Insulation

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If You Do It Yourself

Should you install insulation yourself? That depends on several factors. If the attic is roomy, you can lay batts on the attic floor, if you don't mind crawling around in attics and have strong knees. You can often insulate basement or crawlspace walls, or floors over unheated areas, using rigid, batt, or blanket insulation. Installing batts requires great attention to detail, like cutting the batts to fit snugly around obstructions. But, if you're careful, you may do a better job than most contractors. Installing loose-fill insulation with blowing equipment is a job best left to the professional installer. The same holds true for sprayed-on insulation.

If you decide to do it yourself, follow the manufacturer's instructions, and take these precautions:

  • Wear clothing adequate to protect against skin contact and irritation. A long-sleeved shirt with collar and cuffs buttoned, long pants, gloves, hat, safety glasses, and dust respirator are advisable in all do-it-yourself insulation projects.
  • Do not cover or pack insulation around bare stovepipes, electrical fixtures, motors, or any heat-producing equipment, such as recessed lighting fixtures (unless they are IC rated). Insulation can trap heat and prevent sufficient air from circulating. Install baffles to prevent insulation from getting within 3 inches of these fixtures.
  • Do not cover attic vents with insulation. Attic ventilation can help to prevent overheating in summer and moisture buildup all year long.

If You Have It Done Professionally

Obtain cost estimates from several contractors for a stated R-value. But remember that you want good quality materials and labor, not just a good price. Ask contractors to describe the procedure they will use, as well as the type of insulation and its R-value.

The installer should provide a signed and dated statement describing the type of insulation; the thickness, coverage area, and R-value; and the number of bags used or pounds installed.

You may want to have your attic R-value evaluated to ensure that you got what you paid for. Cookie-cutting (measuring and weighing a sample section of insulation) is the insulation industry's recognized procedure for evaluating installed loose-fill insulation. Many independent companies offer cookie-cutting services to homeowners. Contact the Insulation Contractors Association of America for a list of these companies.

Many companies offer home energy audits, in which professionals evaluate the energy efficiency of the home, identify the amount of insulation needed, and indicate where retrofits will be most economical. Energy utilities may also offer this service, as well as loans or other incentives to insulate. Some states have energy offices that offer technical advice, tax credits for money spent on home insulation, and financing for retrofits.

Resources

"Insulation Contractors Association of America Directory of Professional Insulation Contractors", 1996, and "A Plan to Stop Fluffing and Cheating of Loose-Fill Insulation in Attics", Insulation Contractors Association of America, 1321 Duke St., No. 303, Alexandria, VA 22314. Tel: (703) 739-0356.

Lowe, Allen. "Insulation Update", "Southface Journal", 1995, no. 3:7-9. Southface Energy Institute, Atlanta, GA.

U.S. Department of Energy, "Insulation Fact Sheet", 1997. Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clearinghouse (EREC). Call EREC with your insulation and other energy questions. Tel: (800) 363-3732.

U.S. Department of Energy. "Loose-Fill Insulations", DOE/GO-10095-060, FS 140. Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clearinghouse (EREC), May 1995.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "ENERGY STAR Insulation Guide", 1997. Call the EPA ENERGY STAR hotline. Tel: (888) STAR-YES.

Excerpted with permission from No-Regrets Remodeling by Home Energy (1997)