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ABCs of home insulation

Improving the efficiency of your house can save you money on your energy bills

Josh Reed changed how he approached his insulation business after losing a customer. Instead of making her home more energy-efficient, she wanted granite countertops. 

“It caused me to change up my entire thinking,” he says, because he couldn’t convince her that insulation would save enough to cover the cost of those granite countertops. 

Now, says Reed, general operations manager for Reed’s Sprayfoam Insulation based in Belfry, “instead of saying, ‘Hey, you need insulation here,’ we say ‘What are the goals you have for your home?’” 

Home energy experts advise thinking bigger than just insulation. Houses are complicated and sometimes surprising systems. A cold basement floor could be caused by warm air rising up and outdoors through a poorly insulated attic. 

Matching energy-flow details with what the homeowner wants is what Reed tries to learn with his question about goals. Sometimes homeowners want to save money. Other times they want to feel more comfortable in a drafty house. 

Different goals call for different solutions. Maybe it’s more insulation or maybe it’s sealing leaky edges around doors and windows. 

Josh Littrell echoes that advice of viewing home energy efficiency as the combination of all parts of the house working together. 

Littrell is an energy advisor with East Kentucky Power Cooperative based in Winchester. In addition to insulating attics and walls, he encourages a look at where heat or cold can leak out of a house—around outlets and switch plates, doors and windows, and where water pipes lead outside. 

Those may not seem like very big holes for air to escape, but “It all adds up,” says Littrell. 

Taking a comprehensive approach to energy use can save typical homeowners 10% on their electricity bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Littrell and Reed say the savings can be even higher, especially if your home is 15 or more years old. Building codes and best practices are regularly being updated as awareness of energy efficiency increases. That means there’s a good chance your house is behind the times when it comes to providing the best combination of value and comfort. 

There are three basic types of insulation to consider—rolls of fiberglass (batts), loose fill that can be blown in, or spray foam. Spray foam is very effective at air sealing, but is more expensive. You’ll want to hire a specialist for blow-in and especially spray foam—they require special equipment and training. 

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