Insulation is just one component in your heating system. Most people first think about their furnace (boiler, wood stove, etc) and then insulation but that's not all you need to create a home that's warm and comfortable when the temperature outside is colder than 68° Fahrenheit.
As winter approaches, my handyman business gets calls from homeowners who say they want to add insulation to their homes, most often the attic. They might have had problems with ice dams last year, know their basement is drafty or learned their neighbors are paying significantly less to heat their home when it's the same size as your house.
Insulation is One Component in a Heating System
Most people know insulation slows heat transfer but they don't understand how the components of a heating system must work together. In addition to your source of heat (furnace, boiler, electric heat or even a wood stove, effective heating systems need:
- Houses SEALED to minimize cold air being drawn into the house (blue arrows in diagram)
- INSULATION refers to a wide range of materials that are used to reduce heat transfer (red arrows in diagram)
- VENTILATION prevents problems related to warm air escaping into your attic, i.e. ice dams or the growth of mold and/or mildew due to excessive moisture.
When evaluating which projects to consider for improving your home's comfort and energy efficiency, you'll also want to look at how quickly the investment will be paid back, i.e. with up to 20% of heat loss from a home going through the roof, effective attic insulation should pay for itself in just a few years.
There are thousands of pages of information on the web related to heating systems, insulation, ventilation and sealing, your home to minimize the loss of conditioned (heated or cooled) air. This article can only provide a brief overview so here's additional information and of course, you can search our archives on “heating and cooling” here at HomeTips4Women.
- Insulation 101 For Smart Homeowners and US Department of Energy's Insulation Fact Sheet
- … updated 2012, How Many Types of Insulation Are There?
- Ice Dams: Why They Happen and Why You Don't Want Them
- U.S. Department of Energy's Tips on Saving Energy & Money at Home and Energy Savings From an Airtight Home Envelope.
Installing Insulation – What, Where & Who
Some sealing, insulating and ventilation projects can be done by home owners willing to do the proper research in order to achieve the desired results without endangering (safety glasses, mask, etc.) themselves. Here are some of the projects appropriate for a “handy homeowner” to tackle themselves:
- Add insulation behind window and door trim – takes basic carpentry skills to remove and re-install trim pieces, and eliminate unwanted drafts.
- Add insulation behind outlets and light switch plates – takes a screw driver and some patience.
- Replace weatherstripping on exterior doors – takes patience to clean off the old weatherstripping.
- Add extra batts of insulation to the attic floor – but take time to research and install if missing, proper vents, to insure there's also adequate ventilation.
- Add blanket insulation to basement and/or garage walls or ceilings. You're better off calling a pro for spray foam insulation which takes experience with the equipment and knowing how much the foam will expand.
There are several projects where a home professional is a more appropriate solution.
- Add blown-in or foam board insulation – is best done when replacing your home's siding, and given the size of the job, is best done by the pros.
- Recessed ceiling lights – require care when insulating around them. Alternatively, you can replace them with Insulated Ceiling Air-Tight (ICAT) rated lights which insulation can touch and are sealed to reduce air leaks.
- Furnaces and chimneys – must adhere to building codes that focus on fire safety. Unless you're familiar with building codes and skilled at cutting aluminum flashing, leave this to an experienced chimney sweep professional.
- Knob and tube wiring (pre-1930) – should either be replaced or handled with care as it can be a fire hazard when it comes in contact with insulation.
- Moldy or rotted attic rafters or floor joists – should be dealt with by a professional to insure that no structural requirements are compromised.