When renewable energy is a priority, many owners also have an interest in reducing their homes' energy consumption. Both plummeting and soaring seasonal temperatures can cause a home and a budget to bleed energy year after year. Where in some cases home upgrades that are specifically designed to limit energy use, improving home insulation can be another helpful move. Understanding how insulation works and how to use it properly can curb home energy consumption.
How Insulation Saves Energy
A basic understanding of heat flow is helpful for grasping how home insulation works. Heat involves three basic principles:
Conduction refers to the manner in which heat travels through a material. Convection affects how it moves through gases and liquids and is the reason cool, dense air falls in a home while warm, light air moves upward. Radiation causes heat to travel in a straight line, adding warmth to anything it encounters that can absorb its energy. The most commonly used types of home insulation slow the flow of conductive heat and some convective heat. Systems of reflective insulation and radiant barriers effectively reduce radiant gain.
During cold months, heat travels from a home to adjacent structures such as a basement, garage, or attic. During months when cooling is necessary, it moves from outdoors to inside a residence. Properly insulating a home provides a resistance to heat flow by curbing energy consumption.
Each type of insulation carries a numerical R-value. An R-value is the ability of a material to prevent heat transfer. The higher its number, the harder it works to reduce energy loss.
Where to Insulate a Home
To prevent energy from escaping from living areas, the objective is wrapping all living areas of a home with the right amount of insulation. An inspection by a homeowner or a contractor of any walls, floors, or attic next to unheated spaces like a basement or a garage should reveal the type existing insulation and its thickness. In a newer home, this information might be available from its builder.
The correct places for insulation include:
- Between a floor and an unfinished basement or crawl space
- Between a home’s ceiling and unfinished attic
- Between a finished attic and the residence’s roof
- Inside all outside walls, including those abutting an unheated garage
Using the Right Insulation
Homeowners will need to choose among many types of insulation on the market. They include a number of R-values and differ as far as method of installation and how flammable they are. Various types also feature significantly different purchase prices and life cycle costs. In some cases, a homeowner might want to investigate recycled material.
Insulation is available in various forms such as rolls, blocks or forms, rigid foam or foam boards, insulated panels, rigid fiber, or sprayed foam. Some of the most commonly sold materials include:
- Vermiculate for low cost and easy installation
- Perlite for similar qualities but higher R-value
- Fiberglass for ease of installation and cost
- Rock wool for odorless insulation when wet
- Polystyrene, sold as Styrofoam, primarily for new construction
- Cellulose for easy use in areas with small access
- Urethane for easy-fill foam that is usually installed by qualified contractors
Often the right insulation plus R-value for a home depends on local building codes as well as climate.
Many factors affect the final decision decision on who should install insulation in an existing home. Among them are the age of the residence, how comfortable a homeowner feels about a do-it-yourself project, and expense. When another renovation is about to begin, combining it with properly insulating a home often makes sense. Need more information about how insulation to reduce energy consumption fits in with your interest in renewable energy sources? Give us a call today.