When we bought our townhouse, we went through the typical inspection process.  Since it was our first home, we followed him around the house hazy eyed and a little overwhelmed – there was so much to learn and remember!  Being a house built in 1964, there was a pretty decent list of “you might want to think about doing ____” suggestions.

Fast forward 2+ years and we still haven’t following through on many (any?) of those suggestions…  Over that time, I’ve noticed how much warmer the upstairs is in comparison to the downstairs in summer.  I like to leave the thermostat at around 74 or 75 degrees (otherwise I freeze downstairs!), but the upstairs is definitely not that temp.  Our house faces south, so we get a solid 8-10 hours of full sun on the front of the house, and with 3 big front windows upstairs, I thought that was the primary reason why it gets pretty toasty.

But then just this summer I remembered: one of the inspector’s suggestions was adding insulation to our attic!  That’s it!  The attic is the heat culprit!

I did some research and scheduled five insulation installers to come by the house one Friday when I was working from home.  (It was seriously like a revolving door of insulation guys!)  They all sent me follow-up estimates within a few days, and all told me about the same thing: we really needed insulation.

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insulation installers running a tube from their truck into our house

Do you know anything about insulation?  I had NO idea before I went through this process.  Here’s the rundown, taken from the EnergyStar website:

  • Insulation (duh) keeps your house cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
  • Your attic can be leaking warm/cool air without you even knowing it!  People are usually pretty aware of air leaking through windows and doors (and get them replaced, like we did with our back door), but the attic is commonly overlooked.  You want to make sure it’s properly sealed, but still have good air flow.  Here’s an example of common air leaks:

    examples of air leaks from the EnergyStar site

    examples of air leaks from the EnergyStar site

  • See all those red arrows?  Any place where there is a “hole” in your ceiling is a place where air could be leaking!  Holes include lights, fans, bathroom fans, ducts, etc.  These need to be properly sealed in the attic!
  • There are a few different kinds of insulation: fiberglass (batt or blown), cellulose (a paper blend), and spray foam (usually done behind drywall).
  • The easiest place to add insulation for the biggest bang for your buck is your attic.
  • Insulation is measure by R-value.  What the heck is that?!  It’s described as a level of thermal resistance, the temperature resistance across an insulator.  Basically it’s a numerical value describing how well insulated something is: the bigger the number, the better insulated an area is.  EnergyStar recommended levels for an attic range between R25-R60 (depending on where you live).
  • Different parts of the country have different levels of insulation recommendations .  We are in Zone 4, and since we already had a few inches of insulation, an R38 level is recommended to be added.
  • The quickest way to know whether you need insulation in your attic is to look.  Can you see the floor joists peeking out above whatever insulation you have?  If so, you probably need additional insulation!!!

We could clearly see the floor joists in our attic, giving us a nominal 3-4 inches of 1960s insulation.  Additionally, in the places where lights and fans had been installed, the installers had pushed all the insulation aside and neglected to seal and insulate those holes when they finished…  Can you say massive heat/cool escape?!?!

Also, the access panel to our attic was just a piece of painted plywood.  Is yours???  Every single installer said that we needed to have a 10-12-inch piece of insulation batting affixed to the attic side of the panel.  That oversight was a mondo loss of warm/cool air straight into the attic!!!

there's our access panel with batting attached!

there's our access panel with new batting attached!

Our attic was about 600 square feet, and the range of estimates we were provided for R38 blown fiberglass to be installed was $510-700.  (Remember: I’m in the DC metro area where everything seems to cost twice as much as other places, so it may not be as expensive as where you live!)

the insulation tube snaking upstairs

the insulation tube snaking upstairs

But get this – we talked to one of our neighbors about getting insulation installed and they wanted to as well!  So I tossed the option to each of the installers to do a same-day neighbor discount – and each and every estimate gave us both a big break to have insulation blown on the same day.  So not only would we be saving on future heating/cooling bills, but we would get an installation discount as well!!!  In the end, we were able to get our attic insulated for $400.  🙂

the fiberglass is blown from the truck, through the tube, into the attic

the fiberglass is blown from the truck, through the tube, into the attic

Aside from having a cooler upstairs in summer and a warmer upstairs in winter, do you need more reasons to check your attic?  Well, it will save you money on your monthly heating/cooling bill, you will do just a little bit to help save the environment through less waste, AND you get a tax credit on your taxes!

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bringing down our energy bills!

You can take a tax credit for 30% of materials cost (up to $1500) for your 2009 taxes.  Here are a few things you need to know:

  • Make sure whatever you’re getting done brings you to EnergyStar standards for your area
  • Get an itemized invoice showing the cost of materials (so you know how much of a credit to take)
  • Get a copy of the installer’s Manufacturer Certification Statement (a signed statement saying that the materials qualify for the tax credit)
  • The $1500 limit is for ALL energy efficiency-related improvements done in 2009 AND 2010 (i.e., new windows, roofing, HVAC, cars, etc.), so if you do a lot of greenifying, you may not be able to write off everything

So take a look at your attic – you won’t regret it!  Our upstairs is now the same temp as downstairs.  Yay!

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