How often should your home's insulation be replaced?
Properly insulating a home can save you 10 to 20 percent on your energy bills, HVAC experts say. (Photo provided by member Tim M. of Huntington Beach, Calif.)
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning experts say insulation offers one of the best lines of defense for keeping cold and warm air from escaping your home.
When the upstairs of a home becomes too cold in the winter or too warm in the summer — and the energy bills start climbing — it could mean you need a professional to inspect your insulation.
Properly insulation and weatherstripping can reduce your monthly heating and cooling costs by up to 20 percent, according to Energy Star, and your annual energy bill by up to 10 percent, highly rated HVAC professionals say.
The EPA’s Energy Star program adds that adequate insulation is one of the most cost-saving home projects a homeowner can undertake.
“One way to tell if your insulation is not performing properly from the exterior of a house in the winter is the development of large ice dams, or large icicles, that hang down off of the overhang on your home,” says Arne Olson, owner of highly rated Houle Insulation in Minneapolis. “If your home heats up quickly in the summertime, it is a sign that the insulation is not keeping the heat out of the house and it may be compromised.”
Olson recommends hiring an energy auditor to see if your home needs more insulation or a complete replacement. “An energy audit will show a homeowner how leaky or tight the house is and also where the bypasses [hidden air leaks] are located,” Olson says. “During an energy audit, your furnace and water heater will also be checked to ensure they are operating properly. Yes, an energy audit is definitely worth it. It may also qualify you for rebates with your utility company.”
But before making that call, HVAC experts recommend looking at exposed insulation in your attic. Attic floor insulation works as the main barrier to prevent heat from escaping when it spreads to the attic through a process called thermal flow. A rule of thumb, visible floor joints mean you don’t have enough insulation, experts say.
Because checking the condition of the insulation in other areas of the home proves more difficult, hiring a professional to perform and energy audit is recommended, Olson said. Highly rated HVAC companies use infrared technology to find gaps in the insulation. The average price of an energy audit ranges from $50 to several hundred dollars.
“Any house that is more than 10 years old may not be up to today’s standards that the U.S. Department of Energy has come up with [with regards to insulation],” says Michael Arick, owner of highly rated Arick & Sons Insulation & Roofing in Columbus, Ohio. “Unless the house was recently built, the majority of the houses aren’t properly insulated. Once you have the proper amount, you’ll never need to do it again.”
Ask about R-value
According to multiple highly rated insulation pros, two-thirds of U.S. homes are not properly insulated, leading to drafts, as well as heat loss in the winter and heat penetration in the summer, which can also cause damage to a home’s roof.
“When the warm, moist air from your home escapes into your cold attic in the winter, it can create frost and moisture on the backside of the roof sheathing,” Olson says. “The frost then melts and gets the surfaces wet, creating premature rot.”
If a service provider recommends adding insulation, ask them about "R-value," which indicates the durability of the insulation and how well it guards against heat penetration, as well as how thick it is. The higher the R-value, the more effective the insulation. For most attics, Energy Star recommends an R-value of R-38, which is about 12 to 15 inches of padding. An R-value of 49 may be recommended for cold-weather areas of the country, such as the Northeast or northern Midwest.
Check this Energy Star map to see what R-value is recommended for your area of the country.
Hiring a professional
Do your homework before hiring an insulation professional, experts say. A reputable company will offer advice in regards to what type and R-value of insulation will work best for their location.
Homeowners can find out if a company is associated with the Insulation Contractors Association of America or the National Insulation Association, industry groups that provide certifications. Get several estimates before choosing a contractor because replacing an entire home’s insulation can cost several thousands of dollars. A typical insulation project can range from $1,500 to $5,000 depending on the size of the project. 0But, Olson says, in many cases, the old insulation does not need to be removed, which keeps costs down..
“We typically work through and seal the attic bypasses with the existing insulation in place,” Olson says. “When we remove the existing insulation, it is because it is damaged or just too difficult to effectively air seal the attic.”
The energy savings can make up much or all of the cost of having insulating a home over time, according to highly rated HVAC professionals. For example, if you pay $100 a month on your energy bill, you bills could drop to $80 or $90 after a professional properly insulates your home.
The Residential Energy Property Credit program offers federal tax credits for energy-efficient home improvements through the end of the year. For an insulation project, homeowners can receive a tax credit of 10 percent off the cost of the materials, up to $500. Typical bulk insulation products qualify for the federal tax credits, according to Energy Star. You can ask your contractor to make sure they’re using qualified products. The tax credit doesn’t apply toward the cost of installation. Some states also offer their own tax credits for energy efficient home projects, so check your state’s Web site to find out if you qualify for additional credits.