Insulating your attic might not be the sexiest home renovation project around, but it’s probably one of the most practical home improvements you can make. Think about it: Every ounce of insulation you add pays off by reducing the amount of heat that tends to escape through attics, thus lowering your heating bills (as well as your air-conditioning costs during summer).
But just how much money will you save insulating your attic? Here’s how to crunch the numbers on this cost-saving measure to decide whether this renovation is worth it for you.
What are the benefits of insulating an attic?
“In a conventional home, an attic is vented to the outside and insulated with porous material that allows cold air to enter in the winter and cold air to escape in the summer,” explains CR Herro, vice president of innovation at Meritage Homes.
Insulation to the upper trusses provides a barrier that drastically reduces the amount of air that enters or escapes a home.
Signs that your attic insulation is subpar include drafts, uneven temperatures between rooms, high heating/cooling bills, and ice dams in the winter (i.e., those pretty icicles that hang from the edge of your roof).
How much does it cost to insulate an attic—and how much will you save?
First off, you should know that insulating your attic isn’t cheap. Estimates suggest that it’ll cost around $1,340.
But get this: The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that this winter, the average homeowner will spend either $595 for natural gas or $1,646 for heating oil to keep warm. (You’re not imagining things; both numbers are higher than last year.)
Insulating your attic, however, could trim those expenses by as much as 30%, Herro says.
Your total gas cost would fall to $417, or oil expense to $1,152. Plus, folks who live in a climate of extreme temperatures will likely notice a larger difference in their bills than a someone who lives in a moderate climate.
What’s the ROI on insulating an attic?
There’s also resale value to consider. If the time comes when you want to sell your home, you can tout your newly insulated attic and command a better price.
In fact, experts at Remodeling magazine have found that buyers are willing to shell out an extra $1,446 for a home with an insulated attic. Compared with the average cost of insulating—$1,343—that’s a 107.7% return on your investment!
How to tell if your attic needs insulation (or more of it)
If your home was built before 1960, it’s likely to be under-insulated. But many not-so-old homes also lack the right amount of insulation, or the insulation has been degraded or disturbed over the years, which means that adding more could still be beneficial.
Just keep in mind, “the savings from adding insulation to your attic will vary greatly depending on how well-sealed the home is, how large the house is, how much insulation is there to begin with, and how much the temperature difference is outdoors versus indoors,” points out Mark Tyrol, an engineer and president of Battic Door Energy Conservation Products.
Put simply, if you have leaks in other parts of your home that are letting expensive heated (or cooled) air out, insulating your attic probably won’t make a huge difference unless you take care of those other problems, too.
Drafts occur through small cracks around your doors and windows, as well as “holes” in your home from your clothes dryer vent, fireplace, and attic fan. The good news? You can seal these areas yourself without much of an investment of time, energy, or expertise. (Here’s more info on how to seal your home.)
Any other reasons to insulate?
There are. An insulated attic also provides the following benefits:
- Cleaner air: “Sealed and insulated attics reduce pollen and dust sources into the home,” says Herro. You’ll breathe easier inside your house, especially during allergy season.
- Fewer temperature swings in the home: “Insulation helps significantly reduce extreme hot or extreme cold temperatures on the upper surface of homes, resulting in more comfortable living spaces,” Herro says.
Is all insulation the same?
Nope. You have many choices, “but knowing the limitations of your space is key,” says Mark Scott, president of MARK IV Builders, a design/build residential remodeling firm based in the Washington, DC, area.
Blanket insulation is probably what first comes to mind when you picture insulation. It’s a material of flexible fibers (like fiberglass) that comes in fat rolls. Blanket insulation is the most cost-effective option, says Scott, but is meant to fill only smaller surface areas—it has to be fitted between studs, joists, and beams.
Loose-fill or blown-in insulation, which is literally blown into a space, is great for filling up existing finished areas, around obstructions, or weirdly shaped areas. So is spray-in (polyurethane) foam, which is the most costly insulation, “but it provides the most protection from harsh seasonal temperature changes and weather events alike,” says Scott.
Who should insulate my attic?
Want to save some cash? If your attic is accessible and easy to move around in—and you love a DIY challenge and have about three days to spare—you could tackle the insulation yourself (here’s more on how to insulate an attic). But if that didn’t just describe you or your situation, or if you encounter any of the following, you’ll need to hire a professional:
- Tricky attic access
- Little or no attic ventilation
- Signs of moisture problems in your attic (like moldy rafters)
- Signs of a leaky roof
- Any vents in your home that vent to the attic instead of the outdoors
“A carefully executed installation (read: enlisting a knowledgeable support team of contractors and electricians) will help ensure the insulation remains intact for years to come, saving your energy bill and your home some serious headache,” says Scott.
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