Improving Your Home’s Energy Efficiency with Insulation

There are many ways to save on energy around the house – you can purchase Energy Star appliances, switch to compact fluorescent bulbs, or undergo a home energy audit to account for your expenditures. However, it’s worth knowing before you begin that the largest chunk of your electricity bill almost invariably goes to heating and cooling your home.  According to research by independent Louisville, KY air conditioner repair service companies, they estimate that anywhere between 43 and 60 percent of the electricity used by buildings goes toward powering the HVAC (heating, ventilating, air conditioning) system.  One way to make sure that your system is not working harder than it has to is to check your insulation.

This is especially applicable if your home is a little older. The U.S. Department of Energy reports that only 20% of homes built before 1980 contain the correct insulation in the ceilings, walls, floors, crawl spaces, and attic.  But be careful while checking the condition of your insulation, since many homes built prior to 1980 feature insulation or other construction materials that contain asbestos.  This thread-like mineral is extremely dangerous when inhaled, and can cause lung conditions such as lung scarring, asbestosis, and mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the chest or abdomen. Symptoms of mesothelioma may take between 20 and 50 years to appear after asbestos exposure, and are many times confused with less serious conditions until the cancer has spread beyond the capability of treatment.

The good news is that mesothelioma is almost completely avoidable.  As long as asbestos remains bound up in construction or other fireproofing materials, it is relatively harmless, so as long as your insulation is sufficient and in good condition, it does not need to be removed.  However, if it appears to be damaged, fraying, or significantly worn, you may need to consult a licensed abatement specialist who will have the proper protective gear for working with asbestos.  Since 1989, however, insulation now makes use of alternative materials for fire and soundproofing, including fiberglass, rock wool, and cellulose.

The attic is of crucial importance when it comes to properly insulating a home, since the conditioned air can easily escape through holes or cracks.  The Department of Energy sets the standard for attic insulation at between R-30 and R-60.  The R-value of the insulation refers to a measure of thermal resistance, with higher numbers providing more.  The right number within that range for your how depends on climate, building design, and budget, among other factors, though R-30 should serve as a lower limit for all areas of the U.S.

In addition to indoor cavity insulation, newer homes can also be insulated from the outside with insulative sheathing to prevent heat from being lost through the wood frame of the house.  Structural insulated panels, which provide both support and insulation, are becoming popular building materials as well.  Other steps should be taken to augment the insulation, such as sealing any cracks or gaps and replacing leaky or ill-fitting windows.  But be sure to keep your health and safety in mind – asbestos can be found in many different construction materials including caulk and weatherstripping, and mesothelioma symptoms are no joke.  If you have any doubts about the safety of your insulation or your ability to properly renovate it or install it, do not hesitate to call a professional contractor.

[This is a guest post from Krista Peterson]
Image: blodgett esq. at Flickr

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