cooling and heating bills.
Look in the attic, figure out what kind of insulation you have and measure the insulation’s depth. Then use this formula to estimate the insulation's R-value is by multiplying the factor shown (below) times the depth.
The formula is (Factor) x Depth = R-Value. So, if you find 6 inches of lightweight fiberglass insulation in your attic, the calculation would be 2.5 x 6 = 15. This means you have insulation rated at R-15 in your attic, which is way less than it should be for maximum energy efficiency.
Factors for to use for various insulation types
- Loose fiberglass (yellow, pink or white): 2.5
- Fiberglass batts (yellow, pink or white): 3.2
- Rock wool (dense gray or near-white; may have black specks): 2.8
- Cellulose (small gray pieces or fibers from newsprint): 3.7
- Granules (yellow, pink or white): 2.7