This week the energy auditors returned to take another look at my house and present their conclusions. They brought their FLIR thermal imaging camera to check along walls for gaps in insulation, and presented their conclusions and ideas for me to improve the heating efficiency of my house. It’s important to note that this was a heating loss audit only – they did not look at my water heater or furnace, or suggest any improvements to the systems of the house.
I hired these guys because I wanted to save money in my house, but I will also have them look at my rental properties, and I strongly recommend you do so as well. This goes back to the idea of continuously building and improving, which I covered a couple of weeks ago. When the economic climate isn’t great, don’t just sit on your hands and hope for better times! Instead, make progress – in this case, make your properties more efficient. They’ll be cheaper to operate, more comfortable to occupy, and more valuable when it’s time to sell.
There are two primary ways to reduce heating loss in your property.
The first is by finding and fixing any gaps that may allow cold air to enter, causing drafts. The second is to find gaps in insulation and add insulation where necessary. The thermal imaging camera helps with this second way. It’s a fascinating gadget.
We’ve all seen thermal images before. The colors range from blue at the coldest points, to yellow in the middle, to red at the warmest. When my daughter put her hands on the wall and then stepped away, for example, the palm prints as shown on the camera screen were mostly red, and the fingers were mostly yellow. However, I was more interested in the wall itself.
Good News/Bad News
The good news is that my walls are actually pretty well insulated. This was demonstrated by their color (yellow) and their temperature (generally about 65 degrees, with the thermostat set at 68). Of course, the bad news is that I really can’t make a lot of improvements there.
On the other hand, my second floor ceiling could use a lot of work – images of it show a lot of blue and very little yellow. That’s great because adding insulation to my attic will be very easy.
I’m making three changes to my attic floor to reduce heat loss from the second floor to the attic. The first is closing gaps, as mentioned. Every time a pipe or wire goes from the second floor to the attic, there are potential gaps. I’ll find these and seal them with caulk (which must be fire-safe if it’s going to be near a heat source).
My attic also has a set of folding stairs for access. I’ll seal around the door installation and add an attic stair cover. This cover creates an insulated space above the attic stairs and opens with a zipper.
The third change is insulation. Most of my attic floor is insulated to R-30, but it should really be R-38 at a minimum. There are some completely uninsulated spaces around the edges, and in other places, the insulation has been squished down. Remember that the value of fiberglass or cellulose insulation is in the volume, not the weight.
R-30 fiberglass insulation is about 9.5 inches thick when it is uncompressed. Compressing it reduces the insulating value. Also, all of my floor joists are conduits for cold air, because wood conducts heat pretty well. I’ll need to add insulation over the floor joists.
As I mentioned, my walls are in pretty good shape, which is good because adding insulation to them is a challenge. Typically this is done by making a hole in the outside wall and blowing in cellulose insulation, then resealing the hole. Of course the outside siding must first come off. As I said, this would be a challenge. I’ll do it on my one rental that has vinyl siding, if the auditors find gaps in my wall insulation there.
The last step is the windows. I’ll start by sealing around the edges with window caulk. I may also add “corner rounds”, which won’t actually seal but may make the windows more attractive after caulk has been applied.
If you don’t want to hire an energy auditor, you can still take many of these steps yourself. Finding and fixing air gaps is relatively easy, as is adding attic and basement insulation (if your basement is unfinished). Bear in mind that the basement is almost always naturally warmer than the attic in winter, so adding insulation to the basement will not be as effective.
Finding wall insulation gaps would be almost impossible unless you have very easy access to your wall interiors (the space between the siding and the interior wallboard). Renting the auditing equipment is going to be hard and expensive at best, impossible at worst.