Insulating a home can reduce heating and cooling costs, which are often the greatest energy expense a homeowner faces. Numerous types of insulation are available and each has a specific purpose. Some can be installed by the homeowner, while others require professional installation. However, all types of insulation will reduce energy costs, and most will also reduce moisture infiltration, or provide additional benefits such as soundproofing or increased fire resistance.
Reasons to Insulate
Insulating a home provides several benefits. The primary benefit is savings on the cost of heating and cooling the home. Up to 70 percent of the energy used in an average American home goes toward heating and cooling, and increased insulation reduces that expense. Another benefit is moisture control, as proper insulation can reduce condensation that would otherwise occur in interior spaces of the home. Insulation can also be used as a form of soundproofing, as the dense nature of insulation helps dampen sounds within the home. Insulation is noncombustible, though not completely fireproof, and therefore reduces the speed with which a fire in the home can spread.
Types of Insulation
Several types of insulation are available, and each has a specific use. Rolls of insulation can be readily installed by the homeowner, and are made of either fiberglass or mineral wool. Small gaps within the home can be easily sealed by the homeowner using caulk. However, other forms of insulation may need to be installed by a licensed contractor. For example, spray-foam insulation is actually blown into the home through a vacuum hose. Likewise, reflective foil barriers can be attached underneath a home's roof system to provide additional protection from outdoor temperatures.
The effectiveness of insulation is generally measured by its "R-value." The R-value of insulation is more a measure of the insulation's installed weight per square foot, and not necessarily a strict measurement of the insulation's thickness. The greater the R-value of the insulation, the greater protection it provides, and the more expensive it is likely to be. The United States Department of Energy offers R-value calculators to help you determine the appropriate R-value for your home.
Where to Insulate
Insulation for energy efficiency purposes is generally performed anywhere the exterior of the home meets the interior. For example, most attics are insulated, and rolls of fiberglass insulation can easily be added to an attic by the homeowner. Blown insulation is most effective on the inside of exterior walls, as it can also be added from an attic, where it will fill-in the spaces around pipes and wires without difficulty. Additional locations to insulate, which may vary by home, include underneath crawlspaces, inside an attached garage or in the basement. Insulation for soundproofing purposes may additionally need to be installed within the interior walls of the home.
Modern fiberglass insulation is non-carcinogenic. Nonetheless, it can cause skin irritation. Long-sleeved clothing and breathing protection are recommended for do-it-yourself enthusiasts. Insulation should not be placed in contact with heat producing items like stove pipes, as it can create a fire risk. A radiant barrier should not come into contact with wiring as it can conduct electricity. Additionally, mold can grow on insulation that is exposed to excessive moisture. For all of these reasons, professional installation is generally recommended.
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