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Insulation And Weatherproofing

INSULATION HAS COME A LONG WAY SINCE THE DAYS OF STUFFING MUD AND STRAW WATTLE BETWEEN THE BEAMS. And heat has come a long way from the open fireplace and Franklin stove. But the central truth remains: You need both heat and insulation to stay warm.

The furnace gets most homeowners’ attention. When it’s not happy it groans, bangs, whines, and even goes on strike. Insulation, meanwhile, sits quietly in the attic. We ignore it, tending to the moans and whistles of the monster in the basement. If we understood the moans, however, we might pay more attention to the insulation— the furnace is telling us that it can’t keep up; the job is more than it can handle.

And more likely than not, the long-term solution is in its silent partner, insulation. Older homes, built in the days of low-cost energy, lack the insulation they need to keep heat in the house. If you’re cold, or if you’re heating bill is through the roof, start at the roof. An uninsulated attic accounts for 40 percent of lost heat. Unrolling insulation in an unfinished attic is simple enough; in an attic with a floor, you might want to consider blow-in insulation. In this chapter you’ll learn the ins and outs of insulation and its cousin, weather stripping. Such installations are among the simplest jobs a homeowner can do. Do them—your furnace will thank you.

ENERGY LOSS IS EXPENSIVE - Unless your house has the proper weather stripping, caulking, and storm windows, 20 to 50 percent of the money you spend is going to heat the great outdoors. Solutions are generally simple, low-tech, and with the possible exception of storm doors and windows, fairly inexpensive. However, a house should never be completely airtight. Even with extensive weatherproofing, that's not a problem in older homes but newer homes need to "breathe" to avoid health and structural problems. If you want to know how your house rates, do a quick inventory:

• Verify that the seams between the house and window or door moldings are sealed with caulk.

• Check windows for weather stripping. Windows should have weather stripping on the top, bottom, and sides. Double-hung windows should have weather stripping between the two sashes.

• Look for broken or loose windowpanes. If the putty around the windows is cracked or missing, replace it.

• Check the storm windows. If you have none, get them. If you do have them, make sure the weep hole on the bottom of the frame is open. A clogged hole traps moisture, causing fogged windows, paint failure, and rot.

• Check all exterior doors. They should be weather-stripped on both sides and at the top. There should be a sweep across the bottom to prevent air leakage at the threshold.

• Look for leaks around openings in the foundation or siding. Typical suspects include plumbing and gas pipes, wiring, telephone lines, and TV antenna wires or cable. Caulk and seal any openings you find.

• Verify that you have foam gaskets behind the switch and receptacle plates on exterior walls. Switches and outlets are notorious for leaking air. Gaskets solve the problem, for the most part, and are easy to install.

• Keep the fireplace flue closed when not in use.

• Check the amount of insulation in your attic. Get more insulation if you need it. Check the insulation under crawlspaces too. It can fall down, leaving you with an extremely cold floor. Wall insulation is harder to check. Try a full energy audit, which will include inspection of the wall insulation and more. Check the Yellow Pages or with your power company to find someone who does audits.

Insulation and weatherproofing basics

Whether you live in a warm or a cold climate, adequately weatherizing and insulating your house has many benefits. Most importantly, you save money. Even in homes with average insulation, heating and cooling costs account for more than half of the total energy bill. And because most insulating and weather-stripping products are relatively inexpensive, an investment in them can be recovered through energy savings in a short period of time.

A well-insulated house not only saves money, it’s easier on the environment because it uses less energy. By reducing energy use, you help reduce pollution and slow the depletion of natural resources. In an average home in a cold climate, it is estimated that reducing energy usage by only 15 percent can save the equivalent of 500 pounds of coal each year. And finally, a tightly sealed, well-insulated house eliminates drafts and cold spots, creating a more comfortable home for you to enjoy.

THE THREE TYPES OF INSULATION YOU’RE MOST LIKELY TO ENCOUNTER ARE FIBERGLASS, CELLULOSE, AND RIGID FOAM. Fiberglass comes in rolls and bats that you stuff between the framing of the house. Insulation stays are used to support fiberglass in ceilings and crawlspaces. Cellulose is blown in place and works well when you need to fit a lot of insulation in narrow spaces, such as between the joists of existing attics. Rigid foam comes in three types - polyisocyanurate, molded expanded polystyrene (MEPS), extruded polystyrene (EXPS).

MEPS is the foam from which coffee cups and coolers are made. It has an R-value of R-4 per inch. EXPS is more common in building, has a hard, flat surface, and has an R-value of R-5 per inch. Polyisocyanurate is a closed-cell foam with an insulating gas trapped in the cells. The R-value is between R-7 and R-8 per inch, but it drops slightly as the gas escapes naturally. The indoor surfaces of all foam boards must be covered with drywall to meet fire code.

TIGHTEN UP THE HOUSE WITH A VARIETY OF PRODUCTS: foam backer rod which is stuffed into a wide crack that will be caulked, expandable foam, silicone caulk, metal tension strip, tube gasket, open cell foam, closed-cell foam, air-conditioner weather stripping, garage door gasket, bristle door sweep, vinyl door sweep, threshold, and foam gasket for outlets.

FASTENERS include screws, common nails, construction adhesive, and finishing nails. Seal cracks with a bead of silicone caulk.

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