Handyman: Insulation do’s and don’ts

Glenn Haege

You often hear that adding insulation to your home is one of the best “bangs for the buck” you can get in a home improvement project. But it may not be a good investment if you don’t understand insulation do’s and don’ts.

While knowing what to do and what to avoid regarding insulation is important when hiring a contractor to upgrade your insulation, so is proper planning. When it comes to insulation, that prior planning should include determining where your home’s energy loss is before you upgrade the insulation.

Tom Brohl of the Insulation Man, (866) 5-WARM-UP, insulatetosave.com, says it would be best to get a Comprehensive Home Assessment, or CHA. These are conducted by contractors certified by either BPI, the Building Performance Institute Inc., bpi.org, or RESNET, the Residential Energy Services Network, resnet.us.

According to Brohl, “For every action there is a reaction. What you need to know is how and where air leaks make their way into your home.” A battery of tests with names like Blower Door, Smoke Pencil and Thermal Imaging can be included.

A blower door test uses a powerful fan that mounts into the frame of an exterior door and, using a smoke puffer, flashlight and an infrared camera, lets you see the air leaks and temperature differentials in the home. With the test, homeowners will often see leaks in places they didn’t expect.

“Often people are concerned with the type of insulation that they can use, but making sure that the installation of the insulation is done properly is the most important thing,” said Charlie Akers of Ace and Sons Insulation, (888) 500-4223, aceandsons.com.

“When someone upgrades their attic, they automatically think that will make their home warmer and more comfortable, but if they live in an older two-story home, there’s a chance they are losing more heat through the walls than the attic, so they need to upgrade their wall insulation,” he said. “Many people obviously want to save money on energy by upgrading their insulation, but it is also about making your home more comfortable.”

Akers said when insulating a home, make sure you upgrade attic insulation to an R-49 level and have proper ventilation. In the walls, most homes built in the 1970s through 1990s probably only have an R-5 level, and older homes usually don’t have any. So upgrade walls to an R-20 level. But you shouldn’t think that insulating your walls is a DIY project.

“Wall insulation especially needs to be done by a trained professional with experience. I have seen people try to do it themselves and cause serious problems, such as chipped electrical wires, accidentally drilling through the inside of the wall and ruining their siding,” he said.

So before you jump into upgrading your insulation, make sure you know where your heat loss is coming from and then get a quality insulation contractor to properly install it. Other contractors include Macomb Insulation, (586) 949-1414, and RetroFoam of Michigan, (866) 8900-3626, retrofoamofmichigan.com.

If you want to know more about the types of insulation available, you can read my May 16 article, “Lots of possibilities for insulating your home,” available at masterhandyman.com. But remember, just like any project around your home, the best insulation is the type that is installed properly. If you live by that rule, you will always be able to brag about your home improvement project.

If you would like to suggest a question for this column, email askglenn@masterhandyman.com. If you want to talk to Glenn Haege, call his “Handyman Show” on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536, between noon and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The “Handyman Show” can be heard on more than 130 radio stations.