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By Anne Prince

Walls. Floors. Ceilings. Attic. These are some of the prime areas of a home that need insulation in order for you to maximize energy efficiency. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), adding insulation to your home is a sound investment that likely will pay for itself quickly in reduced utility bills. In fact, DOE estimates that you can reduce your heating and cooling needs up to 30 percent by properly insulating and weatherizing your home.

The actual amount of savings for any home depends upon several factors – the age of the structure, the current level of insulation, your climate, efficiency of your heating/cooling system and your utility rates. On average, older homes have less insulation than homes built today, but even adding insulation to a newer home can pay for itself within a few years.

How does insulation work?

Heat flows naturally from a warmer space to a cooler space. During winter months, this means heat moves directly from heated living spaces to adjacent unheated attics, garages, basements and even outdoors. It can also travel indirectly through interior ceilings, walls and floors – wherever there’s a difference in temperature. During summer months, the opposite happens – heat flows from the exterior to the interior of a home.

Proper installation of insulation creates resistance to heat flow, which is measured or rated in terms of R-value – the higher the R-value, the greater the insulation’s effectiveness. The more heat flow resistance your insulation provides, the lower your heating and cooling costs will be.

So, where do you start?

You first need to determine how much insulation you already have in your home and where it’s located. If you need assistance, your co-op conducts energy efficiency audits for the home and will check insulation as a routine part of the assessment. For folks with a do-it-yourself spirit, you can conduct an insulation audit yourself. Here’s what you should be looking for:

  •    What areas in your home are, aren’t or should be insulated.
  •    The type of insulation in your home.
  •    The R-value and the thickness or depth (inches) of the insulation.

A prime area that’s often chronically under-insulated is the attic. Attic insulation is essential to help keep warm air inside in the winter and prevent hot attic air from heating your living spaces in the summer. According to the DOE, in Iowa you should have up to R-60 in the attic and R-30 in the floors. For more details on R-values and insulation types, visit the DOE website at; search the word “insulation.” And remember to contact the energy experts at your local electric cooperative too.

Anne Prince writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives. 


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