There are so many factors that contribute to quality air conditioning. Austin is still under siege of those day-round hot temperatures that have us pushing our air conditioners to their limits, so it’s natural that people are curious about any way they can get more out of their air conditioners while reducing their energy bills. One big, often overlooked factor in the efficiency of one’s air conditioning is insulation.
Insulation, at its core, is about efficient energy usage. Insulation is anything that limits the exchange of materials between a designated inner area and the outside world. When talking about home insulation, we’re talking about the materials placed in the walls of a home that limit the amount of unwanted exchange of air between the outside and the inside. This is what allows us to have comfortable houses even during the highest highs and lowest lows of the season. It’s equally important for both the cooling and the heating season in the year because insulation is all about keeping the controlled and conditioned air from being compromised by the outside air.
In the rest of this article, there will be laid out a number of tips ranging from simple maintenance tasks to complete overhauls, all of which will be about how you can improve your home’s insulation. This will empower you to increase your energy efficiency and waste less of that precious conditioned air in your home.
Tip #1 Taking Stock of your Current Insulation
The first thing you want to do when thinking about improving your home’s insulation is to figure out what you’re working with to begin with. After all, it’s hard to know where to go if you don’t know where you are. So the first step is to just check the common problem areas and see what you’ve got as far as insulation goes. Go up to your attic and see if you’ve got insulation there. If you’ve got an older house there may not be any.
In fact, if you’re house is older than 1940, there’s a chance it has very little insulation at all. If you’ve had a history of trouble with energy usage and keeping your house cool or warm in the summer and winter, you may have a serious lack of insulation as the culprit. You’ll want to look at all the areas in which the utilities reach your home. This means the plumbing, electrical, phone, cable, vent stacks, etc. Check the spots where these connections lead outside and see if there are any obvious areas where air might be escaping your home.
Tip # 2 Getting an Energy Audit
Think of this as the next step towards getting a full picture of your home’s insulation situation. An energy audit is a great idea for anyone who suspects they may not be getting the energy efficiency they could be. A professional auditor can inspect your entire home and detect problem areas where cool air might be leaking out. It’s like getting a routine checkup at the doctor. You call in a professional and they use their tools and expertise to detect problems that may be costing you money monthly.
Of course, some of you are going to want to know how much you can do in this area without calling in a professional. It turns out that you can do some of this work yourself by purchasing a spot thermometer or an infrared gun. With these tools, you can spot areas in your home in which the temperature isn’t consistent with the rest of the house. This will indicate areas where air might be escaping and being exchanged with the outside hot air.
For older homes especially, when the exact condition of your home’s insulation is pretty up in the air, a professional energy audit is a great idea. An audit may include a blower door test, which uses a high-powered fan to lower the air pressure inside. The higher outside pressure then finds its way back in through unsealed openings and cracks, revealing your air leaks. A home energy audit will also examine existing insulation’s R-value, which is a measure of how well it resists the hot and cold air trying to pass through it.
Tip # 3 Understanding the Types of Insulation
Believe it or not, not all insulation is the same. There are different types of insulation, all with their own properties and uses. For general purposes, we can categorize home insulation into four types. The first type is loose fill. Loose fill insulation is typically comprised of cellulose, mineral, or glass fibers. Also called blown-in insulation, this type is great for old houses where the amount of insulation preexisting is limited. It’s great for retrofitting because it can fit in awkward and hard to manipulate areas. As indicated by its names, loose fill or blown-in insulation is installed by blowing the recycled material into the space to be insulated so that it conforms to just the shape it needs to be.
Batt, or blanket insulation, is the next type, and this is the most common type of insulation that you might already have installed in between your walls. Typically, blanket insulation is comprised of fiberglass, but nowadays it can also be found made out of cotton, wool, or other plastic or natural materials. Ask your contractor about the potential benefits and drawbacks of these different material types. This type of insulation comes in rolls that fit snugly between the walls of your home.
Rigid insulation is the next type. As its name suggests, rigid insulation comes in tough, solid sheets or boards and is typically made of plastic foams or glass fibers. And finally, the last type of insulation is foam spray insulation. These are expanding foams that are sprayed into small and hard-to-reach areas to perform final touch insulation installation. This is an advanced technology that is comprised of proprietary chemicals and is shot out as liquid foam that becomes solid once cured. This is a very effective type of insulation that both insulates and acts as an air sealant and must be installed by a professional.
Tip # 4 DIY Insulation Improvements
Before you call a contractor to come and replace or add insulation to your home, you may want to try a few of these DIY techniques you can use to boost your home’s insulation. First is sealing doors. Doors are almost always problem areas when it comes to the details in home insulation because they are our connections between the outside air and the indoor air, in addition to windows. When doors are improperly fitted into their frames, air can leak through, typically through a gap in the bottom. Inspect all the doors that lead to the outdoors in your home. See if you can see a gap at the bottom or feel a light draft. If you can, go to your local hardware store and purchase something called a draft excluder. This is simply a tube of insulation that you can easily install in the gaps at the bottom of your doors to block air from leaking through.
What’s the other place where the outside world and the inside world connect? The windows. That’s why the next DIY insulation project is caulking your windows. Windows are supposed to be airtight when installed into the doorframe, but over time there may be gaps that form that let heat exchange happen between outside and inside the window. The best way to deal with this is by caulking the seal of the window. There are resources online to help you with the exact techniques involved in using caulk if you don’t know your way around a caulk gun.
Now, that takes care of the place where the window and the wall meet, but what about the windows themselves. Believe it or not, even if the seal around your windows is completely air tight, you might be losing coolness due to heat exchange straight through your window itself. If your windows are old, they may have lost some of their insulating ability. Luckily, there’s an easy fix and it’s called window insulation film. Purchase this relatively inexpensive film and apply it to any of your windows which you know are old or are in places where you detected temperature inconsistencies.
Tip # 5 Ductwork Insulation
According to statistics provided by Energy Star, approximately twenty percent of the air moving through our vents and ducts in our air conditioning systems is lost to the outside and the attic due to poor insulation and poorly sealed connections. Especially in the attic, the ducts in your house may not have adequate insulation to maximize the usage of air conditioning. There are many cases where the ducts in your attic are un-insulated and are letting heat from the attic freely enter the supply of cold air, or letting heat escape during the winter through the top of the house.
Have a professional apply thorough insulation around the seals of your ductwork and around the ductwork in your attic. This will help you greatly increase your energy efficiency and overall prevent the loss of cool air in the summer and heat in the winter.
Tip # 6 Achieving Adequate Insulation
So, then comes the question of how much insulation is enough. Insulation is rated by something called its R-value. R-Value is a measure of insulation's ability to resist heat flow. The higher the R-Value, the better the thermal performance of the insulation. The recommended level for most attics is to insulate to R-38 or about 10 to 14 inches, depending on insulation type. If you’re R-Value in your attic is less than R-30, which translates to about 11 inches of fiberglass insulation and 8 inches of cellulose insulation, you could definitely benefit from the increased comfort and energy efficiency that would come with greater insulation.
An energy audit from a professional will let you know what the R-Values of your house are currently and you can use an energy-saving tool like the one provided by the US Department of Energy to determine what level you should be at. This is generally based on the region you live in. Because our climate here in Austin is warmer than most, the recommended R-Values aren’t going to be as high as colder areas of the US.
Insulation Improvement and Air Conditioning Repair in Austin
There you have it, some tips and knowledge you can use to improve the insulation situation in your home. Proper insulation is a big part of the overall picture when it comes to your air conditioning because without it, you might as well be trying to cool down the whole world with your lone air conditioner. Austin air conditioning is a multi-faceted science that takes the coming together of many parts to work efficiently.
Sometimes, improving your air conditioning efficiency requires maintenance. Getting AC repair in Austin doesn’t have to be hard. AC Express is an Austin AC repair company that can get the job done. If you need any kind of air conditioning repair in Austin or around, from Round Rock and Pflugerville to Manor and Kyle, call today! (512) 866-5520