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Your Best Bet for Big Savings

Your best bet for big savings

Get paid to insulate!

When it comes to keeping heating and cooling costs in check, insulation is the first line of defense. In the winter, heated air moves from living spaces to attics, garages, and the great outdoors. Heating systems fire up to replace all that lost heat. In the summer, air conditioners kick on as heat moves from the outside in. Insulation in the attic, exterior walls, and floors can help resist this heat flow, making homes more comfortable and slashing energy bills and pollution. Homes built today are usually well insulated, but many older homes–even those built as little as ten years ago–can benefit from added insulation.

Top Tips

At home

  • Start at the top. More heat moves up and out through the roof than through walls or the floor, so tackle the attic first. Fortunately, attics are accessible in most homes. Adding insulation to existing walls, on the other hand, is often difficult and expensive, but you might want to consider it in cold climates, or when you are remodeling.
  • Blanket your tank. Cut hot water energy use by wrapping the water heater with an insulating blanket. They’re inexpensive and readily available at home improvement stores.
  • Pamper your pipes. Insulate hot water pipes and heating and air conditioning ducts wherever they run through spaces that aren’t heated or cooled.
  • Get paid to insulate! Check for state, local, utility, and federal rebates and other incentives for energy efficiency.

When shopping, look for

  • Healthy materials. Choose insulation with no added formaldehyde.
  • Performance. An insulation’s “R-value” tells you its resistance to heat flow. So knowing an insulation’s R-value per inch of thickness allows you to compare the performance of different insulation materials. Check out the supplemental chart for more detail on the more common types of insulation: cellulose, cotton, fiberglass, foam board and spray-in-place foam. When shopping around, you may also come across other kinds of insulation, like sheep’s wool or mineral wool made from rocks.
  • Cost.Product and installation costs vary greatly depending on the design of your home, the amount and type of insulation, and local market factors. Here are some general guidelines:
    • Fiberglass blankets or “batts” are often the standard insulation offered. The cost of formaldehyde-free fiberglass batts and conventional fiberglass bats is roughly equal so be sure to ask for the formaldehyde-free product.
    • Loose-fill insulation typically costs less to install than insulation sold in batts. When correctly installed, loose-fill blocks heat flow better because it does a better job of filling nooks and crannies.
    • Cellulose also may cost less than fiberglass, but installation may be more, in part because there may be fewer contractors in your area who install cellulose.
    • Cotton batts cost 50% more than fiberglass batts, but installation costs are about the same.
  • Sustainability. Choose insulation with high recycled content.

Other considerations

  • What’s the right amount of insulation? It depends on the climate, your home’s design and whether it’s the roof, walls, or floor that needs insulating. The Energy Department provides rough estimates for minimum installation levels in six climate zones, but to get a more precise figure for your location, check with your local building department. Remember that building codes are minimum requirements. Given the climate crisis and rising energy costs, the smart choice often means exceeding code.
  • Radiant barriers aren’t a type of insulation, but when installed in the attic they can reduce cooling costs by 2% to 10%, depending on the climate and the amount of insulation in the attic. Radiant barriers are made of aluminum foil glued to a rigid backing like plywood or oriented strand board (OSB), or to a flexible paper or plastic backing. The radiant barrier is usually attached to the underside of the roof sheathing or the rafters. To work properly, the shiny surface faces down toward the attic. That may sound counterintuitive, but here’s what’s going on: When the sun heats up the roof surface, the roof radiates heat into the attic. Aluminum foil is good at blocking that heat, and you want the shiny side where it won’t get dusty, facing down. If the attic is accessible, installing a radiant barrier is a relatively straightforward retrofit project. Radiant barriers keep the attic cooler in the summer by reflecting heat back through the roof. When the attic stays cooler, the whole house is more comfortable. A radiant barrier is most effective in regions with hot summers. In the winter, a radiant barrier helps a bit with keeping heat from escaping through the roof, but its main purpose is blocking summertime heat gain.


…to your wallet
Adding insulation–especially in the attic–is an excellent investment that can pay for itself within a few years if you have high heating or cooling bills. It will also give you a quieter and more comfortable home. If you plug air leaks and insulate you can expect to lower your heating and cooling costs by 20%, potentially saving you hundreds of dollars per year.

…to the Earth
It’s a win-win. As you lower your utility bills by adding insulation, you reduce your emissions of CO2 and other pollutants from fossil fuels. If you also choose insulation made from recycled materials, you’ll make an even bigger contribution because recycled products require less energy to manufacture and they keep reusable resources out of landfills and incinerators.

Common Mistakes

  • Air leaks. Most insulation can’t stop air leaks through cracks in walls and gaps around windows, pipes, and other penetrations. Before insulating, take the time to seal them.
  • Drips. If insulation becomes wet, it’ll lose much of its effectiveness. Before adding insulation, take care of plumbing leaks and other spots where water might get in.
  • Shoddy installation. Too often, insulation isn’t properly installed, even when a professional contractor does the work. Sometimes blankets of insulation (also called “batts”) are compressed or bunched up. Sometimes loose-fill doesn’t reach all the corners, and gaps are left around pipes and other obstacles. Poor-quality materials can lower the effectiveness by as much as 30%–and that means money and energy down the drain, not to mention uncomfortable spots in your home. Take the time (or make sure your contractor takes the time) to get it right. Make sure the insulation is in contact with the surface it’s meant to insulate and completely fills wall cavities without being bunched up or compressed. Pay particular attention to tops and bottoms of walls, attic corners, and hard-to-reach places like exterior walls around tubs and showers.
  • Dust problems. Fiberglass can be a skin, eye, nose, and throat irritant. When working with fiberglass insulation, avoid direct skin contact and always wear a quality dust mask or respirator to prevent inhalation of the glass fibers. Controversy abounds about the potential health impacts if glass fibers get lodged in one’s lungs. While some health organizations and regulatory agencies consider fiberglass a possible human carcinogen, others do not.
  • Formaldehyde. Conventional fiberglass batts use formaldehyde adhesive to hold the fibers together. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen that can slowly evaporate from the insulation and enter your living spaces. Fiberglass batts with no added formaldehyde are now available at a cost comparable to that of conventional batts. Loose-fill fiberglass and the other insulation materials listed in the supplemental chart are not made with formaldehyde.

Getting Started

  • Many local utility companies offer free or low-cost energy-efficiency evaluations. They usually also have publications with tips on how to do your own energy audit and home performance improvements.
  • If the insulation in your home is spotty or nonexistent, you may be able to solve the problem yourself in certain areas, such as an accessible attic. For DIYers, the U.S. Department of Energy has good information that will help you evaluate current levels of insulation and figure out how much more to add. You can pick up formaldehyde-free fiberglass batt insulation at most home improvement stores. If you want to buy cotton batts or loose-fill cellulose (or rent cellulose blower equipment), call around to check local availability. If you plan to install loose-fill cellulose yourself, check with the manufacturer for safety and installation instructions, and check your local building and fire codes.  Look at our supplemental table to learn more about each type of insulation.
  • You may want to consider hiring a home performance contractor. The pros can be especially helpful evaluating walls, crawl spaces, and other hard-to-reach areas. Here are some tips for the hiring process, and beyond:
    • It’s standard practice to get several written quotes. Make sure the quotes include the installed R-value, so you can fairly compare them.
    • Ask about air sealing services and costs.
    • Ask about green options.
    • Ask how quality will be ensured, especially for areas that are out of sight, like inside walls (some contractors check quality by using an infrared camera that shows where materials are missing). Shoddily installed materials can reduce the product’s effectiveness by as much as 30%, which means you won’t get the comfort or energy savings that you’ve paid for.
    • When the work is complete, check the results before you pay the final bill. If you hired a company to thicken the attic insulation, for example, go up into the attic to see if the workers did a quality job.
  • Read our article “How to hire a contractor” before making any hiring decisions.

23 Responses to “Your Best Bet for Big Savings”

  1. Michael Says:

    this is great info especially now that the weather started to change.

  2. #1builder Says:

    Insulation is sooooo important in keeping your heating and cooling bills down. This article gives some great information. Thanks

  3. Cayden Says:

    Thanks for the tips. I live in a very hot hot hot place, and my bills are insane in the summer. I’ll look into some better insulation soon.

  4. Owen Moran Says:

    Tis the season to check your insulation. And maybe get an energy audit. I read about that on this site and think that’s a great idea.

  5. telecomworx Says:

    Branded Logic – UltraTouch interior insulation (thermal & sound)

    Why? The insulation serves two purposes, making our office energy efficient for cooling or heating, and quieting down the office with the sound absorbing properties of the UltraTouch. The denim fiber is very dense and absorbs sound, especially from our equipment and workrooms. The recycled denim fiber is easy to handle and no itch.

  6. Perth Insulation Says:

    What your saying is correct really ceiling insulation is the most efficient way to reduce the loss/build up of hot/cold in your home. By insulating your roof you can reduce/retain heat loads by up to 12 degrees in winter summer. This protection against heat will also allow any air conditioning equipment you have in your home to operate more effectively and will mean less energy costs to efficiently keep your home comfortable.

    The government is offering insulation rebates at the moment so if not already done, it may be worth taking them up on the offer. Just be sure to choose the right R value for your climate zone.

    See Perth Insulation for help with choosing the r value suited to your home.

  7. Barry Says:

    For more information on various eco-friendly insulation materials, check out this page on eco friendly insulation

  8. Paul Says:

    Has anyone heard of Radiant Shield ? RADIANT BARRIER: RADIANT SHIELD is a material that is made of 2 sided aluminum foil that is installed in homes and buildings to reduce summer heat gain and winter heat loss, and hence to reduce building heating and cooling energy usage. The potential benefit of attic Radiant Shield Protector is primarily in reducing air-conditioning cooling loads and furnace runs. Therefore Increasing the life of two expensive products, plus a substantial monthly saving from 21% to 43% in the energy bills.

  9. Rachel Says:

    Another option is to build with energy-efficient SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels). SIPs have a layer of insulation built-in, plus they deflect heat to help regulate temperature in warmer months.

    Alternative building materials contribute greatly to the green building movement!

    House Port’s sustainably built, prefab PopUP House is constructed with SIPs – you can take a look at

  10. Carlos Miranda Says:

    Information of Eco-Friendly products go to:

  11. Drew Says:

    You mention that cellulose is more expensive to install, but keep in mind that it would save people a great deal of money over time. Back when Habitat for Humanity did a five-month comparison of two identical homes they built (one with spray foam insulation, one with fiberglass), the home with blown-in foam paid $500 less in electric bills. So you make your money back over time.

  12. How green is your home insulation? - Your Guide to Life Insurance - Cheap Life Insurance Says:

    [...] sources worth checking include The New York Times’ Home Green Home blog and the Sierra Club. Think you know your batts from your blown-in insulation? Take National Geographic’s Green [...]

  13. Ian Schoble Says:

    Is it bad so sleep on insulation?

  14. stephen Says:

    Cellulose is horribly dusty. Anyone thinking of installing it should look at other options. We made the mistake of getting blown in cellulose a few years and we are now having to go to expense of getting it removed and replaced.

    The other options aren’t very exciting either and will probably degrade your home environment, especially if you HVAC system return runs through your attic. Fiberglass is less dusty but still not perfect. Polyurethane off gasses toxins. The only option I haven’t investigated is Ultratouch (recycled blue jeans).

  15. The Market for Energy Efficiency in Selling a Home | Ecogayle's Blog Says:

    air quality in a home, adds yet another marketable eco-friendly feature.  This article from the Sierra Club has some great tips on insulation.  If you’re thinking of replacing older appliances to add value

  16. Scott O'Hara Says:

    Standard cellulose insulation can be dusty but this can be solved. We install stabilized cellulose insulation which incorporates a small amount of water into the installation which prevents the nasty dust while still taking advantage of all the positive aspects of cellulose.

    Whichever insulation you chose it’s extremely important to air seal the barrier between the attic and home. This keeps the attic air from infiltrating the house while maximizing the efficiency of the insulation by limiting the air movement through the insulation.

  17. Karl Says:

    Great tips about home insulation. Your blog was really helpful thank you!

  18. OJ Insulation Says:

    Good point about sealing air leaks before insulating. Air leaks actually undermine the performance of insulation.

  19. Steve Davis Says:

    Insulating your home is a great, environmentally friendly way to save on your energy bills. I recently got some cavity insulation for my house and it is great. It is definitely something that I would recommend to others as it saves a lot of money on energy bills and the company that I used was fantastic they were really quick and definitely a business that I would recommend.

  20. Hanna Ann Says:

    As a insulation provider, I think this article is very informative & attractive. Thanks for good sharing.

  21. Elizabeth Says:

    I was considering the recycled denim batts, but this article changed my mind:

    Apparently, it can be very hard to fit into nonstandard size areas, and it seems to attract a lot of dust. I was very disappointed, because it would have been so environmentally friendly. I hope the manufacturers find a way to cover it to protect it from dust.

    I also read that cellulose products that include paper attract termites. I’m sorry I can’t locate the article now, but thought I should share the information.

    I’m still confused about what would be most earth-friendly, effective, and affordable. But the comments here are helpful. Thanks much to all!

  22. Alanna Says:

    It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button! I’d most certainly donate to this superb blog!

    I guess for now i’ll settle for bookmarking
    and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to brand new updates and will share this blog with my Facebook group.

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  23. me Says:

    good article from Sierra club

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