Did a big utility bill give you a blue Christmas, and now you’re looking for ways to cut energy costs? Solar power is trendy, and spray-cell insulation under floors is all the rage on home-improvement shows. But don’t get ahead of yourself, as the best bang for your buck is overhead – in your attic!
A jaw-dropping 90 percent of American homes are under-insulated — mostly with inadequate attic insulation, or, frighteningly, no attic insulation, according to the Residential Energy Consumption Survey by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Can it really make that big of a difference? You’d better believe it.
Just think about your house in the winter, for instance. Heat rises, right? So the best way to keep your house warm is to prevent all that heat your furnace or heat pump is making from sneaking out through the ceiling.
“The reality is that insulation has a three times greater impact on the average home’s energy and comfort than windows or doors do,” says Curt Rich, the president and CEO of the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association.
How much you could save
Let’s put some hard numbers to it.
Assuming a few averages, you could be saving $236 a year — or, accounting for anticipated increases in fuel costs, $3,760 over 10 years.
All of that’s based on the assumptions that:
- You’re living in the average American home of 2,600 square feet.
- You’re living in central Georgia, which has an average of 2,500 “heating degree days.” (The number is higher for north Georgia, lower for south Georgia.)
- You’ve got a bit of insulation in the attic now — say R-10 — but will add enough to bring you to a toastier R-38.
- Your heating system is electric, and you’re paying Georgia Power’s lowest-tier rate of 5.6 cents per kilowatt-hour (though odds are you’re paying more in the heart of the winter).
Those parameters might be different from your situation, so you should run your own scenario with this handy insulation saving calculator. Now, contrast those savings with Home Advisor’s estimated cost to blow in insulation in Atlanta at $1296, and you can see that you’ll come out ahead financially in just a few years.
You can sleep easier as well as warmer, too. You’ll be reducing your greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 8,500 pounds per year.
What you’ve already got
“I’ve already got attic insulation,” you may be saying. “How do I know if it’s enough?”
There are two ways of checking and neither one it hard (assuming it’s not hard to get into your attic):
- Look in the attic. Do you see rafters, or are they all covered in fluffy clouds of insulation? If you see just the tops of ceiling joists, you’ve got R-21 insulation at best and should consider adding more. If you don’t see joists, you’re probably OK and won’t see significant energy savings to justify blowing in more.
- If you’ve got something besides the fluffy blown-in insulation or just want a more scientific estimate of your R-value, get a tape measure and measure the depth of the material. Then identify the type of insulation and your R-value multiplier on the attic-insulation level chart on the Energy Star website.
If you’re already ahead of the game in the attic, you can explore whether your walls are insulated or whether you’d benefit from insulating under the floor. Those are costlier projects, but they can make a noticeable difference in both how warm your house is in the winter (or cool it is in the summer) and what that monthly utility bill looks like when it comes in the mail.
Insulation projects are best if you’re planning to stay in your home for a few years. But they’re good investments even if you’re eyeing an upgrade or a downsize, as your home’s efficiency can be a selling point for a potential buyer. You might even consider sharing your before and after utility bills to prove your point.
And once you’ve got your attic, walls and floors buttoned down, well, that’s when you can think about playing with solar energy, which keeps dropping in price, to further offset energy use and make your house more efficient.
And with that, Christina and I, and the whole Carter & Associates family wish you a happy, warm, and well-insulated new year.