Attic Insulation: The Overlooked Solution for High Energy Bills

Consider the attic. Typically, it’s an oft-forgotten sliver of home that’s of no consequence compared to the “big ticket” parts of your property, or the parts that people see and use every day like the countertops or bathroom vanity. The only time it may register with your mind is when the energy bill comes around, and you’re left wondering why it’s spiraled so high. That’s when it hits you – insulating the attic can be a big help against such sticker shock. But how do you go about installing this key ally in the war against high utility costs?

The Importance of Insulation

It’s no secret that insulation’s main selling point is to produce a long-term savings on your energy bill. According to the United States Department of Energy, the typical homeowner that boosts the insulation in their home can drop their heating bill anywhere between 10% and 50%. Considering the DOE estimates that 44% of home energy goes toward heating and cooling, it becomes obvious why lowering the need to heat or cool your home is important.

The savings that insulation offers is so great, in fact, it’s estimated that it pays for itself within three to six years of its instillation. This alone makes adding or increasing its presence in your home one of the most practical home improvement projects you can undertake – even if your guests or even other family members never see it in action.

The Science Behind Insulation

The way insulation works links to the scientific principle of thermal insulation. The principle is defined by means of inhibiting the transfer of thermal energy from one area to another. In layman's terms, the principle slows down the cold from the outside of a building from penetrating the inside of a building.

The reason insulation is installed in attics is also scientific. Heat rises, and so it will make a beeline toward the top of your home. Without insulation present, it will have an easier time escaping your home, leading you to crank up the thermostat.

Conversely, attics are typically the farthest place in the home from central air conditioning, so it tends to be the hottest place in the house. If you have a two-story home, you may also notice the upstairs – where bedrooms typically are found – are usually hotter than downstairs.

Having insulation in the attic will help keep the cool air from your air conditioning unit in place when it does reach the higher parts of your home. When this happens, the effects of the AC can be experienced on a much more efficient level.

Pre-Installation: What You Need to Know

Once you’ve decided that you want to lower your energy bills and install some insulation in your attic, you’ll have a couple of key bits of homework to explore. Some of this is in a literal sense – you’ll have to do some work with your home before making a decision. Firstly, you should check to see how much insulation you have in your home and where it’s located. While it may be in the attic, it may also be located in the walls. If you’re not sure of the locale, or if you want to be as thorough as possible, you can hire a home energy auditor to perform an insulation check.

If you live in a newer home, chances are you'll be able to get this information from the home builder. But if you do have to hire an auditor, the good news here is the insulation check is often included as part of a whole-house energy assessment.

You will also need to determine what type of insulation you’ll want. Typically, your two options are going to be blown cellulose or fiberglass installation. Both work well, especially if you’re planning on laying new insulation over the old.

Fiberglass tends to be more readily available and relatively inexpensive. They’re also the most popular form of insulation in the country. With that being said, densely-packed cellulose tends to do a better job of reducing air leaks – something that could be important if you live in Minnesota during the winter.

You should also consider a factor known as R-value. This is a measurement of insulation’s ability to resist heat that’s trying to escape. The higher the R-value, the better it will perform.

This does not necessarily mean you need to look for high R-value in your insulation. The level of insulation will greatly depend on what part of the country you reside. For instance, if you live in the Arizona desert or the Florida swampland, you’ll want to consider insulation with an R-value of 2. If you’re living in the Rockies or Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, 7 would be more your speed.

If you live in an older home, keep in mind that you may have to deal with traces of asbestos. If you’re concerned about running into asbestos, your best bet is to meet with an insulation contractor for assistance.

Cost of Insulation Installation

You can typically expect to pay about $1.00 to $1.50 a square foot if you’re installing fiberglass insulation in your attic. If you’re going for the blown type, this price could double. It may provide you with a bit of sticker shock at first depending on the size of your attic, but remember: this will pay itself off within 3 to 6 years.

There are a few other potential costs to consider during the installation process. For instance, you may find that you’ll need to improve your attic ventilation. If you have a chimney, you may feel the need to upgrade its air sealing.

While working with a contractor to insulate your home may appear to cost more than doing it yourself, it should be noted that going the professional route may open you up to receiving various rebates or financial incentives as part of an overall energy-saving program. This may go a long way into taking the sting out of the cost – not to mention giving you the peace of mind that comes with knowing the job was done right.

Regardless of whether you do the job yourself or if you hire someone else, the process of installing attic insulation is a terrific project to undertake in the long term. You may pay a little for it now, but you’ll end up spending money later.

What other projects are you getting ready to do around the home? The cost of granite countertops has been coming down but at the same time the selection of cheap laminate countertops that look like granite has been increasing. So what's a better use of your money? Read those two articles as well as this countertop comparison to decide for yourself which would be best for your home.