Insulation: A Smart, Behind-the-Scenes Investment
If you live in a home that’s more than a few years old, it’s probably worth your time to figure out if it’s properly insulated. With the right insulation, you can create a more comfortable, consistent indoor climate and significantly improve your home’s energy efficiency.
How to Select Insulation
What is Insulation R-Value?
R-value measures how well certain building insulation materials, such as foam insulation, can resist heat. The higher the R-value, the greater the performance of the insulation. Keep in mind that if insulation is compressed, the R-value will decrease.
Insulation Types and Forms
The most common types of insulation are fibreglass, cellulose and foam. These types of insulation are available in a number of different forms depending on the location and R-value you intend to add.
Blown-in or loose fill insulation is usually made of fibreglass or cellulose (recycled paper fibre). It’s blown or sprayed into place with a machine and is ideal for use in hard-to-reach areas, such as attics. It can also be used to fill wall cavities or to top up existing insulation.
If installing blown-in insulation yourself, you can rent a blowing machine from a Home Depot Tool Rental Centre.
Batts are pre-cut sections of fibreglass or rock wool insulation that are designed for easy handling and use between framing, such as studs and joists. They can be used in floors, walls, attics and ceilings.
Foam board insulation, or rigid panels of insulation, can be used to insulate almost any part of your home, from the roof to the foundation. Polystyrene and polyurethane are the most common materials used in making foam board. Foam board insulation sheathing reduces heat conduction through structural elements like wood and steel studs.
Latex or polyurethane spray foam insulation can be used to fill small gaps and cracks and is ideal for sealing around doors, windows and vents. It sets quickly, and can be trimmed, painted or stained. Special equipment may be needed to apply foam to larger areas.
Vapour barriers help control the amount of moisture that passes through insulation and are commonly used when framing the exterior walls of a house. If moisture from either direction is allowed to build up within the stud or cavity walls, the heat-conducting moisture will cause the insulation to lose its R-value and allow mould and rot to set in over time.
Radiant barriers deflect radiant heat, which can pass through other types of insulation to further increase your home’s energy efficiency.
Calculating the Costs of Insulation
1 Determine if your home is already insulated
If you have insulation, find out the type and compare it to industry standards for R-value. Remember: The higher the R-value, the more effective the insulation.
2 Calculate any additional insulation needs
If, for example, industry standard is R-50 and your depth is less than this, subtract the R-value depth you have from 50 to determine the amount needed to top up.
3 Measure the area needing insulation
Measure the length of space needing insulation. Batts of insulation generally come in 16- or 24-inch widths to fit the spaces between wall and attic framing.
4 Determine the type of insulation to use
Decide what type of insulation you want to use. Manufacturers cut batts into 4- foot lengths. Once you determine which product to use, divide your total from Step 3 by the square footage per bag. Find the cost for insulation and multiply one unit by the total you need to complete the job.
Other Areas to Insulate
Another way to control heat loss is by improving the quality of your windows. Low emissivity (or Low-E) windows do not allow as much heat to pass through, keeping your house cooler when it’s hot and warmer when it’s cold. Shrink film and weatherstripping are low-cost alternatives.
Insulate water heaters to prevent costly energy loss. Look for insulating pre-cut jackets or blankets with an insulating value of at least R-8. Adding insulation to your water heater can reduce standby heat losses and save you water heating costs.
Wrap pipes with tubular insulation to prevent freezing and help keep water hot. Use quality pipe insulation wrap, or neatly tape strips of fibreglass insulation around the pipes. Insulating your hot water pipes reduces heat loss and can raise water temperature, allowing you to use a lower temperature setting.
Insulated heating and air conditioning ducts operate more efficiently and vibrate less, reducing noise. Properly sealing air leaks using metal or sealant tape and insulating air ducts located in unconditioned spaces such as attics, crawl spaces, garages, or unfinished basements can also help improve your home’s energy efficiency.
DIY Installation Tips and Tools
First, make sure that your house is properly ventilated. Adequate ventilation is necessary to prevent too much heat and condensation from building up, as well as to provide fresh air. Next, plug leaks to prevent air from getting in and out in areas around windows and doors. Always fix leaks before installing insulation, as they may be difficult to find after the job is finished.
Working with insulation can cause itching and skin irritation, so make sure you take proper safety precautions:
The basic tools needed for an insulation project are: a tape measure, utility knife, straight edge, lightweight stapler, or hammer tacker to secure insulation in place, and a putty knife. Additional materials may include a drywall compound and expanding foam sealer.
It’s also a great idea to bring a portable light, especially when working in attics and crawl spaces, plywood to stand on, a rake for insulation adjustment, and insulation supports. All these tools and materials will come in handy during your project