The average West Virginia homeowner spends $2,168 annually on home energy needs. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that heating and cooling accounts for up to 74 percent of this total. Addressing insulation and air leaks in your home will directly and significantly reduce these costs by 20 percent to 50 percent, depending on the amount and condition of your home's insulation.
DO I NEED TO INSULATE MY HOME?
The DOE and ENERGY STAR® suggest that homes built prior to 1980 are probably under-insulated and have air-leak issues. In West Virginia, that includes around 70 percent of all homes! Most discussions of insulation begin with a determination of R-value, which measures how a wall or a roof resists heat loss. Insulating to the proper R-value reduces the cost of heating the room and lowers energy costs. Here are some general guidelines for R-value levels in West Virginia homes:
- Unfinished attic space should be insulated between and over the floor joists to an R-value of R-38, the equivalent of about 14 inches of fiberglass batt insulation or 10 inches of loose-fill (blown) insulation. Make sure that the attic door or hatch cover is insulated.
- Exterior walls and basement ceilings, as well as walls between living spaces and unheated areas (such as the wall between where you live and an unheated garage) should have an R-value of R-19 between the studs and joists. Six inches of fiberglass batt, foam or insulation board can provide this level of insulation. To easily determine whether walls are insulated, turn off the power to a wall electrical outlet, remove the face plate and shine a flashlight into the space surrounding the outlet to check for the presence of insulation. Check multiple outlets on all floors and sides of the house.
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Insulation won't work as well (or save you as much money) if your home has significant air leaks. You can find the most significant air leaks - in the attic and basement areas - when you are checking the current R-value of the insulation in those areas. Creating a map of your house can help you identify the areas with the most air leak potential.
In the attic, check where the walls meet the attic floor, in attic kneewall spaces, around dropped soffit (in dropped ceilings) areas and chimney, furnace or hot water flue pipes. Where air moves, the insulation will be dirty. Wherever you see such spots, caulk first and then cover the area with insulation.
Sealing basement air leaks will stop the chimney effect. As hot air from the furnace rises, cold air from basement leaks is drawn in, creating drafts and increasing your energy bill. Seal around the top of the basement wall where the cement or block meets the wood frame (the rim or band joist) using silicone or acrylic latex caulk. Expanding foam may also be used but must be applied properly.
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INSTALLING THE INSULATON
Once you have determined you need to add insulation to your attic and have sealed the air leaks you are ready to begin. Remember:
- Wear the appropriate clothing to protect yourself against skin contact and wear a disposable respirator.
- Read the directions! Proper application directions and safety tips are on the label.
- Never cover the attic soffit vents with insulation. Natural air flow is needed in the summer to move super-heated air and moisture out of the unheated attic space to avoid damage to the roof and shingles. Use rafter vents (also called insulation baffles) around the eaves to channel the outside air.
- You can add a different type of insulation over your existing insulation but make sure that if you apply batt insulation over loose fill to use unfaced insulation. When applying batt insulation over existing insulation, lay the second layer perpendicular to the existing insulation layer.
- When laying insulation work from the perimeter to the opening. This avoids the “insulating yourself into a corner” problem!
- Use sheet metal “fencing” to keep insulation at least 3 inches from recessed lighting and other heated surfaces.
- Reflective surfaces go toward the heated area.
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ENERGY STAR®, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, helps save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices.
For more information about insulating and sealing your home, visit Energy Star® and click on "Home improvement." From there, check the section titled, "Air Seal and Insulate." In addition to information on the subject, the site has links to a table outlining recommended insulation levels and the U.S. Department of Energy’s excellent online insulation guide.
For more information about saving money and energy, contact the West Virginia Division of Energy at (304) 558-2234 or (800) 982-3386.
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