Insulation can ward off rising fuel costs

Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Eric Myer of Eshenaurs Fuels delivered heating fuel Nov. 8 to a home in Harrisburg, Pa. With heating oil prices on the rise, there are some steps you can take to cut down on your energy bill. (Carolyn Kaster ~ Associated Press)

Ready or not, home heating fuel prices are on the rise.

Homeowners have long been aware that adding insulation makes sense. Actually, it makes "dollars and cents" -- in the form of energy savings.

The average American will spend $977 to heat the home this year, according to the Energy Information Administration -- nearly 10 percent higher than last year.

Here's how to turn a simple weekend project into years of comfort and savings.

The first step is to take a look at the existing insulation in your attic. In the simplest of terms, if your attic floor is insulated but the wood beams (ceiling joists) are still visible, you probably don't have enough. The best thing to do is measure the thickness of the material in the attic.

Three to six inches of insulation represents an R-value of between R-9 and R-19. That may have been adequate 20 or 30 years ago (when oil was $5 or $10 a barrel), but today R-values should range between R-25 and R-49 (8 to 15.5 inches) -- depending on climate -- for maximum energy efficiency and comfort.

R-value is a measure of how well an insulation product resists the flow of heat or cold through it. The higher the number, the better the insulating properties.

Find out how much you need based on local heating and cooling costs and climate conditions at the Energy Department Web site at www1.eere.energy.gov/consumer/tips/insulation.html.

Once you've established how much insulation you'll need, all that remains are a few simple tools and the better part of a day to begin saving money. Here's a list of basic tools you'll want to have on hand:

* Straightedge (for scoring and/or cutting)

* Tape measure

* Utility knife

* Portable work light

* Pole or rake (to push insulation into tight spots)

* Work gloves

* Loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirt

* Safety glasses

* Dust respirator mask

Finally, it's time to install. Use boards or sheets of plywood on top of the ceiling joist as a working platform to safely cut insulation. The platform can also prevent a nasty fall through the ceiling. Move the boards as necessary to complete a section at a time.

Begin installing at the outer edge of the attic and work toward the center.

If spaces between your joists are already filled, lay the new insulation in long runs perpendicular to the joists (crosswise). Use leftover pieces to fill small spaces. No stapling is required when installing insulation in an existing attic. Simply lay it into place.

If joist cavities are not completely filled, fill them first with the appropriate thickness of insulation. Then continue as directed above.

Unfaced fiberglass insulation will not burn, but can cause heat-producing devices to overheat, which can be a fire hazard. Leave at least three inches between insulation and recessed lighting, metal chimneys, gas water heater flues and/or other heat-producing devices. Only recessed lighting fixtures rated "I.C." are designed for direct contact with insulation.

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