Energy Loss in Homes and the Benefits of Insulation [infographic]: How to Insulate a Home & Buying Guide to Home Insulation

Energy loss in homes and insulation infographic

For more on this topic check out this infographic: How Energy Gets Used and Wasted in the Home»

Updated: October 11, 2019

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How your house consumes energy and money

The average U.S. family spends $1,900 a year on home utility bills, and the largest portion of this cost is from heating and cooling your home. Heating and cooling your home throughout the year accounts for approximately 54 percent of your overall utility cost.

This is the cost breakdown that’s seen most commonly in the average home:

Space heating – 45%
Space cooling – 9%
Computers and electronics – 6%
Lighting – 6%
Other – 5%
Cooking – 4%
Refrigeration – 4%
Wet cleaning – 3%
Water heating – 18%

Mapping out heat loss

It isn’t hard to see what and where the bulk of your utility bills are likely disappearing, but why? 

Throughout your home, there may be leaks, cracks, broken seals and other damage that you may not have immediately noticed. Air escapes your house through these spaces, and you essentially end up spending money to push conditioned or heated air right outside where it immediately disperses. 

If you think this is happening in your home, there are things you can do to fix it, so don’t worry. 

The worst places for air leaking or subpar insulation to be are:

Roof/attic – 25%
Windows and doors – 25%
Walls – 35%
Floor – 15%

If you inspect these areas and find that you are dealing with some leaking areas, there’s plenty that you can do yourself to fix the problem, or if you’re more comfortable with it, hiring a professional to handle the problems instead.

Ways your house is losing heat

Poorly insulated attics – heat escapes from the top.

Especially if you live in a colder climate, keeping your house warm during the colder winter months can be difficult and expensive. If you aren’t a fan of wearing thick, bulky sweaters around your home, you should check the insulation of your attic as a start. 

If you can afford an energy auditor to evaluate your present insulation problems as well as any sealable air leaks, great! But it isn’t necessary, as we plan to cover things you can do yourself to make sure that your insulation is doing its job, and that you can replace it if needed with quality materials.

When it comes to insulating an attic, you can choose either a loose fill option or what’s called batt. Batt is the common term for blanket insulation. Both of these insulation types can be added to uninsulated attics or layered over existing materials for extra insulation. 

Loose Fill: Insulation fill is packed into bags and blown into place to the desired depth and density. This is done with the use of a special machine that you can rent cheaply from a home improvement center or store. You can, alternatively, pour the fill and spread it manually, but this is a much more labor-intensive process that will typically have less favorable results. 

Loose fill insulation works best for attics that have irregular or nonstandard joist spacing, attics with a lot of obstructions or penetrations to work around, and attics where there is existing insulation that needs to be supplemented. It is also great for low-clearance attics and DIYers that want to get the job finished quickly and are comfortable with power equipment.

Loose fill material options include fiberglass, cellulose, and mineral wool. 

  • Fiberglass is made of recycled glass or melted sand that is spun into fibers. It’s lighter in weight than cellulose and mineral wool, but also settles more and as a result, needs to be applied more thickly. 
  • Cellulose is made of fibers formed from recycled paper that has been treated for fire and insect resistance. This is the most commonly-used loose fill used, but be aware that it can rot or grow mold if it is exposed to excessive moisture. 
  • Mineral wool is made of fibers that are made from rock or recycled slag. It is the most expensive form of loose filling but offers natural fire resistance and tends to be exceptional for soundproofing.

Batt: Batt is a flexible insulation that is packaged and sold in rolls of various thicknesses. They may or may not come with a paper or foil facing that acts as a vapor barrier. 

Batt insulation works best for attics that have standard joist spacing, those with few obstructions to work around, and those with a sufficient amount of headspace for maneuvering during installation. DIYers who prefer not to use power tools to insulate their attic will prefer this method, as long as they don’t mind the possibility of having to cut the batt to fit around any possible obstructions.

The materials are the same as with the loose fill insulation, with fiberglass being the least expensive, but additionally, you have the option of cotton batt. The cotton is the most expensive option, made from fibers of recycled denim, but it blocks airflow and sound transmission the most effectively of all other options.

The first thing you’ll want to do to prepare your attic for new insulation is to seal any present gaps in the attic. Check around attic windows and around pipes, wires, ducts, and exhaust fans. If your home has a chimney or flues, make sure the spaces around them are properly sealed as well. 

Fix any leaks in your roof, and measure your attic so that you know how much fill or batt to buy to properly insulate the entire attic. Make sure that you have proper protective equipment, like a dust mask and gloves. 

Be sure that the attic is well-ventilated, and that the exhaust fans and vents are all directed to the exterior.  If you need to install a vapor barrier, install that first and then you’re ready to install your insulation material!

If you need to install the vapor barrier separately of the batt or before putting in a loose fill insulation, just roll the barrier sheet out in the spaces you need to insulate. Press it firmly into any corners or edges, then staple it into place with a staple gun. 

Wrong-sized heating systems – Depending on your house’s square footage, your furnace could be producing more heat than you need.

To determine the size of the HVAC or heating system that your house needs, you’ll need to first determine the square footage of the floor space. If you have the deed to the house and any other relevant paperwork from the previous owner or the bank, it may be in there. If not, you’ll have to measure it yourself for each room and hallway. Multiply the length by the width of each room, and then add those results together to get the overall floor space of your home. 

With the square footage in hand, you can determine how many BTUs you need to properly heat or cool your home. The approximate amount of energy used to cool a square foot of space is 25 BTUs, so you’ll multiply the square footage by 25. 

Additionally, if you have high ceilings in your home, you’ll multiply the BTU by 25 percent. This will make sure that you have enough heat or air coming from the appropriate unit. Alternatively, you could hire a professional to come to your home and do all of the calculations for you, and typically they’ll also take into account how many people live in the home, the insulation of the walls, and even window placement. That is the most precise measurement you could hope to get, and will optimize the use of your heating or cooling system. 

If after all of these calculations you find that your heater is pumping out way more heat than your house needs, you should replace your system with something more size-appropriate. This way you aren’t wasting energy and money when the larger system cuts on and off trying to regulate temperatures within your home. Have a professional install any heavy systems like this, as they can make sure everything is sealed properly and functioning as intended for you.

Holes in exterior walls – gaps where windows, doors or walls weren’t joined together let heat seep out.

If you find that your windows or the siding of your house are leaking air flow, you may need to take measures to make sure the exterior of your home is properly sealed. 

Air can leak out through walls and slats of your home, through frames of doors and windows, and through additional sections like any additions to the house or even where the roof meets the body of your home. 

A silicone sealant is a great option for external problems in your home. Select a paintable sealant. If you invest in a new caulking gun, make sure that it’s a dripless model, like the Dripless, Inc. ETS Series

Your most common leaks may be found around windows and door frames. If the sealant in these places is cracked, peeling, or otherwise damaged or deteriorated, scrap it away and reseal these areas with fresh silicone sealant like Gorilla’s Silicone Sealant Caulk. It’s fantastic for sealing gaps or cracks on a variety of surfaces, and is 100 percent waterproof, which is important for sealing from outside of the home. 

Make sure that the weather is nice when you caulk any frames or other cracks from outside. The temperature should be at least 45 degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity should be as low as reasonably possible. Understand that the caulk may take 24 hours or more to dry, so be as certain as possible that the weather will be nice for at least a day or two after application. 

Applying the Caulk

  • Begin at a safe, accessible starting point. If you can’t reach it from where you stand on the ground, it is not a good place to start from. You can use a ladder for higher projects, but get sections you can easily access completed first.
  • Remove any old caulk. Sealing a crack in already-cracked caulk is not going to be a long-term solution to any air leaks, as the underlying caulk may continue to crack beneath the newer seal. The newer seal also won’t be able to seal properly to the surface if older caulk is in the way. 
  • Repair or replace any damaged or rotten wood or vinyl. Wipe the area clean of any dirt, debris, or paint by using a wet rag or sponge. Make sure the area is dry before applying the caulk.
  • With your caulk applicator, press the tip firmly against one corner of the frame and apply caulk all the way to the next with a steady amount of pressure. Move slowly and make sure that the bead completely fills any gaps. 
  • Use a putty knife, a gloved finger, or other tool to smooth the sealant and remove any excess caulk. Let the caulk dry for at least 24 hours. 

Leaky ducts – leaky ducts mean heat that is intended to keep you toasty in your living room escapes into walls instead, never making it in not the rooms you need to heat.

If your house uses a forced-air system, ducts are used to transport the air throughout the house. If they’re leaking and the air is lost inside of the walls rather than making it into the room it’s designated for, then you’re wasting money and energy trying to heat or cool your home. 

Identifying a leak or problem in your ducts can be difficult, however, since more often than not they’re concealed in walls, ceilings, attics, and basements. 

If you’re comfortable with intensive and messy DIY projects, you can find accessible places to access any leaks or damage in your duct system. It will be intensive and messy, but if you’re confident you can handle the repair, go for it! If you’re unsure, or if you’re sure you shouldn’t be trying to fix something inside the walls of your home, contact a professional. It will cost some money, but you’ll save more than you spend over a period of time. 

How insulation can help

Proper insulation lets you save more and makes better use of the energy and heat in your house

– As much as 20 percent of your energy bill can be saved by good roof insulation

Insulation reduces the costs of heating and cooling by over 40 percent

– Wall insulation can reduce this loss by 2/3 and make your home more comfortable

– You can lose as much as 10 percent of heat through uninsulated floors

– Insulation pays for itself in around five to six years

If you experience the average additional cost of warming or cooling your home without good insulation, which annually costs homeowners an average of about $1,900, you may be wondering what kind of investment you’ll have to make to even break even on costs. 

The truth is, installing insulation, investing in blackout curtains and things like that isn’t actually all that expensive. According to customers who used services and reported to HomeAdvisor, the average cost for insulating a home’s walls and attic were approximately $1,433 on average, with a high-end average cost of $2,016 and a low average of $926. 

With averages in that range, your insulation investment in insulation alone would pay itself off in less than three years. Adding the additional measures, such as insulating your basement or crawl space or changing your HVAC or heating system, will only increase the money you save on your monthly and yearly energy costs, and will continuously save you money for years to come.

Tips to better insulate your home

Roof/attic

– loose-fill or batt insulation is typically installed in an attic

– Install attic air barriers such as wind baffles along the entire attic eave to help ensure proper airflow from the soffit to the
attic

– If the thickness of your attic insulation is less than R-30 (11 inches of fiberglass or rock wool or 8 inches of cellulose), adding more could help you

– Seal and insulated ducts in unconditioned space

– If you’re building a new house, place ducts in the conditioned space to avoid the energy losses

– Do not insulate underwater tanks that may freeze

– Ensure all pipe work and the attic hatch are insulated

Depending on whether you want a loose fill insulation that you can apply manually or with an applicator, as well as what budget you have for materials, you have a lot of options for fill insulation. 

If you’re comfortable with the applicator, one of the best all-inclusive kits for loose fill insulation is the Touch n’ Seal Foam Kit. It comes with a portable applicator that is disposable, color-coded and has pre-connected hoses. It also comes with a starter amount of insulation. It’s compatible with all kinds of fiber insulation types, including cellulose, fiberglass, and mineral wool. 

If you want a manual loose filling insulator, look no further than Insulmax’s Shake and Rake Insulation. It’s perfect for insulating small attics or floor spaces and is easy to install. Simply shake the insulation out of the bag and fluff it with a rake or similar tool! This is a quick and easy method to insulate your attic, particularly the floor of your attic.

If you don’t want a loose fill type of insulation at all and would prefer to just roll out a batt, you should try the ATS Acoustical Cotton Batt from Cotton Conversions. Not only are they great for soundproofing a studio, they make fantastic insulation for your attic. This batt is a little on the expensive side as it’s made of cotton, but it’s one of the highest-rated batts and is guaranteed to insulate your attic and walls wonderfully. 

Windows and doors

– To reduce air leakage, caulk and weather-strip around windows

– Window treatments and coverings also help save energy

– Insulated blinds are effective at reducing heat in the summer and keeping in heat during winter

– The use of high-reflectivity films work to block summer heat gain

– Storm panels reduce winter heat loss by as much as 50 percent

If you’ve caulked your window and door frames as mentioned earlier, you can take your sealing efforts a step further and apply weather-stripping to the frames as well. This will ensure that there is no chance of air leaking out through openings or gaps between your windows and doors and their respective frames. 

The best weather-stripping option for doors and windows is the CloudBuyer Self-Adhesive Foam Seal Strip. This stripping is great for sealing all kinds of windows and doors from air leaks, as well as offering a small amount of padding to prevent damage. 

Weather-stripping prevents air from flowing out through gaps and also prevents dust, insects, and wind from creeping into your home. It’s both waterproof and windproof with excellent durability, so even if you think you’ve sealed everything adequately with caulk, it won’t hurt to take the extra step just to be sure. 

The weather-stripping is easy to install, just peel and attach to the door, window, or frame and press firmly.

Best insulating window coverings

– To lower A/C bill and block heat, the best products for insulation are cellular shades and shutters

– They create an airspace “barrier” between the window and the room

Cellular shades

– “Cells” are visible side pockets on a honeycomb shade.
– The more cells there are, the more energy efficient the shade is
– Cells traps air in the pockets which helps prevent extreme temperature changes in your home

Since windows are typically made of some type of glass, they tend to let a lot of heat escape. Glass, on its own, is simply not good for insulation by nature. Blackout curtains help to keep heat or cool air within your home without the need to completely give up on the idea of being as energy efficient as possible. As a bonus, blackout curtains aren’t very expensive, so the investment is almost immediately worth it.

If you want some insulated blackout curtains, the best kind comes from Blindster with their Premium Blackout Double Cellular Shades. Blindster will custom-tailor your blinds to fit any window in your home that you want covered. Along with reducing heat in summer and withholding it in winter, these curtains are attractive, coming in a variety of colors to coordinate with any room’s decor. They also conform to CPSC child safety guidelines. 

There is no extra installation requirement for these curtains – they can be installed and hung the same as regular curtains. So there’s no extra work, just all the benefit! 

Shutters

– Very good insulators because they are the thickest, tightest fitting window coverings
– Reduces energy cost by successfully preventing the transmission of air between the window covering and the glass of the windows

If you like the idea of using a window covering to improve insulation in your home, but don’t like the aesthetic of insulated blackout curtains, there are other options. One of the best options happens to be Skandia’s beautifully crafted plantation shutters. You can choose from vinyl or wood, with vinyl being the more energy-efficient option of the two, and can customize everything from frame shape to color. 

Walls

– Check your house’s wall type – the kind of wall insulation you need will depend on this

– If there are cavity walls they can usually be safety filled with insulating fiber, beads or foam

– Internal insulation is highly effective for solid walls

– Consider using loose-fill or sprayed foam insulation for exterior walls

– If you’re building a new house, consider structural insulated panels, insulating concrete forms and insulated concrete blocks

Many homeowners may not be aware, but there is insulation in the walls of your home. If there is poor or, worse, no insulation between the walls of your home, you’re losing a lot of money during each billed energy cycle regardless of what season it is. For a particularly poorly-insulated home, you may be losing up to $2,000 a year in energy bills just trying to maintain a comfortable temperature. That’s a lot of money that would be better invested in outfitting your home with proper insulation and saving money over an indefinite period. 

There are different kinds of insulation you can use, and some can be easily installed on your own while others may require a professional touch. 

Rigid Insulation: Rigid boards or panels are the most common insulation used to insulate your home from within. They can be made of many materials, including mineral wool, fiberglass, plastic foam, or even rock. Along with the benefits of insulating your house better, this type of insulation is lightweight but strong, and can add to the structural integrity of your wall. 

Foam Insulation: Foam insulation is applied with specialized equipment, and comes in spray or sealant form. It is usually best to consult a professional if you intend to use this kind of insulation in your walls. 

Blow-In Insulation: Another popular, common option is using blow-in insulation. This is also commonly used for attic spaces, so you can insulate your walls and attic with the same method. This is a great way to get high thermal performance at a low cost, and can be handled as a DIY project or by a professional if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself. 

Foil Insulation: Using foil to insulate your home is a growing trend that you should look into. It utilizes aluminum foil sheets, which are great for insulation as they prevent heat from radiating. In fact, the heat is reflected back into its source – meaning your home will hold in much more heat during the winter months. 

Stone Wool Insulation: Stone wool is porous, and is well-suited for trapping air that tries to pass between walls, which prevents transfer and leakage. It’s also great for insulating noise and is not combustible. It’s best to have this installed in your walls by a professional. 

If you’re unsure of what type of insulation is best for your walls, don’t be afraid to consult with a professional. They will explain what materials and application methods are best for your home, and you can decide whether it’s a job you can handle on your own or if you would prefer to retain the professional to handle it for you. 

Floors, basement and crawlspace

– Try using insulating blankets under suspended floors
– Laying boards over concrete floors could also help
– When insulating floors above unconditioned garages, first seal all possible sources of air leakage
– Basement wall insulation is more preferable to ceiling insulation
– Interior wall insulation is a practical solution to fixing basement heat problems
– For unventilated crawlspaces, seal and insulate foundation walls
– In most parts of the U.S., insulating the exterior edge of a slab can reduce heating bills by 10 to 20%.

Insulating your basement may save you anywhere from 10 to 20 percent on average yearly energy costs, which is a sizable chunk of a potentially-outrageous energy bill. 

To insulate your basement or crawl space, follow these tips:

  • Start by removing anything you have stored in the basement or crawl space. If your basement or crawl space has a dirt floor, make sure it’s evened out and level. 
  • Cover the entire floor space with a thick plastic sheeting. Husky Black 6mil Plastic Sheeting is a great option for this and is available in different lengths and widths. Overlap the sheets by at least a half-foot, but optimally a whole foot, and tape the sheets together to make sure it doesn’t shift. You can lay batt insulation over this, or a foam-backed flooring of your choice. 
  • Install fiberglass insulation batts between floor joists in your basement or crawl space. Make sure that the paper vapor barrier faces up, toward the heated living space, and that it fits tightly in the joists. Use insulation support wires or staple chicken wire to keep the insulation in place. 
  • Make sure your foundation is enclosed properly. If it isn’t, fill the spaces with bricks, concrete blocks, or lattice panels. Pouring concrete and laying a brick wall between the exterior piers is an incredibly effective method of insulating any space. 

You can insulate the walls of your basement or crawl space, once they’ve been checked for cracks and sealed where necessary, with the same batt or loose fill insulation as your attic or walls. 

The best insulation for a basement or crawl space is one that is resistant to mold or mildew, like the SMARTBATT insulation. It has an integrated smart vapor barrier that helps to block moisture from entering the wall cavity. If humidity within the cavity is already high, the insulation can sense it and becomes breathable, allowing the humidity to escape. 

Clueless about energy conservation?

Many Americans don’t know the first thing about how to save energy.

– “Insulate my home,” the most effective way to save energy was listed last as an energy efficiency action by Americans.

Categorized responses to an open-ended question about the single most effective thing that could be done to conserve energy:

Turn off lights – 19.6%
Conserve electricity – 15%
Drive less/bike/use public
transportation – 12.9%
Change the setting on the
thermostat – 6.3%
Change my lifestyle – 5.9%
Unplug appliances – 5.7%
Shut off appliances/use appliances
less – 4.9%
Recycle – 4.2%
Other (for behaviours only
mentioned once) – 4%
Education/think about my actions – 3.8%
Use efficient light bulbs – 3.6%
Use efficient appliances – 3.2%
Use efficient cars/hybrids – 2.8%
Sleep more/relax more – 2.8%
Buy green energy/solar
energy/alternative energy – 2.6%
Insulate my home – 2.1%
There is no way/I don’t know – 0.8%

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