Insulation is the Icing, but DON’T FORGET THE CAKE

by GBGC Expert: Lee Kurtas – Perfection Fireplace & Supply

As the pleasant spring weather comes to an end and you find yourself permanently closing the windows from the summer heat, many of you will think, “…I think we could use some more insulation.” That’s great! But understand what insulation does and also understand what it doesn’t do. Most importantly, insulation (fiberglass, cellulose, or foam) all provide a thermal resistance (R-value) to the outside conditions. That’s why nobody thinks to re-insulate their homes in October & November or March & April, often referred to as “shoulder months”. The weather is enjoyable and we simply don’t need much help from our insulation in order to be comfortable indoors.

But insulation only helps slow down the effects of extreme heat and cold. What really drives the comfort of the home is air infiltration. To demonstrate my point, even an extremely well insulated home isn’t comfortable in August if you leave the windows and doors open. So, in order for the home to be comfortable you need to have a handle on the air infiltration. To understand where air is leaking into your home you should have an AUDIT done by a qualified professional. Whether they do a visual inspection or use highly technical instruments to pinpoint the air infiltration, it’s essential to get that leakage down to a minimum. Common areas that should be sealed are: exterior doors, recessed lighting, bathroom exhaust fans, electrical and plumbing penetrations, return air and fireplace chases, and the area between floors. Not all areas will be easily accessible and could get quite expensive to access, but the more you can do to seal off unwanted outside air from getting into your home the better you’ll feel and the less energy you’ll need to get there.

The next most important area a trained professional will look during an AUDIT is the A/C system. If your A/C components are leaking air, the same air you just used electricity to dehumidify and cool down, you’re throwing money away – sometimes LOTS of money. If you want to do that you can send it to my home address! Otherwise, you need to make sure the A/C components and ducts are properly sealed. If you see dust collecting on your A/C registers in the ceiling, you most certainly have leaks in your supply ducts. If your supply ducts are leaking your entire A/C system is probably out of balance and should be looked at by a Licensed A/C Technician. That leads to the next major consideration: the overall performance of the A/C system. A couple weeks ago I had to explain to my mom and sister what our A/C Technician discovered at my sister’s house: there was an insufficient amount of return air and the system could not function properly. I used the metaphor, “…it’s like trying to run a marathon with your hand over your mouth!” So, I can imagine my mom and sister running down the street with one hand over their mouth to try and better understand what I was talking about…But, seriously, if your A/C system is not designed and functioning properly you will never achieve the comfort you’re hoping for. In addition, you’ll wear out the components faster and spend more on operation than you should.

Once you’ve determined your A/C system is operating properly and there aren’t many leaks from the A/C ducts or the home itself, then you look at adding additional insulation. Unless your home is fairly new I promise you it’s underinsulated. The Department of Energy recommends ADDING R25 – R38 to an existing attic with 3-4 inches of insulation if you live in the Houston area. I won’t get into what insulation product is superior to another. If you add insulation, it’s a good thing! Pick which one you like best and be sure it’s installed correctly. Now, please, if you get nothing else from this blog, pay close attention to the next sentence. Unless you’re trying to make the attic look “pretty” for a sale you should NOT add insulation without addressing the other items I’ve covered. A sensible person wouldn’t put new tires on their car knowing it needs an alignment. Spend your money wisely and in the correct order. PRIORITIZE 

So, to recap, if you want to evaluate the overall “needs” to get your home to use less energy and be more comfortable, you should consult a professional that can assess the A/C system functionality, the air leakage within that system, the air leakage to the home itself, and LAST you should determine whether you need more “icing/insulation” on your cake. Remember, investing in the comfort and energy efficiency of your home pays dividends every month you live there. It’s a sound investment and we’re coming into the season where you will see immediate results.