Heat loss through the ceiling and walls in your home could be
very large if the insulation levels are less than the recommended
minimum. You should check to see if the level of the attic and
wall insulation of your home is at least at the minimum recommended
amount. When your house was built, the insulation recommended
at that time was installed. Given todays energy prices,
and that future prices probably will be higher, the level might
be inadequate, especially if you have an older home. In 1997,
the U.S. Department of Energy updated its recommended insulation
If the attic hatch is located above a conditioned space, check
to see if it is at least as heavily insulated as the attic, is
weather-stripped, and closes tightly. In the attic, determine
whether openings for items such as pipes, ductwork, and chimneys
are sealed. Any gaps should be sealed with an expanding foam caulk
or some other permanent sealant. If you have recessed light fixtures,
determine if they are IC rated fixtures. It is strongly recommended
that only air tight-IC rated fixtures be used. Other types allow
large amounts of your heating dollar to escape into the attic.
If you do not wish to purchase new IC rated fixtures, be certain
to allow a three-inch space around any recessed lights. This will
prevent the recessed light from overheating.
While you are inspecting the attic, check to see if there is
a vapor barrier (retarder) under the attic insulation. The vapor
barrier might be tar paper, kraft paper attached to fiberglass
batts, or a plastic sheet. If there does not appear to be a vapor
barrier, you might consider painting the interior ceilings with
vapor barrier paint. This reduces the amount of water vapor that
can pass through the ceiling. Large amounts of moisture can reduce
the effectiveness of insulation and promote structural damage.
Make sure that the attic vents are not blocked by insulation.
You also should seal any electrical boxes in the ceiling with
flexible caulk (from the living room side or attic side) and cover
the entire attic floor with at least the recommended amount of
Checking a walls insulation level is more difficult. Select
an exterior wall and turn off the circuit breaker or unscrew the
fuse for any outlets in the wall. Be sure to test the outlets
to make certain that they are not "hot." Check it with
a lamp or portable radio. Remove the cover plate from one of the
outlets and gently probe into the wall with a thin, long stick
or screwdriver. If you encounter a slight resistance, you have
some insulation there. You could also make a small hole in a closet,
behind a couch, or in some other unobtrusive place to see what,
if anything, the wall cavity is filled with. Ideally, the wall
cavity should be totally filled with some form of insulation material.
Unfortunately, this method cannot tell you if the entire wall
is insulated, or if the insulation has settled. Only a thermographic
inspection (discussed below) can do this.
Basement or Crawl Space
If your basement is unheated, determine whether there is insulation
under the living area flooring. In most areas of the country,
R-25 is the recommended minimum level of insulation. The insulation
at the top of the foundation wall and first floor perimeter should
have an R-Value of 19 or greater. If the basement is heated, the
foundation walls should be insulated to at least R-19. Your water
heater, hot water pipes, and furnace ducts should all be insulated.