Proper insulation isn’t just for keeping your home cozy in the winter—it can also save you money. After all, heating and cooling account for 50 to 70 percent of the energy used in the average American home, and inadequate insulation is a leading cause of energy waste*, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Make sure you’re getting the most out of your insulation this season with these tips.
The first step is to evaluate how much insulation you currently have, which can be achieved by calling your local utility company and scheduling a home energy audit. During this assessment, the auditor will be able to determine where your home is and is not properly insulated, the type of insulation you have, and the thickness or depth of the insulation. You can also conduct your own inspection by examining exposed structural elements (typically in the attic or basement) or by removing outlet covers throughout your home to see the insulation used in the exterior walls.
When talking about insulation, it all comes down to R value, or insulation’s ability to resist heat traveling through it. It’s not a one-size-fits-all measurement; it depends on the type of insulation you have—fiberglass, foam, mineral wool or cellulose, to name a few—and where you live. The cooler the climate, the higher the recommended R value. If you hire a professional to conduct a home energy audit, he or she will be able to tell you this magic number, but the DOE also provides simple formulas (PDF, 2 MB) if you’re going the DIY route.
Before adding insulation, the DOE recommends that you first seal all air leaks—a simple, inexpensive task that can create energy savings of 10 to 20 percent**. Depending on the location of the leak, there are two techniques you can use: caulking, for cracks and gaps between stationary building components and materials; or weather stripping, for moveable objects such as windows and doors.
Whether to hire a professional or do the job yourself depends on the structure of your home and where you’re trying to add insulation. For hard-to-reach spaces, such as attics in homes with low-pitched roofs or cavities in existing homes’ exterior walls, the help of a contractor may be required. Insulation for basements, crawl spaces and unheated floors, however, can typically be done by yourself—with the following safety precautions: