How to check (and fill) insulation gaps using a laser thermometer (DIY)
If you’ve been fiddling with the thermostat more often than not, chances are your home is suffering from severe energy inefficiencies, likely caused by weak insulation. But, how can you check where your insulation may not be sealing well? The easiest (and cheapest!) way to check is by picking up an inexpensive laser thermometer from your local hardware store, and spending a few hours examining your home’s walls. This DIY energy audit will help you figure out exactly which areas of your home have the poorest energy transfers, so you’ll know where you need to re-insulate.
So, what’s up with my insulation?
Analyzing your home’s energy efficiency is crucial not just for saving money, but also for protecting the health of your house and your family. A poorly insulated home not only causes energy to escape more quickly, it can also cause moisture to get trapped between the walls. This will cause mold and rot to form, which can potentially lead to respiratory illness if left to spread, not to mention damaged walls that need to be replaced.
Of course, one of the biggest repercussions of energy inefficiency is an enormous energy bill.
The Laser Thermometer
A laser thermometer allows you to take the average temperature of an object or area simply by pointing and pushing a button. Although this isn’t a tool most people readily have on hand, you can pick one up from any hardware store or online for as little as $15. It’s a beautiful, simple, and elegant device. Just point and shoot the laser at an object, and you’ll get a temperature reading from the spot you’ve pointed at. Try it by shooting the laser into your morning coffee–it might even save you burning your tongue.
Checking interior walls
Take the temperature around doors, windows, vents, light switches, and other openings. If you find an area that has a significant temperature difference compared to the rest of the room, odds are, you have an insulation leak. Check with your local hardware store about the best way to create more airtight seals. More than likely, the weakest spots in your insulative seal are around outlets, windows and doors. If so, caulking is usually a very effective and inexpensive DIY solution. If it’s your floor that’s doing the most leaking, consider putting in a layer of insulation there in a fashionable and beautiful modular rug from a super sustainable company like FLOR. (As an aside, modular rugs are amazing–you can spill wine on one section, and rather than having to replace the entire rug, you just replace the one 50 cm square and boom–whole new rug. Plus, they provide a warming effect to a room and help insulate it from the ground up).
Another possibility is that the insulation is simply weak in the walls themselves. You might find this if you take a temperature reading on an interior wall that is significantly lower than other readings on other interior walls. Check out this DIY clip of a guy finding gaps, and then filling them with spray foam insulation:
You might try taking temperature readings in the afternoon and again at night, as daily fluctuations vary. If you take readings on an intensely sunny day, the solar heat might warm up your exterior walls more than normal, giving you a skewed understanding of your home’s insulation. Therefore, it may be better to check again during the evening when things have cooled down, or on a day with more moderate weather. The more data, the better.
Do not overfill with spray foam insulation! You may think, “the more the merrier”, but that is definitely not the case. If you overdo it, you risk putting stress on all components of your wall, from the frame to the drywall, and if there are weak areas, you might have something buckle or collapse…nothing like a bubble emerging from your wall to say your house is classy! So go easy, and err on the side of caution. You can always insert some insulation, then check the leaks again with a thermal imaging camera or laser thermometer again before proceeding.
Finally, if this is your first time giving your home an energy audit, it’s a good idea to do this in both the summer and winter to get a more comprehensive understanding of your home’s energy profile. After these initial readings, you can check again once ever year or two, or whenever you find yourself having difficulty maintaining your home’s temperature. If you’re an energy nerd like me, it’s fun to keep a journal of these kinds of things.
Now that you have the lowdown on how to do a home insulation audit using an infrared thermometer, you can now help ensure your home has the insulation it needs to keep your family comfortable and your bills down.
About the Author: Paul Kazlov is a “green” home remodeling enthusiast and an industry pioneer for innovation in home renovation. Paul writes for the Global Home Improvement blog and strives to educate people about “green” products such as metal roofing and solar. Follow him on Twitter @PaulKazlov.