Insulating: The Original 'Green' Way

With the price of a barrel of oil skyrocketing the cost of fuel oil, natural gas and propane is following in its wake. Fossil fuels are a commodity and, even if the huge price is based mostly on speculation, the price will never see low prices again.

Rather than cry over this there are a few things that can be done around the home to lessen the pain. In fact most of the energy savings can be realized by preventing the valuable heat from leaving the home after you've spent a small fortune creating it. In fact, if the home is tightened up to its potential you may spend less on fuel even when the fuel is twice what it was four years ago.

Conversely, in hot climates the heat build-up in the attic increases pressure in the space driving heat down through the ceiling and into the home. In this case the air conditioners have to work harder to combat this excess heat.

The Attic

Physics tells us that hot air rises. In fact if you get a ladder and climb up so that your head is touching the ceiling you will notice the heat difference. Now, the drywall, vapor seal and insulation will hold in the heat to a certain extent but if there is nothing holding it in the heat will find its way out through the attic. The object is to keep the heat in the home to where it will efficiently make the home comfortable.

R-40: R-values are an indicator of the home's effectiveness to keep the heat in and the most effective use of insulation is the attic. Usually a home will have some insulation between the attic rafters: fiberglass, vermiculite, cellulose. In most cases this insulation will not be enough because to be effective against heat loss because an attic should have at least R-40. To put this into prospective an R-40 attic would have an average of 12” of insulation for the best heat retention. For example, if there is 4” of fiberglass insulation already in place you should add a minimum of 8” of fiberglass batts or the same amount of blown-in cellulose to top it up to R-40.

Foil Layer: In addition, some home experts are recommending a foil sheet be placed over the insulation to reflect heat back into the home or attic heat away from the home. This sheet must be perforated to avoid a moisture build-up but the thin metallic layer will reflect up to 97% of the heat back into the home or, in the case of an air-conditioned home, it will reflects heat away from the ceiling.

Venting: Although not an insulating feature proper venting in the attic will release heat before it gets a chance to enter the home. Sometimes, in areas with little air-flow, the vent has to be motorized to create a draft. In all cases the soffits should have openings to draw air into the attic to create a flow.

The Windows

Probably the biggest energy sucks in the home are the windows. A standard, double-paned window has an R-value of less than 1 compared to the walls that are around R-20. This means that heat will be drawn to the windows by convection and then sucked from the home by radiation. The determining factors for this are:

  • Glazing material
  • Layers of glass
  • Type of air between the panes (Argon, krypton,)
  • Leakage around window sill
  • Window frame material

The new windows contain a low-emissivity coating that reflects heat back into the home or keeps the heat from the sun out. They also contain a heavy, inert gas in between the panes to prevent convection current which speed up energy loss.

After years of service even good windows begin to leak around the frames. This is die to wood and caulking shrinkage. By taking off the moldings and sealing up around the frames many small air leaks can be stopped. In addition, placing a plastic sheet over the window and sealing it with two-way tape will act as a thermal break in addition to sealing out drafts. Heavy curtains will also aid the energy savings.


Although the basement is a great place to cool off it is a place where heat can go through the walls. This is especially true if the walls are concrete because cement is a thermal portal for heat and cold. To combat this transference of energy through concrete basement walls there are a few options:

Framing: A wood stud frame, fiberglass insulation and vapor seal, and then covering the area with drywall, will decrease heat loss in the basement. It will also keep the area cool.

Rigid Foam Insulation: If there is not going to be any finishing work done foam sheets can be put up. These can be attached directly to the wall cement wall with special fasteners and then caulked.

Spray Foam: Another way to both insulate and seal the wall is with a closed-cell spray foam insulation. The r-value is around R-7 per inch.

The basement should be checked for cracks in the wall. If there any these should be sealed by a professional.

Posted by: TrustedPros
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