Meteorologists are predicting a bitterly cold and unusually snowy winter, which means homeowners are going to be firing up their heaters and fireplaces to shield themselves from the elements. However, some homeowners may still have issues with maintaining their home’s temperature no matter how high they turn up the heat.

If that’s the issue, then old or improperly installed insulation may be to blame. Here’s what your clients need to know about insulation and how to maintain it.

How do I know I need new insulation?

Other than rising energy costs, home improvement blog REenergize said there are a handful of telltale signs that you need new insulation:

  • You or your family is suddenly struggling with allergies. Certain kinds of insulation are breeding grounds for mold, dust, bacteria and other allergens.
  • You notice water spots and condensation on your walls or windows, and you struggle with frequent leaking, especially after it rains or snows.
  • You begin having issues with pests and rodents.
  • You visually notice the insulation in your attic or other areas with unfinished walls is cracking, peeling or falling down.

What are the most common types of insulation?

The most common type of insulation is fiberglass, thanks to its affordability and easy installment. According to HomeAdvisor, the price for fiberglass insulation fluctuates between $0.64 and $1.19 per square foot, with thicker batts costing more. With an average labor cost of $150 to $300, homeowners can have their fiberglass batts replaced for no more than $500.

Homeowners can attempt to replace the batts on their own as long as it’s an open wall (e.g. attic spaces), but most experts urge homeowners to call in a professional as touching or inhaling the fibers pose a health risk.

“This kind of insulation is non-flammable and highly resistant to moisture damage, which adds to its appeal for many homeowners,” an Angie’s List guide read. “Although it has many perks, fiberglass insulation is made from fibers that can irritate your lungs and skin, so it’s important for homeowners to stay away from the home during installation.”

After fiberglass, spray foam is the second most common option for homeowners who need to beef up the insulation in finished walls. Contractors spray liquid polyurethane into the wall, where it will expand and harden into a solid foam.

There are two foam options, with half-pound open-cell foam costing $0.35 to $0.55 per board foot (12 by 12 by 1 inches) and two-pound closed-cell foam costing $1.00 to $2.00 per board foot. HomeAdvisor suggests homeowners choose two-pound closed-cell foam as it’s thicker and yields greater energy savings ($500 per year).

I’d like something that’s environmentally friendly. What do I have to choose from?

For homeowners who are concerned about using environmentally friendly materials, there is one option to choose from: blow-in cellulose insulation. It’s crafted from recycled paper treated with borates to ward off pests and moisture, and like spray foam, it’s a great option for homeowners who need to beef up the insulation in finished walls.

Blown-in cellulose insulation costs $1.00 to $1.50 per square foot, and homeowners can expect to pay between $40 to $70 per hour for labor, meaning homeowners should expect to spend at least $1,000 between materials and labor.

Although it’s more environmentally friendly, blown-in cellulose insulation is more susceptible to moisture damage and air pockets, which weakens the level of insulation in different points of the house.

“While settling is one of blown-in cellulose insulation’s advantages, this can also be a problem, mostly with walls,” a Spruce article mentioned. “Over time, the insulation can pack down and form pockets above the settled areas, [and] these pockets become thermal bridges, which transmit heat or cold into the house.”

“Settling in attics is less problematic for two reasons. First, attic spaces can be overfilled to account for settling,” it added. “Second, when cellulose insulation in attics settles, no empty spaces are formed.”

How do I decide which option is best for my home?

There are a few things to consider when choosing an insulation option, including your budget, whether your project deals with unfinished or finished walls, and the R-value required for your home.

R-values measure the thermal resistance needed to properly insulate a home and the U.S. Department of Energy has required R-values for homes based on climate and HVAC system type. The proper R-values also fluctuate based on the type of project with attics, floors and walls needing different insulation thicknesses and thermal resistance properties.

Homeowners should also consider the maintenance schedule, with spray foam insulation lasting decades due to its moisture and mold resistance. Fiberglass is also quite durable, with most options lasting up to 20 years before needing to be replaced. Blown-in cellulose is the least durable, with professionals suggesting homeowners replace it every five years.

Email Marian McPherson

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