With the cooler than usual temperatures that we have been experiencing in the Northwest, we may find ourselves bumping the thermostat up a notch or two to keep our teeth from chattering. The frosty temps and the ever rising cost of fuels can compel us to revisit just how well our homes are insulated. There is a plethora of insulating materials that may well be worth our while to consider. New construction codes and requirements are continually becoming more stringent, as energy savings become more critical. Common insulating materials like fiberglas, with an R-value of 3.2 per inch of thickness, are now being overshadowed by products like polyisocyanurate batts with an R-value of 7.0 per inch. In addition, the old standard of 4 inch exterior walls has fallen by the wayside, and 6 inch walls are the current standard, with many builders proposing even thicker exterior walls, which would have the dual benefits of increased R-value and improved sound dampening. The higher construction costs for these upgrades would be off-set in a relatively short time when considering the savings in energy costs.
Many home inspectors have peered into attics, especially in older homes, only to find that the attic is woefully under insulated. I personally have been in attics with only a smattering of vermiculite, a relatively non-efficient insulator with some asbestos content. As much as 40 to 60 percent of heat loss can occur through ceilings in under insulated older homes. My recommendation always is to improve these areas of little or no insulation to at least match industry standards. With wall insulation and heat loss, the wild card is usually windows. Even the best dual pane windows have R-values of only 4 or 5. Often, the biggest benefit realized by replacing older single pane windows with more efficient dual pane windows is noise control. Many older homes have as few as eight windows total. I once installed window coverings in a home with 93 windows. Unless and until the window industry can produce windows with higher R-values, home builders and architects may want to consider limiting the amount and size of windows in a home design, and home buyers should consider the fact that a home with numerous or oversized windows may have a profound effect on the pocketbook. Allmann Home Inspection Services in Bellingham and Blaine, Wa. 360-371-0260 or 360-739-7361.