Energy advisor: More attic insulation can pile on savings

Looking to make your home more comfortable and efficient? The best place to start might be to comment right above you.

“Adding insulation to the attic and sealing air leaks around lighting fixtures is one of the most effective and affordable ways to reduce heating and cooling costs and improve personal comfort in an old home,” said Dwayne Dunham, Clark Utilities Energy Services Supervisor.

A well-insulated attic will help your home stay at a comfortable temperature for a longer time. In turn, your heating or cooling system will use less energy to keep your home at your preferred temperature. Adding insulation has a lower investment cost than many other home improvement projects. In addition, additional insulation begins to pay off immediately in the form of reduced energy expenditure.

To find out if the attic needs insulation, just grab a flashlight and a ruler and find the entrance to the attic. If you can see the tops of ceiling beams through the insulation or measure six inches or less on average, adding more is a good idea. Unable to go up there or just need a second opinion? The weather contractor should be happy to help.

As a rule, homes built before the 1990s are often prime candidates for additional insulation. Homes over 30 years old are built with much less emphasis on energy efficiency than their modern counterparts.

Adding insulation is definitely a handy project from a confident DIYer, but doing the job well isn’t as simple as it seems.

“To get the most out of the insulation job, you need to prepare your site well and pay close attention to detail,” Dunham said. “There are also safety concerns that need to be addressed when adding insulation.”

Using the right type of expanding foam to seal air leaks around lighting and plumbing fixtures and to seal any existing duct work will make a huge difference to the effectiveness of your attic insulation. It is also critical that exhaust fans have a tight seal and proper ventilation outside the home. Finally, the attic itself must have adequate ventilation to allow air to pass through the space.

Proper ventilation is important, but attic fans aren’t usually necessary—despite persuasive marketing materials. An attic fan uses power and is just another thing that can break. If there is an air leak in the ceiling below, the fan can draw conditioned air from the house below and blow it outside, reducing the home’s energy efficiency and indoor air quality.

A practical homeowner may be tempted to save money by doing the work themselves, but it’s worth comparing the cost of materials against a few contractor offerings. Contractors do not pay retail prices for materials and usually pass on the savings to their clients. In addition, they do not throw some insulation there and call it daily. They will look for air leaks and look for other issues that most people don’t know to take into account. Then they will work with the homeowner to build a plan. Even if the DIY route is cheaper, the value of the contractor’s work will probably be worth the extra cost.

“Good work will make this new insulation more efficient and will translate into greater energy savings and a shorter return on investment,” Dunham said.

While good attic insulation is beneficial, it’s also worth investing in additional floor and wall insulation if needed.

Clark Public Utilities offers financial incentives for electrically heated homes that can make home insulation projects more expensive. Certain conditions apply. Call an energy advisor of the day at 992-3355 during business hours, or visit for more information.

Energy Advisor was written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to [email protected] or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, PO Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98688.

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