Unless you plan to take up winter sports inside your home, you’ve probably given a thought or two to drafts, ice dams, and heating bills. This is the time of year you remember your home could benefit from a few updates in the comfort department, and the right professionals can help you sort through your options to make the wisest choices.
Many remodeling contractors offer home performance services. This is becoming increasingly common among remodelers because is it very easy to make improvements to your home’s outer envelope while remodeling is underway. By evaluating your home prior to the start of construction, they are often able to work in improvements during construction, and you could end up with more living space and a lower heating bill. Chad Speight of Chads Design Build studied nine remodeling projects in which they incorporated efficiency improvements and found energy savings of 22–53 percent per home even when living space increased.
Chad routinely asks if there is interest in a home performance evaluation. When he recently met with a homeowner to talk about a kitchen update, he explained that since they would be adding a beam in the attic to facilitate a change in the kitchen layout, it would be an ideal time to make simple attic improvements to increase comfort throughout the house. These are the type of improvements those in the field refer to as “low-hanging fruit.”
When asked about replacing windows and doors, Chad explains that although there are many good reasons to update a window or door, the energy savings gained is usually longer term (which would seem to imply this is high-hanging fruit). He suggests you replace windows and doors because new ones are easier to operate and keep clean, have better sound insulation, and provide improved aesthetics. If these issues aren’t concerns, you can sometimes improve the efficiency of older windows and doors with air seals around the operating components.
Even though most homeowners’ first thoughts are more insulation, air sealing is a critical first step. Many times homes have gaps and cracks that allow air to flow in, and you need to seal these properly before adding insulation. In the kitchen project we were following, it turned out the attic was in need of air sealing.
Your home’s age is likely to predetermine the issues a home performance consultant might find. Chad points out that each decade has its own issues as building practices change, improve, and even suffer temporary setbacks.
Homes 80 years and older were built with hollow walls sometimes filled with a bit of insulation material that settled to the bottom over time. Air sealing offers big improvements for these homes, and a contractor can blow insulation into the walls through small holes. Avoid insulating around knob and tube wiring because of safety concerns.
Ironically, homes 40 years old or newer often suffer from lack of airflow. During the energy crisis of the 1970s, new insulation and air sealing guidance recommended an overzealous approach that prevents any outside air from entering the home. This can cause problems with indoor air quality and mold and mildew, but proper venting will correct the issue.
You will want to use a qualified home performance consultant to assess your home. Focus on Energy provides standards for evaluating your home through the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® program, and their Trade Ally contractors are Building Performance Institute (BPI) certified. These contractors are trained to find ways to improve comfort, ensure healthy indoor air quality, and help you save energy.
Some remodelers have a home performance consultant on staff, and some, like Chads, regularly work with independent consultants or insulation contractors. If you are not remodeling and plan only home performance improvements, you might contact an insulation contractor who has an evaluator on staff, such as Duerst Insulation Technicians. You might also choose to contact an independent consultant, then handle the improvements yourself.
The evaluation cost ranges from $400 to $600 depending on the home’s size and characteristics, but remodelers and insulation contractors may discount the fee when you choose to work with them on improvements. Duerst, for example, charges $200 for the assessment when you use their insulation services, which means you have more money to put toward beneficial improvements.
Todd Steege, a BPI Building Analyst Professional at Duerst, normally spends about two hours at a home and another two to three hours preparing a complete report. The evaluation will include a blower door test and the use of infrared imaging to detect cold air leaks and insulation gaps. The consultant tests all exhaust fans for proper airflow, checks on the hot water heater to be sure it is venting correctly, and tests the indoor air quality for carbon monoxide.
When the evaluation is complete, you receive a detailed list of possible improvements with the cost listed for improvements Duerst is able to perform. The recommendations will specify the right insulation for the job. Lee Duerst offers several insulating materials and techniques and stresses that the fiberglass batting we all think of when we think “insulation” is not universally effective. Other products, including spray foams, blown-in cellulose, loose cellulose, injection foams, and coatings, all have advantages that make them more suitable for certain situations. In fact, in some homes fiberglass insulation needs to be removed either because it was too densely packed, contaminated, or not the right product for the space.
Do yourself and your home a favor this year by scheduling a home performance evaluation and planning a couple of improvements. Often the lowest of the low-hanging fruit turns out to be, well, low. Foaming the sills above the foundation walls in the basement can cost $800 to $1,500 for a home with a footprint of 1,500 square feet, and you are likely to notice a difference in both comfort and energy savings the very first winter. As winter sets in, decreased heating costs and warm toes sound well worth the investment.
Yvette Jones is President of designCraft Advertising and serves on the board of NARI Madison.
Trust a NARI Professional. These NARI members appeared in this article.
Chads Design Build
Duerst Insulation Technicians
The National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) represents people who work in and with the remodeling industry. NARI professionals are expected to be licensed and insured, educated about current industry standards, ethical, and dedicated to excellent customer service. Contact the NARI Madison office at (608) 222-0670 or at narimadison.org.