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Home Insulating Tips from an ENERGY STAR Expert

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Do you feel a draft when the winter wind blows past your house?  Do you feel a shock when the heating bill arrives?  Maybe it’s time to add a comfortable layer of insulation and seal up those problem areas.

FlourSackMama.com is asking ENERGY STAR Sealing and Insulating expert Doug Anderson about home energy conservation and we’re sharing his answers here just for you.  Anderson is a project manager who’s been with the Environmental Protection Agency for 13 years.  Here’s what he told us about making your home more cozy:

Courtesy: ENERGY STAR

 

Q:  Here we are nearly in the middle of winter already.  Isn’t it too late to make a change to sealing or insulating our homes?

A:  No!  Sealing air leaks and adding insulating is a good home improvement project anytime.  The only limitation comes when liquid or wet products need to dry or cure.

For example, you should generally not use caulk or spray foam in temperatures under 50 Degrees F.  These products need a warmer temperature to cure.  Of course, caulk and foam can be used indoors during the winter where it is warm.  In contrast, weather stripping can be added anytime.

Similar rules apply to insulation.  Blown cellulose, blown fiberglass, fiberglass rolls or batts, and rigid foam board can all be installed regardless of the temperature.  Products that are applied as a liquid or foam, like whole-wall spray polyurethane foam (SPF), should only be installed when the outdoor temperature is over 50 degrees F so the product can cure properly.

Q:  How much money could we really save if we did a project like this?

A:  EPA has estimated that sealing air leaks all over your house and then installing additional insulation to your attic and basement (or crawlspace) can save a homeowner up to 10% on their total annual energy bill.  That represents about 20% of the annual heating and cooling costs.  For more information, check out EPA’s methodology here:   http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_sealing.hm_improvement_methodology

Q:  People are also concerned about mold and moisture issues.  How can we seal for energy efficiency without creating a different problem like trapping in moisture?

A:  Let’s first start with what causes moisture in homes.  The most common sources of moisture are showers, baths, cooking, and basements without waterproofing.  Other sources can also add a lot of moisture, but are less common, like lots of house plants, aquariums, a blocked or leaky dryer vent, and firewood that’s drying in the home.

Homes with lots of holes and cracks remove moisture from the home when outdoor air leaks in and indoor air leaks out, as long as the outdoor air isn’t moist to begin with. The problem is that this makes the home uncomfortable and less efficient.

Sealing up a home makes it more comfortable and efficient. It can also reduce the amount of moist air that leaks in. In addition to sealing, homeowners should first eliminate large sources of moisture if possible (like fix that dryer vent and store wet wood outside). Second, home owners can get rid of moist air in targeted locations.   The idea is to use spot ventilation (fans) in bathrooms and kitchens and to use a dehumidifier in damp basements.  Third, really tight homes often need a whole-house ventilation system that can automatically bring in outdoor air in a controlled way. This can help improve moisture control and improve indoor air quality. If you have concerns about humidity in your home and want an expert to help you, there are professionals available to help you properly seal your home and add additional ventilation, if needed.  Check out this website to help find a certified professional: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction=hpwes_profiles.showFindaProgram

In short, when properly done, air sealing should actually help control moisture, especially when coupled with the three strategies discussed.

Q:  Is all home insulation alike or is some greener than others?

A:  Well, this is a tricky question.  Insulations are different, but how they stand in the area of environmental impact depends on what your definition of ‘green’ is.  There are lots of different attributes to consider when thinking about environmentally friendly insulation.  In general, one could say all insulation is green because it reduces home energy use (improves energy efficiency) and therefore reduces CO2.  However, you can also look at recycled content of insulation, the embodied energy to make the insulation, any toxic chemicals used to make the product or reduce its fire hazard potential, any CFC blowing agents to make the product, any off-gassing of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) after installation, and how much fossil fuels/chemicals or renewable raw materials were used to make the product.

For the average homeowner just trying to insulate their home’s attic floor, blown cellulose and blown fiberglass are commonly used products.  Both products are relatively inexpensive, have been used for years without big problems, are easy for a contractor to install over any existing insulation, have some recycled content, and are low VOC products after they are installed.  In short, there is no perfect insulation product, but many good ones to choose from, depending on the priorities of the homeowner.

 

Note:  For more details on sealing and insulating your home, visit http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_sealing.hm_improvement_seal_insulate.

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