Constructing Dreams: Insulation Is More Than Just Pink!



Whether you plan to build or buy a home, remodel a room or seek ideas to expand your “green” footprint, we are all in the beginning stages of constructing our dreams. Each month, this column will invite you to look beyond the usual ideas and consider alternative cost-effective and eco-friendly options. With so many topics to explore, from top to bottom, room to room, inside and out, the goal of a vision is to take a firm step forward and begin living the dream.

We all desire a lifestyle of energy efficiency, especially when it applies to a lowered electric bill. Our solution often focuses on what is visible, such as the thermostat, drafty windows or doors, and types of window coverings. There are greater questions to analyze:

  • Does your home feel drafty in the winter?
  • Do you experience uneven temperatures between rooms or in the hallway?
  • How long does your heating or cooling unit run? Is it constantly?
  • Do you battle dust?

The solution is found in one location we rarely venture or even consider, the attic.

Sealing Leaks

Without the effort of sealing leaks in your attic, the tasks of laying insulation become futile. Wet insulation will create a larger problem than energy efficiency. If you have problems with drafts, uneven temperatures between rooms, and greater amounts of dust one level below your attic, begin searching for gaps or openings surrounding pipes, light fixtures, electrical wiring and outlets, heating and air conditioning ducts, vent stacks, and anything which can penetrate through the ceiling. You may need to remove existing insulation to check for holes or water damage.

  • Large gaps: Try low-expansion polyurethane foam, which can plug openings 1/4-inch to 3-inches wide.
  • Small gaps: Consider using a silicone caulk for openings less than 1/4-inches wide.

Facts: Sealing leaks can save 30% of energy costs.

The “R” Value

All insulation works, essentially, the same way. Air is trapped in tiny pockets, slowing the movement of heat out of the home in winter and into the home during summer. The “R” value determines how effective the insulation will resist the movement of air. The higher the value, the greater the resistance. In North Carolina, we require R-38 to R-60 in our attics. On the attic floor, the recommended amount of insulation is a minimum of 13 inches.   (One key tip: If you are using rolls of batting insulation, ensure the paper is facing outward to serve as a moisture barrier. You can also staple sheets of plastic over the batting.)

Facts:

  • Fiberglass batting now comprises 40% of recyclable materials, decreasing the amount of airborne fibers. (Yes, insulation is not just pink, but eco-friendly, and green!)
  • Cellulose comprises 85% of recycled materials and 15% of environmentally friendly fire retardants. Whether blown in dry or sprayed, the “R” value is higher in cellulose than fiberglass and comparable in cost.
  • The highest performance is a low-density spray foam insulation. In forming a lock-tight bond, the foam will never sag. In fact, the foam will offer strength and support to the structure. Despite the initial expense, the advantages offer even lower heating and cooling costs.

Radiant Barriers: Attic Foil

The attic is truly a viable space that can be used for greater purposes than storage. If a radiant barrier were placed over the insulation, the sun’s intense rays would reflect 97% of radiant heat outward, and reduce cooling costs. These thin sheets of shiny aluminum bonded to a foam board or sheathing are not technically insulation, but they can be a beneficial barrier for our climate. Attic foil is easy to install to any new or existing home. With this option available, you may discover the attic can both save you money, and provide a new room.

Next Month: The Benefits of a Basement


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