Easy Sustainability Answers

DIY Energy Audit: Insulation

Adriene Hill Jul 30, 2010

When I think of insulation, I think about the Pink Panther. (As a kid, those ads were awesome. But did they really get adults to buy the insulation?) Regardless, insulation is the next stop on your home energy audit adventure.

Checking attic insulation:

1. Determine if openings for pipes, ductwork and chimneys are sealed.

2. See if there is a vapor barrier under the attic insulation.

3. Make sure insulation isn’t blocking attic vents.

4. Look for gaps in insulation.

Checking basement insulation:

Before you head to the basement, I have this 10 second insulation primer for you: The “R-value” of insulation is its resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value the better the insulation. More here.

1. If your basement isn’t heated, check for insulation under the living area floor. According to DOE, an R-value of at least 25 is recommended.

2. If your basement is heated, check foundation wall insulation. According to DOE, R-value of 19 is recommended.

3. Check that the water heater, furnace ducts and hot water pipes are insulated.

4. Again, look for any major gaps in insulation.

Checking wall insulation:

I’m not going to even begin to give advice on checking the insulation of your exterior walls. (It sounds a wee bit risky.) So here, I’m quoting the Energy Department. You can blame them if something goes wrong:

“Checking a wall’s insulation level is more difficult. Select an exterior wall and turn off the circuit breaker or unscrew the fuse for any outlets in the wall. Be sure to test the outlets to make certain that they are not “hot.” Check the outlet by plugging in a functioning lamp or portable radio. Once you are sure your outlets are not getting any electricity, remove the cover plate from one of the outlets and gently probe into the wall with a thin, long stick or screwdriver. If you encounter a slight resistance, you have some insulation there. You could also make a small hole in a closet, behind a couch, or in some other unobtrusive place to see what, if anything, the wall cavity is filled with. Ideally, the wall cavity should be totally filled with some form of insulation material. Unfortunately, this method cannot tell you if the entire wall is insulated, or if the insulation has settled. Only a thermographic inspection can do this.”

If you do this, let me know how it goes. Post a video so we can all watch.

Adapted from the Department of Energy’s Do-It-Yourself Home Energy Assessment

PHOTO: Flickr user jude hill.

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