Green Equals Green: Insulation

Before leaving for our Minnesota vacation we finished a somewhat kitchen related project.  I say somewhat because we finished everything in the kitchen which required attic access.  Support framing for the wall we tore down: done.  Wiring for new lights: done.

Ben is all about energy efficiency.  Since buying our house, we’ve installed new energy-efficient windows and doors, added two inches of foam insulation around the exterior of our house, yanked out our old furnace to upgrade to a geothermal heating and cooling system, and replaced our tank water heater for a point of use water heater.  For years now, Ben has wanted to better insulate the attic but held off until we finished everything in the kitchen.  So, the time had come.

We chose cellulose insulation because it is easy to use, cheap, and eco-friendly.  Cellulose is a fancy word for shredded recycled paper treated with fire-retardant chemicals.   Of course adding any insulation will help reduce heating and cooling bills, saving you money.  But did you know that cellulose is one of the greenest building products?  Here are a few facts I learned during our research:

  • Cellulose takes less energy to make than any other insulation.
  • Has the highest recycled content; up to 85%, reducing paper in landfills.
  • Is regionally produced, limiting trucking and shipping emissions.
  • Homes insulated with cellulose require 26% less energy.
And, as an added bonus, cellulose can slow a fire from spreading by 22 to 55 percent.  Here’s a video demonstrating the fire ratings between houses insulated with fiberglass, cellulose, and without insulation.  Skip about three minutes to see the experiment.
If you’re planning on adding insulation to your home, check out this insulation table to compare different types, R values, and how green each is.

I know, I know.  I sound like I work for a cellulose producer, but I swear we’re not being paid to say this.  In fact, we’ve paid $678 to insulate our entire attic.  When Ben came home with twenty-two 25 pound bags of insulation, I naïvely thought that would be enough.  Turns out, he had to buy 52 more eighteen pound bags to cover the attic with 15 to 18  inches.  It seems strange, but we added 1,486 pounds of insulation to our house.  That’s just paper!  Ben figures we already had an R value (resistance to heat flow) of 20 before insulating.  He added enough insulation to get an R value of 60, including the existing insulation.  Wondering how much you’d need for your home?  Here’s a handy calculator to help you out.

Now that we’ve covered the benefits, let’s discuss the process.  Home Depot offers a free hopper rental if you buy 10 or more bags of insulation.  Two people are required for this job.  One to pour the bags into the hopper and another in the attic spraying it in, moving everything around.  Obviously we tackled this project during the winter.  I think the timing was less than ideal because the hopper is outside with a hose attached to the hopper, keeping the door cracked letting in a lot of cold air.  Our upper level was freezing during the six or so hours it took to get the insulation done.  Luckily, we have a basement and a fire place, so the boys and I hung out down there watching movies.  And that’s why I don’t have any pictures of this.  I’m not about to go in the attic either.  But I would suggest trying this in the spring or fall.

Have you added insulation to your house?  Did you know cellulose had such a great fire rating?  Did I completely bore you with a word filled, picture-less post about shredded paper?

9 thoughts on “Green Equals Green: Insulation

  1. hey .. I have a house that was built in 1947 in sunny but often snowy and cold Denver CO. The insulation was original to the house and when I had in the inspection done, they suggested I increase my attic insulation. I think the inspection report said I had a R13. The suggested insulation was R40. I got quotes of 4 attic insulation company to blow cellulose to a R49 that ran from $800-$3000 but they talked about the “rebate” from the government. Then, I asked my handyman (my maintenance man from my former apartment complex). Him & his partner came over and did it for $500 cash. They bought it at Home Depot and got the machine rented for free. I know I could have done it myself, I just didn’t want to. Since then, my house has been significantly wamer and cooler! It was the best investment I’ve spent on my house yet.

  2. PS: my heating bill has dropped over 25%. I don’t have a cooling bill (AC is needed for like 4 weeks in summer, so most homes don’t have it). This summer was significantly cooler rather than previous summer.

  3. We need to do this! Our home was built in the 1960’s and isn’t well insulated and needs new windows. The combination made our heating bills 50% higher than our neighbors last winter. Having not paid for heat for a home before, we thought what we paid was normal! 😦

    1. Hi Nancy O, Wow, you got an awesome deal! And, isn’t it nice that your heating bill dropped so much?!?

      Hi Lindsay, That’s awesome! Do you know when it was installed? I’ve never really had to deal with our geothermal other than at the thermostat, but I know there are a few different ways to release the water. Do you know what type you have? Ours is an open loop, so in the summer our water goes onto our lawn, not back into our well. I’ll ask Ben if there’s anything you should know. 🙂

      Hey Erin! At least you know the problem. You could try insulating before the new windows because that alone should show major improvement and it’s cheaper and easier to do. Hopefully you can get it under control and lower your monthly bill! Keep us posted, please. 🙂

      Hi Ashley, You’re so welcome! Thanks for not falling asleep before the end of the post. Haha. It’s definitely interesting if you’re needing to add insulation.


  4. I have personally accidentally set loose cellulose insulation on fire when sawdust didn’t ignite. Scared me away from it, but it was from the 1970’s. Maybe it’s different now.

  5. Could you tell me about the 2″ exterior insulation that you used? Our house is COLD and with plaster walls, I’m convinced we should do something to the exterior. Our house is vinyl sided, so just need some tips about what worked foryou.

  6. Hey Amanda, the geothermal system installed in our new house is the 400ft closed bore system and was installed by the previous owners in March 2009. I honestly know nothing about the system except that it makes our century home (approx. 140 years old) energy efficient.

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