Buildings

Published on October 2nd, 2015 | by Important Media Cross-Post

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90% Of U.S. Homes Under Insulated, Research Finds

October 2nd, 2015 by  

Originally published on Green Building Elements.
By Dawn Killough

2237031938_308389436c_zBoosting Insulation Could Cut Energy Costs, Reduce CO2 Emissions and Increase Comfort

Based on new research, the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA) estimates that roughly 90 percent of existing US single family homes are under insulated, wasting energy and money, and decreasing comfort for homeowners.

“If all U.S. homes were fitted with insulation based on the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), residential electricity use nationwide would drop by about 5 percent and natural gas use by more than 10 percent,” said Dr. Jonathan Levy, Professor of Environmental Health at Boston University School of Public Health and lead researcher on the Boston University team that investigated the subject.

This estimate is derived from information in the 2009 Residential Energy Consumption Survey, using methods to estimate insulation levels developed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and applied by Boston University researchers as part of a study supported by NAIMA into the energy savings and emissions reductions possible with increased insulation levels in US homes.

The study focuses on how increased insulation across the US housing sector can decrease energy use, as well as cut carbon dioxide and other pollutants. It will also provides estimates of the resulting public health benefits. These estimates will be developed and provided through a forthcoming series of peer-reviewed articles.

Curt Rich, President and CEO of NAIMA, emphasized the importance of these findings at this time of year. “The fall is when many homeowners around the country begin thinking about home improvements to increase comfort and reduce their energy bills as temperatures drop come winter. Research like this should reinforce our message to homeowners, and to policymakers, that added insulation has real and significant benefits.”

It is clear policy makers are taking notice, as 2015 marks the second year the Energy Star program has run its “Rule Your Attic!” campaign. This national marketing and education effort serves to raise consumer awareness of the comfort and efficiency benefits of insulation and offers tools for both diagnosing your home’s additional insulation needs and guidance on how to do the work yourself. This year’s campaign runs from Oct. 1 – Nov. 20.

Rich notes that this campaign is targeting the top barrier in the market: people just aren’t aware that their home likely has far less insulation than a home built to modern standards: “People don’t see insulation, so they don’t think about it. They see windows and doors so they think about those items.”

“The reality is that insulation has a three times greater impact on the average home’s energy and comfort than windows or doors do. This campaign encourages people to poke their heads in the attic and assess where they stand. It takes just a few minutes and can result in big improvements, both in terms of your family’s comfort and reduction in your monthly energy bills.”

The NAIMA website has resources for homeowners interested in doing insulation work themselves, including detailed pictorial guidance and videos of proper installation.

Source and Photo: PR Newswire, Mark Evans through a Creative Commons License

Reprinted with permission.


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About the Author

-- CleanTechnica is one of 18 blogs in the Important Media blog network. With a bit of overlap in coverage, we sometimes repost some of the great content published by our sister sites.



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  • vensonata

    Average residential energy bill $2300 year/ electricity portion $1300. Heating and cooling, about $1100 year. So retrofit could be a 20 year payback investment to reduce your heating cooling bill by say 60%. $700 year x 20 = $14,000 investment. You will pay one way or the other. And of course there is inflation etc. Insulation in the attic is the best bang for the buck. Air sealing, furnace upgrade, change of wasteful habits. Not hard. And of course the price of your house should increase, since as people become aware of the hole that poorly insulated houses are, then they will naturally decline in value, while well insulated houses will increase. This is a dawning awareness. The dark ages are ending.

  • JamesWimberley

    OP: research paid for by insulation manufacturers finds that people need to buy more insulation. This may very well be true, but surely you can find an independent source saying so?

  • wattleberry

    I find this if anything more shocking for not having been aired before now, unless it was, a long time ago.
    Whatever, it is a profoundly depressing revelation this far into the ‘revolution’.

  • phineasjw

    Homes are no doubt underinsulated, but before adding insulation (especially in the attic) the first thing everyone should be doing is air-sealing their house (attic first).

    Air leaks through the roof are responsible for much more heating loss than low levels of insulation.

    Cheap contractors will be happy to just fill your attic with insulation and never do the hard job of air sealing (can lights, wall top plates, duct work, pipe chases, etc). They all need to be sealed with expanding foam or equivalent. Once you air seal the attic (which is the hard part), then you can add insulation to your hearts-content.

    • Brent Jatko

      I agree. Much, much more heat is transferred by convection than by conduction.

    • Steven F

      also stop air leaks in the walls and ducts. Each outlet, water pipe, air duct, and light inside the home is a place where the wind can blow air into the home. You will need at lease several cans of foam sealant to stop these air leaks but once you do you might find you don’t need to add insulation to significantly reduce your heating or cooling bill. Also if you get a door air blow test done many of the leaks can be found before you buy the sealant Pay back time is very short.

      KF you .decide to replace windows look for windows with low air leakage.. Even many energy efficient windows today have way too much air leakage through weeping holes.When I moved into my current home many of the windows had already been replaced by the by the previous owner. They are good windows but they have overly large weeping holes which allowed a lot of air to get in. Since I live in California weeping holes are not really needed. So I sealed them and that helped eliminate some of my biggest drafts.

  • Stephen Dautner

    I think everyone has made some great points about regilatons and dreams of electric heating from past decades.

    My only fault with this article is that it is discussing the topic based primarily on research funded by the insulation industry. This article reads like a massive ad campaign and not as hard science.

    “Research finds that eating an apple a day reduces risk of heart disease (brought to you by the Conglomerate of American Apple Growers).”

    This doesn’t mean I necessarily disagree with the findings. But I would like to see similar findings from an unbiased source.

  • Andy

    I live in a house built in the 1970’s, heated by electric baseboard in New England. I hate getting the electric bill.

    • Adrian

      Many New England states have rebate programs to help offset the cost of high-efficiency minisplit heat pumps. They are 2-4x more efficient than resistance heating in all but the coldest weather. You’re likely to have a very short payback period, please look into it! (I have no financial interest in minisplits, just a happy owner and big fan).

      • Andy

        Yeah, I don’t qualify for any of them because my utility is a small municipal operation. If I lived in any neighboring towns I would have National Grid and be able to get discounts or 0% interest loans. No such luck. 🙂

    • Dag Johansen

      Uh . . . . well you better do something about that. You can certainly insulated. Can you get natural gas where you are? Would be worth it. A ground source heat-pump would be GREAT but they are expensive.

  • Roger Lambert

    This is part of a HUGE problem.

    How are going to transition to a carbon-free future AND heat our homes with electricity – when no one can afford to heat their homes with electricity?

    You know why 90% of homes are under-insulated? Because no one can afford to insulate them properly, that’s why.

    If we are going to have a carbon-free future, we must make electricity cheaper then it is right now – a lot cheaper. We should also give a lot more subsidies to insulate people’s homes. It is in our national interest to do so.

    And there is no way, that I can see, to make this happen unless our new renewable energy system is publicly-owned and price-regulated.

    • Brent Jatko

      I think market forces would drive energy consumers toward insulation. Maybe a higher electricity price and insulation subsidies would help drive a transition?

      • Adrian

        Market forces are doing the opposite. Builders are pressed to deliver at the lowest possible price. Costs for invisible “premium” items like adequate insulation eat into the builder’s margins.

        Perverse incentives, market failure, etc…

        • Brent Jatko

          Good point.

        • Brian

          That wasn’t my experience for my home built in 2014 but I agree it probably varies by neighborhood/builder. The builder in my community here in Houston used all the energy efficiency features as a selling point and provided the HERS rating. They said most of their customers are asking about energy efficiency. They did a really good job using a combination traditional and spray foam insulation depending on location. The windows are all the newest Energy Star ratings and I have a high SEER AC unit. Even with charging my Volt every night I have lower bills than most people I know.

          • Martin

            So if it is too expensive to insulate, how come the Dutch have a way to re insulate houses, apartments etc at no additional cost to the renters.
            The cost savings pay for the retrofits ( as per a article on this website) !

          • Adrian

            That’s excellent! Sounds like things may be changing! I hope it spreads.

      • Roger Lambert

        So, your answer to the problem that electricity for heating (and insulation) costs too much would be to raise the price of electricity?

        • Brent Jatko

          It would serve as a sort of crude “cudgel” toward getting people to insulate, much as the high taxes on gasoline in Europe drive them from private cars towards public transportation.

    • Adrian

      Anecdote: I’ve had a home built recently. We had the builder double the insulation in the ceiling, and went with as much R-value as we could get in the walls (we’re at R19 there, I believe). The cost delta to do that was negligible, less than one mortgage payment. We literally spent more on the tile for the bathroom floor than for the extra insulation for the entire building.

      A single 9000 BTU minisplit heatpump is able to heat and cool the place except on the most bitterly cold nights (-25F and lower, becoming rare), at a cost of roughly $100/month through the three coldest months of the winter. During the summer we’re not even able to tell what contribution to the electric bill the AC is making, it’s very small.

      Something like 70% of the housing America will need in 2030 hasn’t been built yet. Can we please build it “right” the first time so we don’t have to fix it later?

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    • Dag Johansen

      “How are going to transition to a carbon-free future AND heat our homes with electricity”

      Ground source heat pump. They are expensive but they work great.

      Can afford insulation? IT IS CHEAP. You can’t afford not to do it. Stop being lazy.

      • Roger Lambert

        I don’t have the money for a $30,000 insulation job, and a $30,000 ground source heat pump install – so that makes me lazy?!?

        I have no bread, so I should just eat cake – is that what you are saying?

        • Larmion

          Here’s one suggestion: interest rates are near an all time low, and it’s quite possible to get loans with a longer duration than the payback time of insulation (so that your monthly loan repayments are lower than the net savings from day one).

          This is of course assuming the homeowner does not already have so much debt he would struggle to secure a further loan. But let’s be honest: that just proves he lacks basic financial literacy.

        • Steven F

          Instead of ground source heat pumps get air source heat pumps. They are also very efficient (not quite as good as ground source heat pumps but close) and they cost a lot less to install. if your home already has a air conditioner you already have much of what you need install led (air handlers and refrigerant lines installed in the home..If that is the case simply replacing the AC unit with a heat pump and installing a new thermostat would be about all that is needed.

          Before installing insulation have a home blow test done. That will identify many of the air leaks in your home. air leaks account for more energy loss in a typical home than lack of insulation.Then you can use cans of foam sealant to seal the air leaks. This will cost a lot less than insulation installation by a contractor and this is easy enough that most people can do much of the sealing needed to stop drafts.

          Once you have the air leaks stopped add a ceiling insulation insulation if you need it. Stopping air leaks is often more effective and costs less than adding insulation in the walls.

        • Ulenspiegel

          “How is the average American going to afford a complete switch off of
          fossil fuels to electricity – when almost nobody can afford to heat
          their homes with electricity right now?”

          Then we are talking about people who should not have become “homeowner” in the first place. If you can’t afford electricity nor insulation you have no option left which allows to maintain your status as “homeowner”. I do not see the point of your post.

    • Brooks Bridges

      I respectfully disagree. For one thing, 30 years ago I read that first you stop leaks – a good caulk job with a blower door running and infra-red camera catching leaks costs like $1200. You get rebates for that. Insulating roof of my attic with 8″ foam was like $2,500 after rebates. Huge drop in heating costs in MD and smaller drop in electricity usage. Payback in a few years.
      People won’t blink at paying far more to remodel a kitchen, etc., and never get a payback
      They never do math to see what they’d save by sealing, insulating. Sheer ignorance is the problem.
      And as someone else pointed out, negawatts are 24/7, 365 days a year.

  • vensonata

    I wonder who was behind the building code insulation rules in the 50’s and 60’s? Perhaps the oil companies? It is a little like the car companies supporting Mayoral candidates who ripped up streetcar lines to make way for cars. Insulation levels in US houses is a travesty. There are about 125 million homes that need to double or triple their insulation. Those houses are something like a refrigerator made in 1978 compared to a new energy star refrigerator.

    The article says “If all U.S. homes were fitted with insulation based on the 2012
    International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), residential electricity
    use nationwide would drop by about 5 percent and natural gas use by more
    than 10 percent,” I find that estimate ridiculously low. Cooling and heating is by far the largest portion of energy use in the residential sector and for commercial buildings. Or perhaps the 2012 code is also feeble! If you are going to the trouble of insulating, do it once and do it right.

    • Brent Jatko

      IMO, the optimism of that era, when electricity was supposed to be “too cheap to meter” because of nuclear power plants, was partly responsible for this.

    • Dag Johansen

      Old California houses have absolutely NO insulation. It sucks for both winter and summer.

      • Brent Jatko

        The houses in Houston, TX are similar. Hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars could be shaved off of electric bills (on a per household per year basis) if meaningful insulation were installed here.

  • Martin

    Considering what was thought to be good insulation a few decades ago the does not surprise me.
    If you want to save money/energy insulation/energy efficiency is the must go too solution!

    • Brent Jatko

      Absolutely!

      I know “plural of anecdote =/= data, but I know several families that have redone their insulation and A/C duct work (this is Houston, TX, so A/C is a huge summertime expense here) and had it pay off in one or two years’ time.

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