Strong home insulation is important, right? It’s a no-brainer: We’re in one of the coldest parts of the continental United States. Anyone in the Fox River Valley looking to conserve energy and reduce their energy bills should prioritize sealing up the drafts in their home, right?
Well, it depends.
Getting an energy audit and understanding where you do or don’t need insulation is an important first step to making your home more energy-efficient.
But, think of it as reconnaissance, or getting the lay of the land. Merely sealing up your house until it’s airtight won’t solve nearly all of your problems. At some point, you have to think about how well you’re doing warming or cooling the house in the first place.
That means making sure your existing furnace and central air is working as well as it can. Or thinking about upgrading to furnaces — or other HVAC solutions — that perform better while using less energy.
Then there’s a whole other conversation about indoor air quality related to both HVAC and insulation.
Wait a minute, you may be thinking. Is the HVAC guy trying to tell me how I should invest in a better heating and cooling system instead of putting my home improvement budget toward insulation?
It’s a matter of your budget and what your home needs the most. There’s also a discussion to be had about balancing your efforts for the best overall effect. You don’t want to overdo something that will have a negative impact somewhere else down the line.
So, yes: In this article, we’re pitting insulating your house against making your HVAC system more energy-efficient. But, it’s not an either/or proposition.
Instead, we want you to consider where your particular home comes up short and the best way to fix that deficit.
Insulation was priority number one in our first house. We had a nice, cozy place. It was less than 1,000 square feet and built in the early 1900s.
When we say there was zero insulation, we mean it: There was frost on the walls in the winter. Not near the door, not on the windows. The house was so bad at retaining heat that the inside of the exterior walls.
In this case, new windows, new siding, and insulation were on the top of our list. Of course, we kept the furnace in great condition. But, we moved before we dug into changing up the HVAC service.
Our new house was built in the 80s, and it’s night and day. This place is sealed uptight! That’s a trend that’s only picked up since then. Over the last decade, they’ve been calling them “tight homes.”
But, as far as we’re concerned, this isn’t the best solution, either.
A few months ago, we debuted our “Indoor Air Quality Food Pyramid.” And, we put ventilation at the base. It’s the biggest chunk and, as far as we’re concerned, the most important.
You hear a lot today about air purifiers, and yes, they do work. But, what people get wrong is thinking they’re the be-all-end-all.
We disagree. In our years of experience, having a home that “breathes” and brings in fresh air is much more critical as a starting point than an air purifier.
You want your home working on its own as much as possible to keep the air healthy. A purifier should be the final touch — the cherry on top.
So, what does all this have to do with insulating — or not insulating — your home?
Here’s the problem: Not only is insulating not necessarily the solution you need, but you could also over-insulate your home. At that point, you’re causing new problems.
One, as we noted, is not getting enough fresh air into the house. If you’re sealed uptight, then your indoor air quality suffers.
You’ll always track in some degree of dirt and dust. Pollen in the spring and summer, too. If you have pets, add dander to the mix.
Keep the windows closed when you’re running the heat or AC, and that junk all builds up with no way to escape.
You can also mess your ductwork’s circulation. All of a sudden, there’s more air pushing through the wall cavities into the attic, working against the way your system is designed in terms of pressure in the ductwork.
Does that mean you shouldn’t bother adding insulation and just (ahem) call us instead? No. But, we’re warning you not to overdo it, think that more is automatically better or that it will solve all your problems.
Have you considered what, exactly, you’d like to change about your home? Do you have problems with humidity — too much in the summer, too little in the winter? Does the air feel stale? Are you looking for the best ways to conserve energy?
In some cases — like our old, drafty home — insulation is the best way to go. In others, however, you’ll get better results by improving your HVAC setup.
Air conditioning plays a significant role in dehumidification in the summer, for instance. And, you can get a humidifier installed directly to your furnace. It’s much less expensive and much faster than ripping down walls and adding insulation.
In many cases, it even beats out spraying a whole bunch of insulation foam. And, you can better target the exact condition you’re looking to change.
And, yes: If you’re looking to conserve energy or improve the comfort or indoor air quality in your Fox River Valley home, you can give us a call. Starting with a free consultation, we’ll assess your home and help you decide if focussing on your heating and cooling is the best way to get what you’re looking for.