Homeowners searching for ways to make their houses more efficient are often surprised to learn that the best place to start may be hanging over their heads.
“When it comes to lowering heating and cooling costs and improving personal comfort, adding insulation to the attic of an older home often delivers some of the best return on investment a homeowner can make,” Clark Public Utilities Energy Counselor of the Day Trevor Frick said. “But, probably because it’s literally out of sight, it’s also out of mind, and often one of the last places people think about investing in home improvement.”
A thick layer of attic insulation will help your home stay warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer and lower the amount of energy needed to keep your living space comfortable. It’s relatively inexpensive compared to other home improvement projects, and can pay for itself pretty quickly, in terms of energy costs saved.
It’s easy to know whether your attic needs insulation. Grab a flashlight and a ruler and head up there. If you can see your ceiling joists through the insulation or measure six inches or less, then your home could benefit from an extra layer.
Homes built before the 1990s, when building codes began to require greater attention to energy efficiency, are the most likely to benefit from additional insulation.
At first glance, adding insulation to the attic seems like something the handy DIYer could do, but there’s more to a good insulation job than may meet the eye. While just about anyone who can climb a ladder can place insulation, good work is rarely so simple.
“Insulating is a lot like paint — the site preparation makes all the difference in the quality of the job done,” Frick said.
Using expanding foam to seal air leaks around light fixtures and plumbing and sealing duct work that may be present in the ceiling will make a tremendous difference in the effectiveness of the attic insulation. Ensuring that exhaust fans are also sealed and properly exit the home and that the attic itself has proper ventilation are critically important to avoiding costly problems down the road.
Proper ventilation is important, but attic fans, which are commonly marketed as major improvements, aren’t usually necessary. An electric fan in the attic is just one more thing that can break. Plus, if the attic isn’t sealed up tight, the fan can actually suck conditioned air out of the home and blow it outside, which will lower the home’s energy efficiency. Passive attic ventilation coupled with good insulation and air sealing can be very effective at keeping your home comfortable.
People often feel like they can save a lot of money by doing the work themselves, but Frick recommends getting a few bids to compare the expense. Unlike the average person, contractors don’t pay retail prices for materials. They buy insulation in bulk for some huge savings, that can help offset the added cost of professional labor. Plus, they’re not just going to throw in the insulation and leave. They’ll inspect the home’s condition, see things the average person will probably miss, then discuss the options.
“Even though it does cost more than doing it yourself, the quality of the work done by the professional will almost always be higher, and therefore the effectiveness of the extra insulation will be bigger and the energy cost savings will come sooner,” Frick said.
Clark Public Utilities customers who own electrically heated homes may qualify for significant incentives on professional home insulation upgrades. Some conditions apply. Contact The Energy Counselor of the Day at 360-992-3355 during business hours, or visit clarkpublicutilities.com anytime for more information.
For those determined to DIY, insulation can be done well with patience and attention. Tiny gaps in insulation can cause big reductions in both comfort and cost savings so it’s worth the time to research tips for insulation and follow all instructions and safety precautions.
Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to email@example.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98688.