Charlotte residents conserve energy with radiant barrier insulation
Reflective sprays and foil insulation sheets reduce attic heat buildup by blocking solar radiation. (Photo by Jeremy Deal)
After retiring two years ago, Charlotte resident Charles Beck began dedicating a lot of time to improving his home’s energy efficiency to enjoy the cost benefits during his golden years.
While researching whether to add to his existing attic insulation, he learned of radiant barrier insulation. “I planned initially to just have more blown-in insulation done,” Beck says. “But then I ran into this.”
Highly rated Carolina Home Remodeling of Charlotte installed radiant barrier throughout the attic of Beck’s home. Also called energy, thermal or reflective barrier, all radiant barrier products work similarly.
A reflective material — either lightweight foil or painted-on reflective coating — applied to the attic ceiling or between rafters limits heat buildup by reflecting solar energy coming through the roof, reducing summer attic temperatures and stress on your HVAC system.
“Our air conditioning bills were outrageous,” says Beck, who paid $9,000 for the job, which cost more than average because of the large attic in his ranch home. “This is going to take a long time to pay for itself, but in the long run our bills will be lower.”
He’s already noticed more comfortable temperatures and expects to see the payoff on utility bills within five years, considering he also replaced his HVAC system with a high-efficiency heat pump.
John Meeks, owner of highly rated AppleBlossom Energy, an energy auditing and efficiency contractor based in Harrisburg, says recent improvements make radiant barriers a growing market.
“It’s something we recommend to homeowners in our region, unless they have huge trees and a lot of shading,” says Meeks, whose company primarily installs the spray-on coatings.
Though slightly less effective than foil, spray-on radiant barrier coatings can cover more area or hard-to-reach pitches. The two types generally differ in emissivity — how much radiant energy it lets through — by less than 10 percent.
The U.S. Department of Energy reports that radiant barriers reduce energy costs by 5 to 10 percent in warm, sunny climates. To achieve Energy Star status in Mecklenburg County, a new home with more than 10 feet of ductwork in the attic requires a radiant barrier.
Douglas Uneberg, owner of highly rated Room 2 Roof in Charlotte, says radiant barriers work most efficiently with a properly vented and insulated attic and well-sealed duct system. Because those upgrades are often made at the same time, quantifying energy savings proves difficult.
The Oak Ridge National Laboratory found an average $80 savings per year with the radiant barrier alone and a $670 per year savings when coupled with insulating air ducts and adding insulation through tests in Atlanta, which shares the same climate zone as Charlotte.
“By using all these things in conjunction, that’s what’s going to make the overall impact,” Uneberg says.
For a typical two-story home, he estimates radiant barrier installation costs around $1,500, but expect prices to vary depending on the size of your attic and roof pitch.
In 2010, Charlotte member David Alexander paid $1,400 to upgrade his insulation and install a radiant barrier, which reduced his energy bill and made his home cooler. “It’s definitely not as hot in the attic in the summer,” he says.