3 Reasons Your Insulation Isn't Working
Simply having insulation isn't enough—as you may have experienced if your home still manages to roast you, freeze you, and generate high utility bills. If you're insulation isn't pulling its weight, here are three possible reasons why.
1. The Materials Aren't Efficient Enough
All insulating materials are not created equal. If you've been trying to use the wrong type of insulation in a thermally-challenged part of the home such as the attic, then it's little wonder that you're experiencing high energy bills and uncomfortable days. You need to make certain that these areas pack a relatively high R-value (a measure of thermal efficiency). The insulation you buy should list a specific R-value for a given thickness of application.
How much R-value is enough? That depends on the part of the home and the temperature ranges you normally experience. The attic generally requires the highest R-values, which can range from 38 in temperature areas to 49 or higher in cold climates.
The thickest-looking insulation material isn't always the "best" for your needs. Thinner materials, such as polystyrene foam board, can be stacked to multiply their total R-value, and foam insulation can be sprayed to varying degrees of thickness. It's true that laying down thick rolls of fiberglass is the quickest and cheapest way to get a massive boost in R-value, but foam board actually boasts the highest R-value per square inch, and it takes up less space.
2. It's Installed Incorrectly
Even if you have the right type and thickness of insulation for the job, there's always the chance that it wasn't installed with that last degree of thoroughness. While most builder and insulation contractors know that they're doing, your particular project might have suffered from a rare lapse -- especially if a non-professional did the original work.
Spray foam insulation can prove particularly vulnerable to little imperfections in the installation process. Ask an expert to inspect your spray foam insulation for signs that the foam is applied too thinly, too thickly, or in the wrong area for optimal thermal protection. Look for areas where the foam is cracking or separating, a sign that the installer got the chemical mix wrong.
3. It's Damaged
Your insulation may have offered superb thermal protection when it was new, but if you've noticed a substantial drop in performance lately, it may have sustained damage. Insulation may block heat and cold, but that doesn't make it weatherproof. Moisture is a major threat to many types of insulation and unfortunately, the roof over your attic is a great place for water to infiltrate your home.
Different insulating materials react to moisture in different ways, but they generally lose at some of their protective powers. If you have fiberglass insulation, you can rest assured that the effect is temporary as long as you can dry the dampened parts out completely. This may be easier said than done, however, if the insulation is stuffed behind a wall or other barrier, and you may have to do some serious renovation to get through to it. It's worth the effort, though, and not only for your insulation's sake. Wet insulation is a breeding ground for mold than can destroy organic structures and spread toxins throughout your home.
You can prevent such future instances of water damage by having a vapor barrier installed between your insulation and the surrounding walls or roofing. Of course it also makes sense to have your exterior, including your roof, inspected periodically for leaks or cracks.
An insulation specialist can provide a number of possible solutions to your thermal protection dilemma. You may only need an extra layer of spray foam or batting, or you might be in need of more serious renovation work. In any case, you'll be glad you took steps toward creating a more comfortable and energy-efficient place to live.