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Insulation is Cool – Literally!

2010 July 27

I’ve written a few times over the 18 months about our home renovation and how we went as green as we could afford. The last time, I was sitting in my dining room during our crazy-snowy winter.

Almost six months later, we’ve just gone through one of the worst heat waves I can remember. And that led to a massive thunderstorm cell that did quite a bit of damage to the DC area. It hit us about 3:30 on Sunday. We were sort of on the southern edge of it, but looking to the north was impressive and ominous.

Just before the skies opened, our power went out. Not that big a deal at the time – we just sat on the porch and watched the storm roar along. But when it didn’t come back on, I started worrying about our fridge and our AC. I get hot very easily.

4158_1157385457836_13237331As the hours wore on, though, I was again reminded of the benefits of our approach to insulation. Since we had the walls off while renovating, we blew in foam to air seal the house, then put fiberglass on top. We also put in double-paned windows with special coatings to reduce direct heating from the sun (I really appreciated the info I got on the Energy Star Web site about all of this). Our porch also keeps the sun off the ground floor windows in the front.

The result? The house doesn’t heat up or cool down very quickly. So although we had no AC during high temperatures, we were pretty comfortable inside. As for the fridge, we just kept the door shut (unlike during Hurricane Isabel, when we ran a very long extension cord across the street to our neighbors’ outdoor outlet).

Have you made any green building choices that later made themselves felt?

If you’re thinking about renovating, check out EPA’s info on green building!

About the author: Jeffrey Levy is EPA’s Director of Web Communications.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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12 Responses leave one →
  1. Lina-EPA permalink*
    July 27, 2010

    Cool blogpost! Good advice.
    While we have EnergyStar appliances and windows, we haven’t addressed our insulation at all. During the blizzards of 2010, we were able to maintain the house at comfortable temperatures, but during this Sunday’s power outage, the house was practically an oven upstairs, while the downstairs felt like we had an air conditioner going on.
    Our insulation needs to be one of our future upgrades.
    Thanks for the green tips.

  2. Azmat Malik permalink
    July 27, 2010

    This is cool as a PSA for the people … I am curious what you know about and where I can get more info regarding the use of PHASE CHANGE materials .. the way these work is that as the temp goes up the ‘solid’ in this material turns liquid (in the process absorbing a LOT of heat) but without turning like from ice to water (ie the ‘liquid’ is constrained within the rest of the material). Now THIS would be cool .. ie instead of actually cooling the space (eg with an AC) you would actually cool by the physics of the material. (if you are not scientificaly oriented: just lick your finger tip and blow air on it … feels cooler BECAUSE the ‘wetness’ is evaporating and in the process ‘sucking’ the heat from the finger tip)

  3. Gustavo permalink
    July 27, 2010

    I am an Energy Consultant with an provider in my area and for me that insulation improvement really makes sense; it works the best when it is applied to all of the boundaries of the thermal shell and NOT only when it is insulated on the attic floor. Many of the houses I visit everyday they did just the top therefore their energy consumption and comfort did not decrease at all (summer or winter). Thank you for posting the picture where the insulation is shown on all of the exterior walls and on the house ceiling.

  4. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    July 28, 2010

    Insulation can really keep the utility bills under control. So can the way your house is built in the lot. My building is oriented in such a way and has good tree cover so that it stays cool in summer and warm in winter. The air conditioner has not come on yet this year and the heater did not run much last winter. But we also have good insolation in the attac and between the walls. So all together the power bill has come in at under $30.00 and the gas bill at under $4.00. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  5. Jeffrey Levy permalink*
    July 28, 2010

    Good point, Gustavo! As you described, we insulated the entire envelope, including in the attic peak and crawl spaces in the basement, so those are all part of conditioned space. We didn’t insulate the attic floor at all.

  6. Jeffrey Levy permalink*
    July 28, 2010

    Interesting idea, Azmat. But how would you keep the heat from returning to the house as the material returned to solid form?

    Air conditioning works on the same principle, using liquid refrigerant inside the house that evaporates to vapor and is then pumped outside to the condenser, where it gives up its heat to the outside air and returns inside as a liquid.

    But you have to get the more energetic phase out of the house before it gives up its heat.

  7. Jeffrey Levy permalink*
    July 28, 2010

    Way to go, Michael! Yes, siting is a great way to reduce energy needs, and in fact, EPA’s Green Building site talks about that.

  8. emission free permalink
    July 30, 2010

    power bill under $30 and gas bill under $4.. wow thats amazing job. Im curious what type of lighting you use in your home, can you bring the bills down even lower ?

  9. david lynch permalink
    August 3, 2010

    Its a bit of a sore spot over here in Australia at the moment. The Government put on a insulation package whereby for the average size house it would cost you nothing to insulate it about 12squares.
    If your house was bigger you would have to pay so much a meter but the incentive and the idea was good to go green and save money on electricity.But what happened with all this work to install free installation to most of Australia they had shoddy companies opening up and not laying and installing it properly eg: over down-lights and electricity wires and there were 4 installers who got killed through electric shocks. These people were not qualified and in the end the were about 80 or so houses that burnt down from this insulation scheme. But its the young guys that killed you can’t bring back. The government finally pulled the pin on the scheme after public outrage and legitimate companies complaining about these blow ins. It cost the government no the Australian Tax payer billions of dollars. Then going to cost more billions to get everyone checked because of the safety aspect of not having any more houses burning down. Then get this some of the shoddy companies that had started up and not installing the insulation properly hence how people got electrocuted and houses burning down these shoddy people came back again for round two by registering under another Business name and then billing the government for the safety checks that needed to be done on millions of houses that they think were unsafe. The government has a lot answer as they had received reports that this insulation was going to be a mess with the protocol they had in place.But honestly it is a good way to save electricity and to go green but just do the scheme properly if they are going to do a rebate system.
    David Lynch

  10. 203k permalink
    April 5, 2011

    The home improvement shows have shown the foam insulation being used which seems to be an easy application but have not seen it combined with other insulation material.

  11. Case Design/Remodeling permalink
    February 23, 2012

    As a home remodeling company in the metro D.C. area we ensure our customers maximize energy efficiency anytime we add a room or update an existing one. Adequate insulation is a great way for people to lower their energy bills and more importantly, feel more comfortable in their homes! After all, who wants to sit in their recliner and read the paper wearing gloves!

  12. CT Corner permalink
    December 16, 2013

    This a great article! Insulation is key and if you are able to do it in a green friendly fashion, all the better. Our home building company is striving to do all we can to do the same when we are creating a space here. Keep up the good work.

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