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Green Living: Increase your Attic Insulation

Poorly insulated attics are one of the greatest causes of heat loss in a home. A properly insulated attic should have sufficient insulation to provide an R-value of at least 30. The R- value is a measure of the insulation’s ability to resist heat transfer. Increasing the insulation in your home is, in itself, a “green” improvement, and the proper choice of materials can make it even more so.

If your attic needs additional insulation—increasing it to R-30 or more will provide significant savings—you can, with a bit of aggravation and mess, do it yourself. You may choose to purchase insulation in large rolls which, if the old insulation reaches at least the tops of the ceiling joists, should be applied perpendicular to the ceiling joists. However, if you have little or no insulation, you’ll need to fill the space between the joists.

Attic insulationYour attic may have several paper gauges to show both the depth and “R” value of the insulation installed. If there is no gauge in your attic, you can get some from your insulation supplier. Placing them in several locations around the attic will help you to a more uniform job of blowing the insulation to your desired depth. To determine the amount of insulation you need, visit The Department of Energy website, www.eere.energy.gov. You’ll find a map which defines the various zones around the country and recommended R-values for energy efficiency and comfort.

If your choice is to use blown-in or loose-fill insulation, many home centers offer loose-fill insulation for homeowner use; and some will supply the blowing equipment at no charge when you purchase the material from them.

After determining how much you wish to increase the R-value, you’ll have to decide which type of insulation best fits your needs and budget. Many home owners choose to use blown-in, which, while a bit messy to install, is an inexpensive way to improve your home’s energy efficiency. There are several choices for blown-in insulation, and I’ve provided information on some of the options.

  • Fiberglass. Try to find one that is recycled content and formaldehyde-free. Much of the older fiberglass insulation, made from spun silica, used a formaldehyde binder, a chemical that poses health risks.
  • Cellulose. Made from recycled newspaper, with borate added as a pest and fire retardant, cellulose is a good choice for the environment. Approximately equal in performance to fiberglass, this product is readily available and easy to install.
  • Rock wool or mineral. A waste product from steel production or natural stone, rock wool offers good sound insulation properties in addition to its energy saving function. Because of the materials from which it’s produced, it is also resistant to fire.

When installing blown-in insulation, it’s important not to block the flow of air through the attic. Care must be taken when blowing next to eave or soffit vents; and, if necessary, baffles should be installed to protect the areas next to such vents. It’s also a good idea to look for areas where air may infiltrate into heated spaces. Look for “chases,” areas where heat ducts, plumbing pipes, or electrical lines run between floors. Pipes or wires that pass through the tops of wall plates should be sealed with fireproof caulk; expandable foam is not a good choice for such areas and is not an environmentally friendly product.

For more information on insulation, visit www.energy.gov.

 

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