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Getting the Seal and Insulate Job Done – Hiring a Contractor

In our last seal and insulate blog post, ENERGY STAR Product Manager Doug Anderson gave advice on how to identify problems that may be keeping your home from achieving energy efficient comfort during the hot days of summer. Now that those issues have been identified, today’s post shows you how to select a contractor to fix any problems.

Adding ‘blown’ attic insulation – it’s a hot, messy job in the summer

Adding ‘blown’ attic insulation – it’s a hot, messy job in the summer

By: Doug Anderson

Unless you enjoy working in hot, cramped attics, it’s best to just pour yourself a cool drink and call a contractor to properly seal air leaks and add insulation to your attic during the summer. Insulation contractors have all the equipment and experience to do the job right and do it much quicker than you can. Let them do the hard work. Your job is to find a good contractor.

Shop Around – Selecting a Contractor

As with any home improvement project, you want to make sure you’re getting a good price and that the work will be done right:

– Check with your electric utility or state energy office to see if they offer incentives for improvements or have pre-screened program contractors. (See www.dsireusa.org or www.energystar.gov/dime for lists of incentives)

– Get several estimates from contractors (know the square footage of your attic).

– Make sure the contractor is licensed and insured in your state.

– Ask if the crew chief is certified to do insulation work.

– Ask how the contractor will keep your house clean during the work.

– Make sure the contractor understands you want attic holes and gaps sealed before any insulation is added. If they do not agree to “seal before insulating,” call another contractor.

Make Sure the Job’s Done Right – What to Look For

When hiring a contractor, make sure that you clearly understand the work they’ll be doing. Don’t hesitate to ask questions before the contractor starts, and stay involved throughout the process. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

– Contractors should seal air leaks in the attic floor before adding insulation. It’s much easier to seal first to ensure you get the full performance out of your insulation.

– If you have air ducts in the attic, make sure contractors do not step on or damage them.

– Burying any ducts on the floor in insulation is OK to do – it can even improve efficiency. Just make sure the ducts are well sealed first.

– Unless your old insulation is wet, moldy, smelly, or contains animal waste, contractors can just add new insulation on top. It is usually not necessary to remove existing insulation.

– Most contractors use blown-in, loose fill insulation for attic floors, which is quick and easy to install with the right equipment. Typical materials include fiberglass or cellulose – both contain some recycled content (glass or ground up paper) and are inexpensive and safe. If traditional insulation rolls are used for the attic floor instead, be sure that it is “unfaced” (no foil or paper backing needed) so moisture does not get trapped.

– Any project estimate should also include installing insulation baffles (rafter vents). This ensures that as you add insulation, soffit vents (which allow outside air to enter the attic) are not blocked and your attic has proper air flow.

Seal and Insulate- Installing a Baffle

Installing a Baffle (or Rafter Vent)

– If you have older recessed light fixtures (can lights) that stick up into the attic floor, the contractor should cover and seal them before installing insulation using specially designed covers that are available at most home improvement stores.

– Contractors should also seal the chase (hole) in the attic around the plumbing vent pipe.

– It’s also important to weather strip and insulate the attic hatch or door. There are several off-the-shelf products available for standard-sized openings.

– EPA recommends having a professional contractor conduct combustion safety testing before and after any air sealing, as this may affect the drafting of any combustion (oil or gas) appliances in the house.

Finally, tell the contractor that you expect documentation at the end of the job to show how much insulation has been added and what the new insulation R-value is for your attic. When it’s done, take a picture and compare it to the pictures you took earlier to see the improvement. Then, you can sit back and enjoy the rest of your summer knowing your home is more comfortable and efficient.

If you would like more information, including details on doing this work yourself, ENERGY STAR has expertise you need. Check out our website for details.

About the Author:Doug Anderson is an ENERGY STAR Project Manager and has been with EPA for 14 years. He works on issues related to the home envelope, including insulation products and energy efficient residential windows.

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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Summer Savings with Seal and Insulate – Don’t Sweat it!

Insulation

By: Doug Anderson

Happy summer! While the season brings trips to the beach, vacation, and barbeques, summer also brings the heat and humidity. Now is the perfect time to make sure your house is well-prepared for the summer weather, so you can leave the sweating where it belongs– outdoors.

To start, get your air conditioning (AC) unit or heat pump system checked and tuned to make sure it’s running efficiently – it needs regular maintenance just like your car. If your AC is working well but your house still has warm walls, hot ceilings, or uncomfortable humidity, your home may have air leaks and low levels of insulation. Sealing air leaks and adding more insulation can improve home comfort by keeping the cool air in and preventing pollen, dust and pests from entering.

Getting Started – Identify Problem Areas

In most homes, air leaks and low levels of attic insulation are one of the biggest sources of energy waste and summer time discomfort. While it’s important to check your home’s attic insulation levels, be aware that any attic in the summer is usually extremely hot and uncomfortable.

Tips on Checking Insulation levels:

– The best time to do a quick check your attic during the summer is in the morning when it’s cooler. If you start to feel overheated at any point, get out of the attic right away.

– Take a yardstick or tape measure, pen and paper, a flashlight, and a digital camera or cell phone with you to measure your insulation and take pictures.

Ruler- Insulation

– Measure the depth of the insulation in a few spots with your tape measure or yardstick and jot the levels down. You should have about 13 inches of typical insulation (fiberglass or cellulose) if you live in the southern United States and about 17 inches if you live in the central or northern United States. If you don’t have those levels, you are paying for it with higher energy bills.

– A good rule of thumb is that if the insulation level is just up to the top of the attic floor joists, you have only about half the insulation you should (see illustration).

– While you are looking around, take pictures of the insulation level, different corners of your attic, and of any ducts or air conditioning units you see. The pictures are a good record for future reference and to show to a contractor.

Next Step – Call a Contractor

If you found you have low levels of attic insulation – what’s next? EPA recommends calling a contractor or planning a Do-it-yourself project for the fall when it’s not so hot. Unless you have some experience doing this type of work, a contractor is your best bet. They are trained, have all the right tools, and will work quickly to get the job done. In our next post, we’ll talk about how to select and work with a contractor.

About the Author: Doug Anderson is an ENERGY STAR Project Manager and has been with EPA for 14 years. He works on issues related to the home envelope, including insulation products and energy efficient residential windows.

 

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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How Does Your Home Compare to Your Neighbor’s?

Yardstick

By: Brian Ng

It’s springtime! Now that the dark, cold days of winter are gone, it’s time to do things to tidy up the outside of your home. After all, who wants to be the “messy” house in the neighborhood? Now is also the perfect time to tidy up your home’s energy efficiency, especially compared to your neighbors’ homes. After all, who wants to have the highest utility bill in the neighborhood? Plus, reducing our energy consumption at home helps fight climate change since using energy means having to produce energy, which typically involves the burning of fossil fuels that generate greenhouse gases and cause climate change.

But short of knocking on their door, how do you find out how your home’s energy use compares to your neighbor’s home? The ENERGY STAR program offers a free, online tool called the Home Energy Yardstick, available here. It allows you to compare your home’s energy use to similar homes across the country. By entering your home’s annual energy use, the number of occupants, conditioned square footage, and its ZIP code, the Yardstick computes a score between 0 and 10, indicating the relative energy consumption of your home compared to a nationally representative sample of single family homes.  On the Yardstick scale, 0 is the most energy-consuming household and 10 is the least energy-consuming household. An “average” home scores a 5 on the Yardstick. So the higher the Yardstick score, the better! You can even print a certificate and brag to your neighbors if your score warrants bragging rights.

To use the Yardstick, you’ll need the last 12 months of utility bills for your home.  Typically you can find a 12-month usage summary on your most recent bill or through the utility’s web site.  It only takes about five minutes to enter the information and get a score.  Some utilities provide customers with the ability to download a “Green Button” file that provides detailed information about energy usage for their home.  If your utility participates in Green Button, you can simply upload your home’s utility data directly into the Yardstick. To find out if your utility offers Green Button, visit:  www.greenbuttondata.org. For those whose Yardstick score is less than brag-worthy, fret not. ENERGY STAR’s Home Energy Advisor provides recommendations for energy-saving improvements for typical homes in your area.

Although these tools provide good insight into your energy consumption and how to reduce it, they are not meant to replace a professional’s help. So if you need an expert opinion on how to improve the efficiency and comfort of your home, a good place to start is with a local Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program. Home Performance with ENERGY STAR offers a whole-house approach to improving the efficiency and comfort of your home. A participating Home Performance contractor will evaluate your home using state-of-the-art equipment, recommend comprehensive improvements to yield the best results, and help you get the work done.

So while you’re doing your spring cleaning this year, take a moment and begin cleaning up your home’s energy use as well.

About the Author: Brian manages communications activities for the ENERGY STAR Residential Branch, which forms voluntary partnerships to promote greater energy efficiency in new and existing homes. He enjoys trying to improve the energy efficiency of his own home when he’s not busy keeping up with his two kids.

 

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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Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR: Seal and Insulate Your Home for the Winter

Seal and Insulate

By: Doug Anderson

This week EPA invites you to “Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR,” by sealing and insulating your home. This blog post is the first in a 5 part series from ENERGY STAR’s home envelope expert Doug Anderson about the benefits of sealing and insulating your home, and how you can get started this fall.

When you hear “getting ready for winter,” what comes to mind? Pulling winter coats out of storage? Buying new snow shovels, or maybe getting a new pair of winter boots? How about sealing and insulating your home? In fact, sealing holes and adding insulation in the attic could be some of the most important projects you do this fall.

Believe it or not, many homes are not ready for chilly winter weather. Older, and even some newer homes, are often under-insulated and teeming with hidden gaps and cracks, resulting in winter electric/gas bill spikes, and sometimes an inability to keep rooms comfortable. In fact, if you added up all the holes and gaps in a typical home, they would be equivalent to having one window open all the time!

By doing a few ENERGY STAR-recommended air sealing and insulation projects yourself, or hiring a contractor, you can start enjoying significant benefits, including:

  • Reduced home energy use
  • Lower utility bills
  • Improved comfort (especially during summer and winter)
  • Less household carbon emissions for a reduced environmental impact

How much can I expect to save from sealing and insulating?

EPA estimates that you can save $200 a year* (10 percent off your annual energy bills) by sealing and insulating your home according to guidance from ENERGY STAR. With many utility incentives and tax credits available today, these investments can pay for themselves over time.

The savings come from keeping heat in the home during the winter and outside during the summer. When your home is well-insulated and sealed, your heater and air conditioner can run less, saving electricity, natural gas, and money. Making the proper investments today means less waste and more savings.

Other sealing and insulating benefits

The benefits extend beyond just saving energy and money. By sealing and insulating your home according to ENERGY STAR recommendations, you may also improve your home in other ways, including:

  • Reduced noise from outside
  • Less pollen, dust, and pests entering your home
  • Better humidity control
  • Lower chance for ice dams on the roof/eves

Getting started on your sealing and insulating projects

Visit the newly updated Seal and Insulate with ENERGY STAR website for more in-depth information and resources on:

Do 1 Thing ENERGY STAR this week. Start sealing and insulating your home!

*Note: Assumes that the typical U.S. home spends $2000 per year on utility costs. This amount may be higher or lower depending on your location.

Doug Anderson is an ENERGY STAR Project Manager and has been with EPA for 13 years. He works on issues related to the home envelope, including insulation products and energy efficient residential windows.

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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Drop It While It’s Hot!

By Christina Catanese

We had to break out the little inflatable pool this weekend – the multiple days of temperatures over 90 degrees just demanded it.  The cool water from the hose was refreshing, but when it came time to empty the pool, I couldn’t believe how much water it held and how long it took to drain it.  I captured some of it to water my droopy plants, but there was still more water than I could use.

Filling up the pool on a hot summer day

Filling up the pool on a hot summer day

During the summer, you might use four times as much water as you do during other months.  Your water bill likely reflects the extra water you need for your lawn and garden, and to keep yourself cool!  Your local waterways and systems are feeling the heat, too – the more water we use, the more has to be withdrawn and treated before it goes back to rivers and streams.

So what are some ways we can use less water in the summer?  Part of it is using the water effectively.

While up to 90 percent of the water used outdoors is for irrigation, having a beautiful landscape doesn’t have to mean using a lot of water.  Watering by hand is most efficient, but lots of us have automatically timed irrigation systems for convenience.  It turns out that homes with automatically timed irrigation systems use about 50 percent more water outdoors than those without. Your system can waste even more if it’s programmed incorrectly, a sprinkler head is pointed in the wrong direction, or you have a leak.  Lots of water can be lost through evaporation if you water at the wrong time of the day, and leaky hoses, dripping faucets, and improper landscaping can keep your garden from looking its best.  Here are some tips from WaterSense for watering wisely this summer.

Another way to use less water outside is to capture it yourself.  By using a rain barrel, you can capture free rainwater to use when you need it most to water your lawn and garden (but not for drinking or your kiddie pool).  Rain barrels can be purchased at your local hardware or garden supply store.  Better yet, many local government programs offer them at reduced prices.  Check out our short video and this longer video from GreenTreks for more on installing your own rain barrel.

You can even design your landscape to be water efficient.  Some plants are thirstier than others, so choose plants that are defined as low water use or drought tolerant for your area. These plant species will be able to survive in your climate with minimal, if any, need for supplemental watering.  See these simple tips for water-efficient landscaping for more ideas on lowering water use in your yard.  Visit this link to explore lists of native plants available for by state, and this one to see some Mid Atlantic resources.

So tell us: how are you dropping your water use this summer?

 

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied Environmental Studies, Political Science, and Hydrogeology. When not in the office, Christina enjoys performing, choreographing and teaching modern dance.

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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Go Green-Scaping!

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Lea la versión en español a continuación de esta entrada en inglés.

Some links exit EPA.Exit EPA Disclaimer Get PDF reader.

Photo of pink orchids cluster.When I lived in Puerto Rico, there were flowers plants and trees everywhere. Beautiful orchids, bouganvilleas, flamboyanes (flaming trees), palm trees—a true painter’s palette. My close relatives were gifted with green thumbs. It seemed they could produce a full plant from a little twig.

Unfortunately, I was not as lucky. I confess that living in a tropical setting, it was an adjustment to relocate to a region where we have four seasons and with seasonal flowers. Last year when we were remodeling the house, I let my husband redesign the decks, but I asked that he leave the landscaping to me.

Working at EPA, I was convinced that I had to practice what I preach. The whole concept of greenscaping is a practice we highly recommend. This type of gardening not only contributes to the natural beauty, but it also protects the environment.

Photo of the backyard with trees and the house' deck.Before buying plants and designing the landscape, I studied which are
the native plants to the area of Maryland. (PDF) (24 pages, 279KB).

By selecting native plants, you minimize the use of water as well as the use of fertilizers and pesticides. I also selected several varieties of evergreens to ensure some type of foliage year round. I also studied which were the ideal plants for the type of soil I have to reduce maintenance and labor—remember I mentioned that I don’t have a green thumb.

In sum, gardening can be a very positive experience for environmental protection. One of the projects for this summer will be composting. I’ll let you know how that goes.

¡Viva la jardinería ecológica!

Photo of pink orchids cluster.Cuando vivía en Puerto Rico, habían flores y árboles por doquier. Hermosas orquídeas, trinitarias, flamoyanes*, palmas—una verdadera paleta de pintor. Mis familiares cercanos tenían mucha suerte sembrando las plantas. Parecía que podían producir una planta de un simple gancho.

Lamentablemente, yo no he tenido la misma suerte. Confieso que viniendo de un ambiente tropical, fue un ajuste vivir en una región donde tenemos cuatro temporadas con plantas típicas de cada estación. El año pasado cuando estábamos haciendo unas remodelaciones en la casa, dejé que mi esposo diseñara los balcones, pero le pedí que me dejara el diseño del jardín a mí.

Trabajando en la Agencia de Protección Ambiental, estaba convencida que tenía que practicar lo que predico. Todo el concepto de jardinería ecológica (PDF) (16 pages, 2.7 MB) o como se dice en inglés “greenscaping” es algo que recomendamos. Este tipo de jardinería no tan sólo contribuye a la belleza natural del lugar sino también ayuda a proteger el medio ambiente.

Photo of the backyard with trees and the house' deck.Antes de hacer el diseño, estudié cuáles eran las plantas nativas del área de Maryland. (PDF) (24 pages, 279KB)

Al seleccionar las plantas nativas se reduce la necesidad de utilizar agua en exceso así como la necesidad de utilizar fertilizantes y pesticidas. También estudié cuáles eran las plantas ideales para el tipo de terreno y las que requerirían menor mantenimiento—recuerden que comenté que no tengo la misma habilidad con las plantas como mis familiares.

En fin, la jardinería puede ser una actividad positiva para la protección ambiental. Uno de mis proyectos para este verano será el compostaje, el abono orgánico. Ya les contaré.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.