Friday, October 24, 2014

Are You Up on Your R-Value?

A general rule of thumb for making home an energy efficient place is, simply put, to keep from letting said energy go to waste. A great way to do this? Insulate thoroughly from top to bottom.

There is a lot of technical information and specific terminology to take into account when insulating, so a home-insulation project can range anywhere from a complete DIY to something better left for a professional installer, but one key player you’ll want to get to know is R-value.

R-value is a measure of resistance (R) against heat transfer, or how well the material keeps heat from passing through. Heat, or thermal energy, travels by way of conduction, convection, and radiation. It’s important to take all three methods into account when insulating, but R-Value represents conduction, by and large. The higher the R-Value, the better the material insulates, the smaller the rate of conduction – less thermal energy passing through your house.

Are You Up on Your R-Value?

Adding R to Your Home

Most homes look solid, but in reality there are countless tiny holes and cracks that wind and cold can creep into, so there’s always room to insulate. There are a number of factors that determine what R-value to use, and where, in your home. If you dwell in a colder climate, you’ll want a higher R-value. The type of heating and cooling system you use, along with what part of the house you plan on insulating, play into the R-value you’ll need.

Types of insulation

The older the home, the more important it is to increase R-value. Modern homes typically have R-19 wall insulation and R-30 roof insulation, but upping the R-value even more is an energy-saving trick that will pay for itself within a few years. To determine if you need insulation of a higher R-value, start by finding out your current insulation situation. A home-energy auditor can provide a thorough energy assessment to help locate insulation, figure out the R-value, how to improve, and can also identify where you could afford to install air sealing, moisture control, and implement other energy-saving strategies.

Particularly important areas of the house to insulate are the ceiling, attic, windows, basement walls, and the area between the basement and bottom floor (get rid of those cold kitchen tiles once and for all!). High R-value insulators are bulky materials like fiberglass, cellulose, and foam boards.

Efficiency Made Easy

Doing a whole insulation makeover can be time-consuming and pricey, depending on the project, so if now isn’t the best time to start such an undertaking, there are plenty of smaller-scale ways to keep your thermal energy where it belongs and revel in all that efficiency:

  • The seal around your window frames breaks down over time – caulk it back into shape!
  • In a similar vein, the molding around your bathtub breaks down due to age and mildew, resulting in cracks that air loves to pass through. Caulk that up, too!
  • Wrap older, tank-style water heaters with an insulation blanket, available at your local hardware store.
  • Seal doors with draft excluders. They are cheap to buy and easy to make!
  • Insulate the gap between electrical outlets and drywall with expanding foam.
  • Cellular shades act as an insulating barrier between the window and the room, effectively reducing heat transfer.
    Cellular shades act as an insulating
    barrier between the window and the room,
    effectively reducing heat transfer.
    Windows have a drastically lower R-value than walls do. The difference is like sleeping under a down feather comforter or sleeping under a tarp! There are several types of insulating shades out there, like EcoSmart Shades, that greatly reduce heat transfer and can give your windows an additional R-4.7!

Once you start researching how to insulate your home, it’s sort of like opening Pandora’s box. For every part of the house, there are several various solutions. The trick is to figure out what you currently have, get a sense of where you want to go from there, and let R-value be your guide.

Images courtesy of Make It Right, SUPWINCO, and EcoSmartShades