How to Insulate Your Home For Comfort

If you really want to stop wasting energy at home, start with the deep energy retrofit.

But it doesn’t come easy…

It’s not quick and it’s not cheap. It’s hard to do when it comes to your home renovation or remodeling. It requires some real thought and an awakening from the regularly scheduled program of the day.

Really, it’s a strategy that when done properly can lead to a healthy, safe, durable, adaptable and resilient home. When it’s all said and done, you will have a comfortable home. If you all want to have a comfortable home, follow me through the logic.

Look again at the all these adjectives: healthy, safe, durable, adaptable and resilient. They take some time to put your mind around, but they can describe your home. If there are too many adjectives, just think of one: comfortable. Don’t you want to be that at home?

When you come home from work, you want to feel free from stress and worry. It’s where you can take a break or have a siesta. It’s a place where there is no schedule. You can make that up at home. You are the boss there.

How to Insulate

You define your own comfort in essence.

But, companies and governments want you away from your home. They want you on a specific schedule to work. And sometimes you have to work long hours. This does not have a very good effect on energy consumption. As offices have air conditioning, you become accustomed to spending your time there and getting used to it.

In Mexico, they used to have siestas.

Government workers there took breaks in the middle of their workday and went home for 2-3 hours. They would eat lunch and take a nap before returning to their offices. It was a chance for them to get away from the constant blast of air conditioning. And that was comforting.

Thanks to globalization, a new work schedule and lifestyle have been introduced. Mexico has adopted the US work schedule and a new perception of comfort. Buying air conditioners is one of them.

Working or living in the “right” temperature is definitely influenced by culture. Due to globalization, there are pressures to conform to a universal lifestyle now. Old habits are changing, and so do cultural norms that go along with those old habits.

Still, people around the world prefer what is customary to their society.

Cultural norms remain influential. They dictate views on comfort and the idea of best temperature for comfort. Norwegians want to make their home comfortable by setting the thermostat high all the time and having warm task lighting throughout the room. By contrast, Japanese have gatherings around a warm rug as they don’t mind their cold homes.

In England, they prefer room temperatures of 60F. Here in America, we like our air conditioners set at 70F.

Societies have developed their own responses to their local climates. Their behaviors have been ingrained into their cultural customs. Air conditioners and how they are used are influenced by cultural expectations defining comfort. As the world is becoming more interconnected, customs are changing and so are definitions of comfort.

There are many definitions of a comfortable house. Fortunately, we can conform to a style of building and maintaining our homes so that altering the properties of air may not be as essential. When we are committed to defining comfort in terms of energy use, we really come to one definition.

The definition of a deep energy retrofit is taking your home and reducing its energy use by at least 50%. This is compared to a new house built to standard codes and typical construction. Air conditioning will become less of a consideration when houses are built to last.

But before we get into this strategy, I have to warn you…

This is going to be a challenge.

It’s a challenge to super-insulate the house’s shell, and achieve over 50% energy savings. This means thickening your walls. Depending on your situation, you can do it in phases or take the whole house approach. The point is to do as much as you can to your home and not worry so much about the numbers – 50%, 75% or even 90%.

These numbers are just guidelines.

The challenge is to get a move on and take action. Aiming to reach a threshold of energy use is only the beginning. Let’s say 75% – 90% in energy reduction. That is daunting. So let’s forget the numbers for a moment.

You’re reading this because you want to know what it takes to do a deep energy retrofit. You’re ready to embrace the challenge. Because you know that it is not about your own energy savings. You know that it is beyond your own personal gain, your own personal benefit.

It’s about a broader culture to lower the world’s carbon emissions. The atmosphere is owned by all of us, and it deserves our special protection. You can be a part of giving birth to the 21st century style of living where everything under your roof is made for sustainability.

Here is your home, where it all happens. Create a world where all living beings can flourish. It happens right here in your house.

Yes, we are doing this for energy savings. But, we’re better than that. We are also doing this so that life can flourish for generations to come. This is what we are aiming for.

What are the ways to rebuilding our homes to make them more comfortable?

As mentioned before, we address your home’s shell. Measures involving your home’s shell that reduces cooling or heating loads are adding insulation, air sealing, and improving the energy performance of windows.

In colder climates where heating is the dominant energy use, we can use the following guidelines for insulation:

  • R-5 door with insulation
  • R-10 below slab insulation;
  • R-25 foundation insulation;
  • R-40 wall insulation;
  • R-60 roof insulation.

The insulation choices are based on higher R-values. They are based on a higher standard – above the cultural norm you can say. Here’s a breakdown of what to look for when insulating.

Basement slab

Starting with the basement slab, check for any moisture or draft problems. Have cold feet? If there are problems, remove the slab. Here is the perfect opportunity to replace the plumbing waste lines if they are in bad shape, when you remove the slab. Radon levels should be closely monitored here.

It’s important to air-seal the foundation, by patching holes through unconditioned spaces.

Note that moisture levels may become problematic when you add insulation and make it airtight. So locating your vapor barrier in the wall and roof assemblies is critical to your success. Moisture problems can happen anywhere, especially when making your home airtight.

In warmer climates, adding insulation is not as important. Air sealing and solar control measures take precedent in homes where air conditioning is a significant portion of the total energy use.

Foundation

Continuing with the basement or crawl space, identify and repair any moisture problems. In colder climates, insulate walls with high density spray polyurethane foam. If the walls are suitably flat, use high density EPS or XPS board insulation. Cover insulation with drywall if basement is being finished.

Walls

Insulating the exterior walls of your home usually means adding 2” – 4” of rigid foam insulation. Two layers of rigid polyisocyanurate may do the trick. The layers are to have overlapping joints for good protection.

It’s important to note here that some closed cell foam insulation used for walls have a big impact on global warming. So be careful of what products to use.

Roof

In houses with cathedral ceilings, strip the roof to its sheathing, install polyiso insulation, and re-roof.

Attic

If your attic is not conditioned, add cellulose insulation on top of the existing attic floor. The floor can be raised with cross joists to increase cavity thickness. Depending on your situation, it may be necessary to remove the flooring and expose the wood joists to insulate between them. If existing insulation is removed, then air seal the exposed ceiling from above prior to re-insulating.

These are all things to look for down the road.

Take the first step.

Learn more about insulating your home from Energetic Building. Subscribe to our newsletter. We’re here to make you comfortable – without the air conditioner.

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