Reposting: Adventures In Insulating

Welcome!  I’ve been at this blog for slightly over two years, and I thought it might be time to re-visit what became my first ‘popular’ post.  When I wrote this back in September of 2008, I was getting just a few visitors per day (mostly my parents and family members that I was begging to come visit).  This was the first post I had that someone read that was submitted to StumbleUpon or Digg (can’t remember which) that got some attention, and got me a lot of traffic.  Since summer is coming to a close soon, it’s a good time to start planning a fall insulation project to save you money in the coming months, so thanks for reading this re-post of ‘Adventures in Insulating‘.

I’ve mentioned, a couple of times, adding insulation to your attic as a good way to save money in the long run. Along with my father-in-law, I added insulation to my attic this past spring. I’m hoping to realize the benefits of the extra insulation with the upcoming heating season, and of course many to follow.

I wanted to share my real-world experience. I think these are things to keep in mind, some of which I had thought of and some of which took us by surprise. Because most people use blown-in insulation, I’ll focus on this type for this post. Also know that this assumes you’re working in the attic, as this is where we did mine, and is the easiest place to add extra insulation.

  • Do it yourself – Adding insulation is a two person job, but one that isn’t too challenging as long as you can handle some grunt work. Chances are hiring someone to do this will double your costs, which would mean that it could take twice as long to realize the savings through your heating bills.
  • Understand the concept of R-value – The higher the R-value, the better level of insulation you have. Different products provide a different level of R-value, so this makes it easy to compare.
  • Know what you have – You’re adding insulation to what’s already there, so unless your house is over 50 years old, you should have some insulation in place. You can add the insulation right over the top of what you have. It doesn’t matter the type (fiberglass vs. cellulose) because you can mix and match with no problems. Your goal should be to get to at least R-50.
  • Know what you want – There are two types of insulation that you can blow in. Each has its pros and cons. The pink stuff is fiberglass. The gray stuff is cellulose. Fiberglass has a lower R-value per inch so you would need a deeper pile than you would of cellulose. It’s also a bit easier to work with and a little bit less messy (not much), but it is also very itchy and moves around easier. Celluose is a bit messier, but it is more compact, it settles in so there’s not as much in the air. It’s also made from recycled paper, so I would recommend that solely on the fact that it’s more eco-friendly.
  • Know how much you’ll need – Lowes has a pretty decent insulation calculator. Grab a tape measure to get some measurements of your workspace, and the store will give you a rough number of pounds that you’ll need. Use this once you get to the store to calculate how many bags you’ll need.
  • Get a free machine rental – Lowes and Home Depot will rent you the machine that you need. It will be free once you buy a certain number of bags (I think you need to buy at least 25 which is not a problem for most jobs).
  • Call in advance to ensure that they have a machine for rent – One thing to be very clear on is whether you’re blowing into an attic from the first floor or from a second floor. The power on the motors needs to be different. For the first store I went to, they had promised that machines were available, but when I got there and told them that I was working in a second-story access panel, I had to go to another store to get a different machine.
  • Stock up on essential supplies – When you’re at the store, make sure to get some work gloves, safety goggles as well as some masks to cover your face and nose. A lot of dust will be flying around, so you need to make sure to protect yourself. Earplugs aren’t a bad idea other for the person that will be working the machine.
  • Take extra insulation – We did ours through Home Depot, and the way it worked was pretty cool. They took my credit card for a deposit and counted the number of bags of insulation I took, but didn’t charge me until I got back. That was great because I could take extra without having to worry about going through the returns desk, and didn’t have to take the chance of running short.
  • Prepare the area – The machine will have a hose that you’ll need to run through the attic access panel. Try to have the hose in the least amount of space within the house as possible. If this involves running it through a window, then this will be the best way possible, trust me!
  • Get to work early – If you’re working in the attic, chances are that it’s going to warm up quickly. When we did the work, it was probably in the mid-60s outside, but it got hot in the attic quick! Beat the heat!
  • Plan to build up the area around the access panel – If you’re adding six to eight inches of insulation, you’ll need to raise up the area around your access panel, otherwise great amounts of it will spill out. The professional way is to buy some plywood, cut it to size, and build up the area. We didn’t quite make it to that level. We had some heavy-duty cardboard lying around that we cut and nailed into place. It should probably be replaced down the line, but it definitely got the job done, especially since it wasn’t something we thought of beforehand.
  • Know your jobs – The person up in the attic will be spraying the insulation in. They should get a good a feel for the hose, be familiar with how high of a pile they’re spraying (marking off a few spots on the rafters with a magic marker helps) and know how to signal to stop the person running the machine if necessary. The person running the machine will need to keep the insulation flowing into the machine at a steady pace, keep the are clean, be alert to any jams, and be able to sense when the person doing the spraying may need to stop.
  • Know your machine – We ran into problems with the hose jamming with insulation. Turns out we had the flue all the way open. Most machines have a setting at how much should be sent through the hose. We learned the hard way to start off at the lower end of the scale and work our way up. If you go too low, the insulation will come out in spurts. If you go too high, the machine will jam. Your ideal situation is that the machine is spraying steadily at a nice, even rate.
  • Prepare to be dirty – You’re going to get dirty. No way around it. The area around you will be dirty. No matter how many tarps you put down, how often you sweep up, it doesn’t matter. Afterwards, you’ll probably be tracking it into the house, so make sure you have the vacuum cleaner handy, because you’ll be using it often for the first few days following.
  • Congratulate yourself on a job well done – After you get everything done, the machine returned to the store, and your house put back to normal, pat yourself on the back because you are doing something that will pay dividends for years to come. As energy costs continue to rise, you’re going to save more and more.

As with any home improvement project, make sure to consult the professionals. By no means is this a comprehensive guide. The experts should be able to help you cover the basics, as well as make sure you know how to use the machine safely. The purpose of this post is to provide information that may slip through the cracks, and may end up making your day just a little easier.

Good luck and happy insulating!