Staying Warm | Simple Strategies To Save You This Winter
We like to think of winter as the cozy time of year when we wrap ourselves in fluffy blankets and snuggle on the couch by the fire. And don't get me wrong, I love snuggly warm blankets and cozying up to a fire. But it's not possible to be doing this all the time. We have things to do! And it's not fun to have to do those things when it's frigidly cold and drafty in the house. Your home should be able to keep you cozy and warm without all the blankets and fireplaces.
And there are two very important ways to keep your house cozy warm and draft-free:
Insulating and air-sealing.
I know these are not very exciting topics to talk about. But they are so important for every home! The right insulation and making sure your house is all sealed up will keep you comfortable all winter (and all summer!).
Let's talk about insulation first:
Most homes aren't properly insulated. Usually, they don't have enough insulation, and often the insulation isn't installed correctly. If done right, insulation will keep you very comfortable in the house, help block out outside noises, and definitely help with your energy usage, making your energy bills much less expensive.
There are a lot of ways you can insulate your house, and there are many factors that go into insulating, such as:
Your climate - where you live plays the most significant role in how your house is insulated. If you live in Tucson, AZ, you won't be insulating the same way as I will in snowy New Hampshire.
Your budget - There is a big cost range for insulation products. Fiberglass insulation is usually the least expensive, and rigid boards and spray foam are usually the most expensive.
Your house style - There are also a few different ways of installing insulation. And much of how you end up installing the insulation depends on the style and construction technique of your home. But no matter what your house style is, all homes need to have foundation, wall, and roof insulation.
Your contractor - Your contractor will have a big say about what kind of insulation you use and where it should go. They often like to use what they're familiar with, and not necessarily what is best practice. Sometimes this is fine (if their preference is meeting best practices), but a lot of times this isn't the best option for your house.
How to figure out what kind of insulation to use and how it should be installed
Since the way to insulate a house varies so much in the US because of all the different climates we have, it's impossible to say how you should insulate your home in this article. The best thing to do is find an expert that can guide you through the decision-making process.
If you like to research things on your own, you can use some really great online resources. These are my go-to for climate-specific construction questions.
Otherwise, look online to find sustainability and building science experts in your area.
If you live in the North East of the US, then NESEA is a great resource to find local experts.
The best advice is to make sure you do your research.
whether it's on your own, or by using a building science expert. You don't want to just rely on what your contractor tells you to use.
The second best advice is to avoid spray foam insulation and rigid foam insulation whenever possible. There are a lot of other great ways to insulate your house that don't require the use of high-carbon emitting, toxic, dangerous insulation materials. Natural insulation like wood fiber and sheep's wool are my favorite. Learn more about insulation types here.
And lastly, you'll want to go beyond building code minimums when it comes to the R-Value of the insulation (unless you live in a climate where the outdoor temperatures are pretty perfect year-round).
Now let's talk about air sealing:
An air-tight house means that no air can move from inside to outside except through an open door, window, or vent. Air sealing is the act of sealing up all the cracks and gaps in your house so it's not drafty. There is no such thing as a house that's too airtight.
Let's clear the air - A house does NOT need to breathe. At least not in the way most people think it does. You do not want air seeping in through cracks and gaps in walls, windows, roofs, and foundations. This leads to unhealthy indoor air quality, discomfort from cold or heat seeping into the house, and high energy bills.
A house needs to be given a set of lungs to bring fresh air in and remove stale, toxic air. And a house's set of lungs is called a balanced ventilation system. We'll get more into house ventilation next month. But just know that all houses need a balanced ventilation system.
How to air seal your house:
You can seal up your house at any time! This is one of the best ways to get more comfortable and save energy in an existing home.
Insulation companies often do air sealing as well so if you're looking for a company, they're a good place to call.
Most states have rebates and incentives for air sealing a leaky house, so make sure to check those out. You can usually find rebate and incentive information on your energy provider's website. You can also ask the insulation company if they know of any rebates or incentives.
Winter shouldn't be an uncomfortable time of year to be in your home if you aren't wrapped up in blankets. If your house is properly insulated and is truly airtight and ventilated, then it will always feel comfortable. And the best part is you can insulate and air seal a house at any time. You don't have to wait for an extensive renovation to make your house more air tight. And a lot of times you can add more insulation to places like attic floors and foundation walls that don't require an extensive renovation either.
But if you are building new or doing a major renovation or addition, you have a great opportunity to make your home incredibly comfortable year-round with proper insulation and air sealing strategies.
By Kate Hamblet
Wellness Architect, Founder of Balanced Architecture
Kate helps health-conscious families create homes that support and promote health, happiness and longevity. You'll find her at www.balancedarchitecture.com