Insulation: All About Insulation
The furnace is running full bore and yet you feel a chill down to your bones. There isn’t a window open in the house and the walls and ceilings are fully insulated. You simply can’t figure out where the cold is coming from. Well, if your home is 20 years old, or older, there is a very good chance that you may need to call insulation services to perform a little maintenance on your insulation. And the attic is the first place you will want to be looked at. Experts tell us that most heat is lost through the ceiling – 60 percent or more. Walls account for about 20 to 30 percent with the rest exiting through the floor.
Most homes that were insulated during construction have rolled batt insulation in the walls and loose fill insulation in the attic. Chances are the batt insulation is still in pretty good shape even if it is 20 years old. However, there can be a problem with loose fill insulation – especially in the attic. Here is why. Powerful air currents are created in your attic as air enters through eave vents and exits through higher gable or ridge vents. Natural air currents can be so powerful that they can actually move loose fill insulation as if it was being swept by a broom. The result can mean piles of insulation in some areas and none in others. This condition can result even when the proper baffles have been installed to deflect air entering the attic at the eave vents.
This may not be the most convenient time of the year to peek into your attic. It’s too cold to do a lot of things. But you really should look to see if your foam insulation is properly in its place. If the wind really has exposed several areas of your ceiling the repair can be quickly made with a plastic lawn rake. Use the rake to gently move the insulation from high spots onto the bald areas. Note we said plastic. With electrical wires present in the attic it would not be wise to use a metal rake.
This may come as a surprise, but the same cold air that chills your bones is used to keep you warm with insulation. Here is how it works. Insulation is nothing more than a light weight material filled with hundreds of thousands of tiny air pockets. Each pocket traps a small portion of air and holds it motionless. Motionless air is in fact a dynamite insulator. Isn’t that interesting? With kids it would be something like using dirt to get them clean.
Keep in mind that with insulation – more is better. Can you use too much insulation. No, you can’t. But there is a point when diminishing return clicks in. In moderate climates R-38 is more than enough in the attic. However, in extreme climates R-60 makes more sense. If you intend on adding insulation here are a few tips.
Glass fiber insulation is the most popular type and is most readily available. It is known more commonly as fiberglass insulation. It is relatively inexpensive and very easy to install. It is non-flammable and resists damage from water. The fibers can irritate your skin and therefore precautions must be taken while handling. Gloves, breathing apparatus, protective clothing, goggles and a hat are all measures that can be used to reduce an itchy aftermath. A cold shower will help to remove tiny fibers that make their way to your skin. A hot shower will open the pores of your skin and allow the pesky fibers more opportunity to make you uncomfortable.
Mineral wool or “rock wool” is very similar to fiberglass insulation. It is a little more expensive, but doesn’t usually provoke the itchy reaction caused by fiberglass.
Here is the one that we recommend against. Cellulose insulation is made of recycled paper. As such it is organic and susceptible to attack by moisture (and rot). It also absorbs moisture making it heavier and causing it to pack down. When this happens it looses its insulative value. The ability to insulate does not return once the paper dries. Insects love to nest in organic materials and cellulose insulation is no exception. If you have cellulose insulation in your walls and ceilings chances are the insulative value has diminished substantially since it was first installed. To keep things simple just cover it with either fiberglass or rock wool and warm you place right up.
By the way, don’t overlook air infiltration. Cold air can enter your home at weather stripping, door bottoms, window frames, attic and sub-area plumbing and electrical penetrations, at heat registers, yes, and even at electrical switches and receptacles. Insulate these areas with spray foam or gaskets. And, good luck!