The Cellulose Insulation Manufacturers Association (CIMA) manages the website cellulose.org as an informational resource for its members, building industry professionals and consumers. Analysis of the visitors to the website, which number in the thousands monthly, reveals some interesting trends. Over the years, the pattern of visitors is very consistent. The late spring and early summer months tend to see a drop off in visitors to the website. But as the heat of August drives up the cost of keeping homes cool, and back-to-school triggers thoughts of the coming colder fall and winter, visitor traffic increases. Activity on the website continues to grow each month until spring when the cycle begins anew.
It’s easy to understand why interest in things related to heating and cooling a home varies relative to the temperature outside. What consumers may not realize though is that the best time to be concerned about their insulation is relevant no matter what the season. Proper insulation can save homeowners money every month of the year by some degree. The potential savings, while clearly greater in the extreme months of August and January, are important year round. In addition, it may be easier, and potentially less expensive, to schedule energy audits and insulation upgrades and installations during the more temperate months. Insulation is the single most important factor in reducing energy costs of a typical home. Cellulose insulation, with its high recycled paper content, is also one of the greenest products a consumer can add to their home. It’s truly the win-win opportunity to save money and help save the planet by reducing carbon emissions.
The majority of consumer activity on the CIMA website is geared toward content associated in one way or another with reducing energy. Cellulose.org features many useful tools from calculating savings to finding insulation contractors to do-it-yourself tips. The Department of Energy(DOE) website is another good online resource for information on insulation. The website has a calculator available that can help consumers determine the amount of insulation needed depending on the zip code where their home is located.
A first step for consumers should be to have an energy audit done on their home. This is an assessment to determine the energy-efficiency of a home. A homeowner can start the process conducting their own self assessment by closely examining their house.
- Do a visual check of the attic access to determine the level and quality of insulation (review the CIMA and DOE websites to learn what to look for first.) Add or replace the insulation if it is not up to par in the attic. This is critical since it’s the single biggest source of energy loss in most homes.
- Check around all areas where air can enter and escape from the home–windows, outlets, door frames, attic access, fireplace dampers, pipes and even dryer vents. If air movement is detected add caulk or weather stripping to seal these areas.
Unfortunately, most of the factors that contribute to poor energy efficiency in a home require more than what can be accomplished by the typical homeowner. Insulation within the walls and crawl spaces cannot be easily examined if at all. Air leaks are hard to detect in tight spaces such as attic eaves, vents and pipe chases. The best option, if budget allows, is to have a comprehensive energy audit done by a professional. This will typically include a review of past energy bills to identify trends, visual inspections and utilizing specialized equipment to test the entire home. Two important features of most professional energy audits are a blower door test and thermal imaging. The blower door uses a fan to draw air out of the front door measuring the air pressure along with testing air drawn into the home at access points mentioned above (see an example from the Extreme Retrofit Winner story.) Thermal imaging uses infrared camera images to demonstrate variations in surface temperatures which indicates heat loss or gain.
Listings for professional energy auditors can be found in local yellow page directories or by searching online. Some state and local agencies as well as many utility companies and energy cooperatives offer free energy audits. An audit will typically include a written analysis along with a list of recommendations for improvement. Taking advantage of any of these services to audit a home can lead to greatly improved energy efficiency and substantially lower utility bills.
The time to have one done, and make improvements to your home, is now.