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Insulating with a Plan

What should I consider when insulating my home?

First thing, homes have their own dynamic of airflow and moisture migration. Compounding issues of direct water and air infiltration, as well as a lack of properly designed air and moisture escape routes, make insulation retrofits challenging and potentially hazardous. Each insulation type has advantages and disadvantages in efficiency and effectiveness. A house’s increased efficiency can be achieved through systematic retrofits, where the impact to the building’s function and aesthetics can be minimized and the energy savings and pay back maximized.

A great source about insulation is at the U.S. Department of Energy’s website at, http:// www.energysavers.gov/ your_home/insulation_airsealing/index.cfm/ mytopic=11510.

Here are 5 things to consider for effective, cost saving insulation retrofits:

House function

A house’s envelope is designed to protect occupants from the elements, where each layer provides a function. Siding protects the frame. Sheathing makes the frame rigid. Building paper prevents airflow and moisture migration. The roof, siding, flashing and trim protect the frame. Plaster and trim provide interior air seal and clean finish. Each component has an inherent R-value, or measured heat transfer, (even dead air) that resists the amount of heat loss and gain for the interior. When air freely migrates through these elements, it brings in moisture as well as heat loss or gain.

Insulation goals

The goal of insulation is to increase R-value, or reduce heat transfer. Yet insulation’s efficiency becomes compromised from air movement and trapped moisture, conducting even greater heat and becoming susceptible to mold and exterior paint failure. Proper insulation retrofit checks the house first for excessive moisture and airflow. Issues such as loose siding, failed flashings and excessive airflow must be fixed first.

Reduce air flow

The most effective and responsible building efficiency solution is to air seal first. Also, existing conditions and accessibility are factors in choosing the right type of insulation. Exterior siding, trim and fenestration repairs, storm windows and doors decrease airflow and prevent direct water infiltration.

Reducing or eliminating airflow and moisture migration can seem unproductive without visible results, yet are an essential step. The walls of a house are typically where occupants feel air flow, so the natural reaction is to fill it. Windows suffer the same finger pointing. The industry created these least-effective solutions of fill and replace, with the reasoning that the most cost-efficient solution is the best. But that is not always the case.

Where do I insulate?

Once the air seal is complete, the attic is the first place to start, then basements, and then, if at all, the walls. Too many buildings have their walls completed first, where airflow and moisture infiltration continue to cause significant reductions in efficiency and potential damage.

What do I use?

There are a plethora of insulation types that differ in function, R-value and installation. The “right” insulation depends on the house, customer and contractor, although it should not solely depend on the contractor.

Some general rules of thumb:

• Get a free Energy Audit. Pay extra for a blower door test.

• Air seal, then insulate. Spray foam can do both.

• Complete exterior repairs to eliminate water and air.

• Insulate attics and basements first.

• Treat infestation before insulation. Ensure inactivity.

• Complete an energy audit one year after a retrofit to ensure effectiveness.

• Don’t do it all at once. Retrofit gradually to see effectiveness and how the building reacts to the changes.

• Careful consideration must be made to the project’s methodology, longevity and use. Alternate methods of achieving greater efficiency, such as storm windows and doors, may be more productive.

So remember, analyze, plan and execute in baby steps to minimize damage and to maximize your investment.

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