by Allison Gunkel
Adventuring into the attic is not a task many homeowners look forward to.
Some claim this is because the storage space is packed to the brim and hard to maneuver. Or perhaps it is because it accumulates more dust than the vacuum liner and is desperately hot or cold depending on the season. While some excuses you may not feel you can control, paying attention to your insulation could solve that thermal comfort issue. Then perhaps you would be up to tackling the dust and your family's pack rat problems!
Insulation is the fastest and most efficient way to reduce energy waste in the home and maximize lower energy costs. Heat flows naturally from warmer to cooler spaces; wherever temperature differs there will be direct (open doors and windows) or indirect movement (through ceilings/walls/floors). Quality insulation materials provide effective resistance to heat flow in order to keep homes cool in the heat and warm when it is cold.
When discussing insulation, the subject of R-values (R=resistance) will quickly find its way into the conversation. An R-value is a measure that indicates an insulation material's resistance to heat flow. It is calculated from the material's thermal conductivity and thickness; the higher the R-value, the greater resistance to heat flow. There are minimum R-value recommendations on the federal, state and local levels depending on where you live, however, going above these minimum recommendations is acceptable and often executed by many contractors.
Insulation is available in a variety of forms, some more commonly used than others. They can be purchased in rolls, in a bagged and ready to pour form, or in a form to be blown in by a contractor utilizing special equipment.
Rolls (Blankets and Batts)
Continuous rolls of insulation are often referred to as blankets, whereas batts are precut, smaller pieces. Made of either mineral wool or fiberglass materials, insulation rolls are preferred by do-it-yourself types and are therefore easily susceptible to poor installation. Installers tend to leave air gaps or otherwise compress the material, drastically reducing the effectiveness in both manners. If choosing blanket insulation, whether installing professionally or by yourself, be sure to discuss installation precautions with a contractor to ensure quality insulation.
Loose-fill insulation can be blown into attics or finished wall cavities, and because it conforms to fit small spaces, it is especially good in hard-to-reach areas. It is made of recycled materials and is a relatively inexpensive insulation option. Settling does occur over time, causing the R-value to decrease, and heat loss to occur around studs and joists.
Polyurethane and Polystyrene
Though the most expensive insulation, these materials produce the highest R-value. Typically installed in foam form (though they do come in panels), this material works superiorly in tight spaces, expands when curing, and also increases the structural stability. It does require protection from sunlight and solvents and releases toxic fumes when it burns. A fire barrier is required when installed for the interior of a home.
Before you insulate, there are some steps to be taken to ensure your insulation performs as it is meant to. The first is to look into blocking unwanted air infiltration. No insulation can completely stop airflow, so there is always some heat loss or gain. However, it is key to seal, caulk, and weather-strip all seams, cracks, and openings to the outside. Finding and fixing sources of air leaks into your home will help you reduce your energy costs, and will allow your insulation to work efficiently.
Another step is preventing unwanted moisture access to your home. Water vapor that gets trapped can do as much damage as standing pools of water, so protective vapor barriers and humidity control systems should be considered. Ventilation systems in attics are essential to preventing moisture build up that causes mold and mildew to damage the integrity of wood frames and roofing. A balanced ventilation system is one that allows wind blowing over a ridge vent to create negative pressure, thus drawing the warmer air out of the attic. Replacement air enters through soffit (under eave) vents, causing air movement on the underside of the roof (warming or cooling), and then exits again through the ridge vents, creating a continuous cycle of ventilation. Installing baffles of cardboard or plastic form will allow a gap between insulation and roofing. This gap guarantees air channels for the ventilation cycle.
There is quite a bit to consider when looking at insulation for your dream home. To ensure good quality, speak to a number of area contractors and see what they would recommend. Certain insulation forms may be better in one part of the house than another, and some forms may be combined for best performance. Consider insulating attics and crawl spaces, no matter how little they are used. Their proximity to living spaces demands insulation to ensure energy efficiency within the home. If you are hesitant about installing insulation yourself, it is definitely worth any extra cost to hire a professional. Insulation installed improperly is hardly better than not having insulation at all – take the steps to have it done right the first time.
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