Angie's List | Insulation in Your Attic

When Suzanne Rees moved into her forty year old home back in December, she noticed a temperature difference with the top level compared to the basement and main level.

Susan says, "There was a noticeable difference – our previous home was a single story home, and being on a multi-level home, there was a noticeable difference when we walked up the stairs.  When we went up to the bedroom floor, it was easily a five degree difference, and we could really feel it when we were in the bedrooms. So we felt like the attic insulation upstairs may not be adequate."

"Our previous home, we had built, so we knew all the ins and outs of it and what had been done and buying an existing home, you kind of come into it not know what the previous folks have had done," she continued.

Often times we only think of our attic as an extra place for storage but it actually plays a key role in making sure you home is comfortable throughout the year. A properly insulated attic can reduce your energy costs by 10 to 20 percent.

The insulation of your home, along with the sealing of air leaks and drafts, can help you save up to 20 percent on heating and cooling costs each year.

A poorly insulated attic can decrease your home's energy efficiency, leading to increased utility bills. It can also boost humidity, causing mold growth, rot and animal infestations.

Angie Hicks explains, "Insulation can deteriorate over time so it's important for you to check it periodically. A good rule of thumb is if you can see the floor joists, you don't have enough insulation."

Once you have investigated the attic Angie says, "If you would like to add or update insulation in your home you're going to be hiring an insulation contractor. Talk to them about what your house needs. They are going to talk to about the R value that's in your home and what's recommended for your region of the country."

We asked Insulation Contractor Jim Vanslyke to describe the different types of insulation. Jim says,  "There's fiberglass and cellulose. That's basically the two. Fiberglass is white and cellulose is gray, but it's denser so we think cellulose is a little bit tighter, especially on older houses."

He continued to explain, "The R value is the resistance to heating and cooling of loss to where there is cold or heat. R is resistance so the higher the R value the more resistance to heating and or cooling. Hot or cold."

Angie's List, the nation's leading provider of consumer reviews, asked highly rated insulation companies to weigh in.

·         Do I have enough? When you look at your attic, the insulation should appear voluminous and fluffy. The more the insulation settles over time, the more it loses its effectiveness. If the insulation looks flat and deflated, or it doesn't rise over your floor joists, you might need more. For the best assessment, consider having an energy audit in which infrared technology can detect gaps in insulation.

·         What type of insulation? Most homeowners use either loose insulation made from fiberglass or cellulose, spray foam insulation, or rolls, batts and blankets made from mineral fibers such as fiberglass and rock wool. One advantage of spray foam insulation is it can reach the nooks and crannies of your attic where other types of insulation might be difficult to apply.

·         What is R value? Attic insulation is classified into different R values, which measure thermal resistance. The higher the R value, the better the insulation.

·         Check it often: Since insulation can deteriorate, have it checked periodically to make sure it remains efficient.


Angie's List Tips: Hiring an insulation company

  • Hire help: Adding insulation to your attic yourself is dangerous. You may step through the ceiling or fall through it. A reputable contractor also has the knowledge of what type of insulation should be used for your home based on your climate and region.
  • Ask to see the R-value: You can find the R-value printed on bags or on labels attached to bags of insulation – always ask the contractor to see the bags that will be used.
  • Know your options: Regulation requires contractors to provide consumers with a fact sheet including insulation information on the products they sell. 
  • Check certifications: Ask if the contractor certified by the Insulation Contractors Association of America (ICAA). These contractors have access to training regarding proper installation and are familiar with codes and regulations.
  • What is the cost? Most insulation companies charge by a home's square footage.
  • Read the contract: The contract should include the job specification, cost, warranty information, and method of payment. The contract should also spell out the type of insulation, where it will be used and its R-value. Beware of contracts that list the insulation in terms of thickness - the R-value tells how well a material insulates, not the thickness.
  • Tax credits available: Congress reinstated the energy efficiency home improvement tax credits this year, and eligible homeowners can claim up to $500 in tax credits that had expired at the end of 2011. The credit is eligible for homeowners who have added Energy Star-rated home improvement items, including insulation, to their homes last year or plan to do so this year. Those who have not used any energy tax credits in the past would be eligible for the full $500. Homeowners who have used $300 in credits dating back to 2006, for example, would still be eligible for $200. Homeowners are advised to contact their accountant to see what qualifies as energy efficient and whether they are eligible for the credit.
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