Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Aged insulation can make home warm, energy bills high

Insulation can settle as it ages, leaving gaps in the protection it provides against summer's sweltering heat.

Insulation can settle as it ages, leaving gaps in the protection it provides against summer's sweltering heat.

The new economic stimulus tax credit for energy-efficient home improvements includes insulation, and chances are you need new insulation. Most homes, especially if they’re more than 10 years old, don’t have enough.

If your house is too warm and your energy bills are too high, the insulation in your attic is a good place to start your investigation when your home starts feeling uncomfortable this summer.

Insulation protects your home’s “envelope” – the attic, walls, ceiling and floors – from the sweltering summer air that can sneak inside through tiny holes and crevices.

Every home has some leaks, usually around windows and doors, at the point where plumbing, cables and electrical wires enter the house and in the attic or crawl space. Builders typically use insulation to create a barrier that prevents air from entering the home through those leaks.

But insulation doesn’t last forever. It will settle over time, reducing its efficiency. A 15-year-old home might have enough insulation to comply with the building code of that time, but not with today’s stricter code, which calls for thicker insulation. And a 50-year-old home might not have any at all if the builder relied on shading and wall ventilation rather than insulation to keep it cool.

Plus, not every builder installs insulation correctly. Insulation that is stuffed into cavities in a home’s framing, hung near a leak or simply draped over one won’t perform properly. Instead, the insulation should touch the surface it’s meant to protect. If it doesn’t, it will filter the hot air as it comes into the house, but it won’t keep it out. And insulation with gaps in it will let heat in between those gaps.

This common problem is fairly inexpensive to remedy – and now you can take a federal tax credit on 30 percent of the cost of the materials – minus labor – up to $1,500.

Plus, once your home’s insulation is working as it should, you might find that your home feels more comfortable and your energy bills are lower.

Then you’ll be able to fairly assess whether you need to replace your aging air conditioner and kitchen appliances with more efficient models. Then you can think about trading those old, drafty windows with double- or triple-pane varieties designed to keep the heat out of the house. Those new windows might also qualify for a tax credit.

Insulating your home’s envelope first will save your energy-efficient new air conditioner and windows from having to compete with unsealed leaks that let hot air into the home.

Think strategically about energy efficiency. Before you guess at the solution to high energy bills and rooms that are too warm, find out what’s causing the problem. Poorly installed insulation or aged insulation that has settled could be a significantly contributing factor.

Rosie Romero has a radio program from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays on KNST-AM (790). For more do-it-yourself tips and for Arizona’s most-trusted contractor referral network, go to rosieonthehouse.com or call 888-ROSIE-4-U during the show. The Rosie on the House column appears every Friday.

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