Well Insulated Homes

If you lose power for several days - or longer in case of a major disaster - a well insulated house will remain habitable for a longer time. In the winter, if you invite a few people over their body heat will help keep your house more comfortable. Of course, knowing your neighbors beforehand will make this easier!

The Energy Trust of Oregon will provide a free Home Energy Review and offers incentives for doing the work yourself - their weatherization standards are here (PDF) - and resources if you want to hire professionals. And be sure to check out Clean Energy Works Oregon for additional resources.

Here are some suggestions on where to start, based on EnergyStar.gov.

Sealing Leaks

Many air leaks and drafts are easy to find because they are easy to feel — like those around windows and doors. But holes hidden in attics, basements, and crawlspaces are usually bigger problems. Sealing these leaks with caulk, spray foam, or weather stripping will have a great impact on improving your comfort and reducing utility bills. See the house diagram below to see common air leak locations that you should aim to seal.

Homeowners are often concerned about sealing their house too tightly; however, this is very unlikely in most older homes. A certain amount of fresh air is needed for good indoor air quality and there are specifications that set the minimum amount of fresh air needed for a house. If you are concerned about how tight your home is, hire a Home Performance Contractor, who can use diagnostic tools to measure your home's actual leakage. If your home is too tight, a fresh air ventilation system may be recommended. (in fact, controlling fresh air ventilation with an Energy Recovery Ventilator is always a healthy and energy-saving conservation measure.)

Air that’s heated or cooled to comfort you and your family shouldn’t be pouring into your crawlspace, attic, walls or other uninhabited areas. That’s why it’s important to make sure your ducted heating and cooling systems aren’t leaking, which wastes energy and costs you money and comfort.

After any home sealing project, have a Home Performance Contractor check to make sure that your combustion appliances (gas- or oil-fired furnace, water heater, and dryer) are venting properly. Be sure to have a carbon monoxide detector properly installed. For additional information on Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) issues related to homes, such as combustion safety, visit EPA’s Indoor Air Quality Web site.

Adding Insulation

House air leakageInsulation keeps your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer. There are several common types of insulation — fiberglass (in both batt and blown forms), cellulose, rigid foam board, and spray foam. Reflective insulation (or radiant barrier) installed in the attic is another insulating product which can help save energy and increase comfort on hot, sunny days.

When correctly installed with air sealing, each type of insulation can deliver comfort and lower energy bills.

Insulation performance is measured by R-value — its ability to resist heat flow. Higher R-values mean more insulating power. Different R-values are recommended for walls, attics, basements and crawlspaces, depending on your area of the country. Insulation works best when air is not moving through or around it. So it is very important to seal air leaks before installing insulation to ensure that you get the best performance from the insulation.

To get the biggest savings, the easiest place to add insulation is usually in the attic. A quick way to see if you need more insulation is to look across your uncovered attic floor. If your insulation is level with or below the attic floor joists, you probably need to add more insulation. The recommended insulation level for most attics is R-38 (or about 12–15 inches, depending on the insulation type). In the coldest climates, insulating up to R-49 is recommended.

Properly insulating your attic/ceiling and floors keeps you comfortable throughout the year, reduces outside noise, saves energy and reduces your heating and cooling costs. It’s also one weatherization technique many homeowners can tackle themselves—provided you have the right insulation materials, protective clothing and how-to information. Before beginning an insulation project, it’s a good idea to have an experienced contractor perform an air leakage test and seal any air leaks in your home.