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By Glenn Haege

Making sure your home is well insulated will save money in the long run

 
By Glenn Haege. (Used by permission) When Gov. Jennifer Granholm called for our state’s energy code to be increased to the standards in Chapter 11 of the International Residential Energy Code, all she was really saying was, “Folks, it’s time for your house to put on its woolies.” She’s right. Demand for basic fuels such as oil and natural gas is going up at the same time supplies are diminishing, so costs are skyrocketing. We have to do everything we can to conserve energy. Increasing the insulation in our homes should be near the top of every homeowner’s “To Do” list. If you are buying a new home, demand the house be built to the governor’s new standards. The new requirements are R-49 in the attic, R-21 in the walls, R-21 under floors and over unconditioned spaces, R-20 in crawl space walls and R-11 on basement walls. I covered attics last week. By the way, R-value is the measure of insulation’s resistance to heat flow. R-21 in the walls is an Optimum Value Engineering (OVE) specification, which might require the builder to change from 2-by-4 to 2-by-6 studs. OVE was developed by Oakridge National Laboratory and the National Association of Home Builders. If your builder isn’t using the new standard, he should be. A great deal of research shows regardless of the amount of insulation the builder puts between the studs, 17 percent of the heat loss is transmitted by the structural members (the studs). As little as a 1/2-inch thickness of rigid foam insulation stops that heat loss. The builder should cover the studs with either 1/2- or 1-inch thick rigid foam sheathing. This is an excellent addition to the energy efficiency of your home. Insulating older homes All insulation compresses and loses some of its R-value after a few years. According to Oakridge National Laboratories, aged rigid foam board insulation has the following approximate R-values: extruded polystyrene 4.8; unfaced polyisocyanurate 5.8; and Ffil-faced polyisocyanurate 7. Products such as DOW Styrofoam are extruded polystyrene. Dow’s Sturdy-R is an unfaced polyisocyanurate; and Dow’s Super TUFF-R is a foil-faced polyisocyanurate. I like using foam board when insulating under floors, over unconditioned spaces, and on crawl space walls and basement walls because the product is easy to install and impervious to moisture. Owners of existing homes will find it more difficult to adopt the new standards, but anything you can do helps. If your home’s walls are uninsulated, either fiberglass or cellulose can be blown in from the outside. Cellulose installers use equipment with a slightly smaller orifice, so the holes are less obvious in bricksided homes. If you have an aluminum or vinyl-sided home and are changing the siding or if you add a room addition, you can have the exterior covered with 1/2- or 1-inch rigid foam and stop the heat loss that’s transmitted through the studs. It is not economically feasible to have the exterior surfaces of basement walls insulated, unless you are having major waterproofing trenching done. However, you can add an R-10 value inside by using 2-inch thick Dow Wallmate or one of the other 2-inch rigid foam boards made for basement insulation. When you add drywall, you get R-11. If you don’t have the time or money to insulate the entire wall, just sealing and insulating the band joists will make a big difference and stop a lot of icy drafts. If you’re refinishing the basement with Owens Corning Basement Finishing System, the rigid fiberglass core of their walls provides R-11 insulation. The under side of the floors erected over vented crawl spaces should be insulated. Rigid foam product is the easiest to install and stands up well to weathering. The best way to determine where your home is losing energy is to get a blower door test. This professionally administered test requires the installation of a special blower door that pulls outside air through all the cracks and crevices in the house. The technician then walks around with a smoke stick or another device to locate the air currents. In southeast Michigan, Robert Carey, Infrared Services of Michigan, (810) 329-9033, combines blower door and infrared scanning to identify thermal leaks and moisture intrusion. Weatherization Specialties, (248) 601-3670, also does blower door testing. Once thermal leaks are sealed and insulation is upgraded, energy savings can be dramatic. In addition to being the owner of Infrared Services, Bob Carey is a homeowner and detail fanatic. He tracked all the money he spent adding insulation, soffit vents and sealing cracks, crevices and doorwalls. His total cost was $1,215. Then, Carey compared heating costs on a year-to-year basis. In the year March 2002 to February 2003, his house used 1,726 CCF (hundred cubic feet) of energy. After the insulation upgrade, from March 2003 to February 2004, the house used 1,320 CCF, a savings of 406 CCF. This translated to a dollar savings of $783. At this rate, he will make his money back in two years. Will you save that much by increasing the insulation and sealing your home? I have no idea. The important thing is to insulate and start saving money and energy now. Neither you, nor our country, can afford to waste energy any longer. If your house is served by DTE or MichCon, you will receive an insert on getting ready for winter in your next bill. It has a coupon that will save you $50 on Dana Energy Insulation, Infrared Services of Michigan, Michigan Energy Services, and/or Michigan H.E.A.T.
 
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