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Published on December 14th, 2012 | by Scott Cooney


Home insulation, good money saving habits, and you

By now most Green Living Ideas readers know the value of home insulation, but for those new to the green lifestyle, insulation is like an extra blanket on your bed in the winter. Except for houses, the insulation can help keep in cooler air in the summer and warmer air in the winter.

Pointing out how much energy is wasted through inadequate insulation, Paul Hawken, author of Natural Capitalism, famously said there’s more energy in the attics of homes in America than in entirety of Alaskan oil reserves. It’s one of the best investments most homeowners can make in terms of energy savings. But given a variety of factors, many people do not adequately insulate their homes, and end up spending more money heating and cooling the inefficient space than they would on the insulation job.

So where to begin?

The first thing to do is to look at your heating and cooling bill. Tack it up somewhere publicly, so everyone in the home is aware that it’s costing you a lot of money that might be better spent somewhere else. Then get everyone aware and working on the easy habits that will save you money and  help cut greenhouse gas emissions.

  1. Close doors and windows when you’re losing heat (or cool air) through them. If you want to air the place out, wait until the temperature outside matches the temperature inside as much as possible. If air quality is a concern, consider an air filter or indoor plants that help clean the air rather than airing the place out in the middle of winter.
  2. Match your cooking with the weather. There’s a lot of reasons that BBQ’s are popular in the summer. One little known one is that if you run a BBQ in your air-conditioned house, you’re creating a lot of heat and making your A/C work harder than it has to. Same goes for baking, crock pots, and any other cooking style that can release a lot of heat. In the summer, maybe eat more raw foods (here’s a great recipe for kale salad to get you started), and in the winter, maybe get a crockpot and make a lot of stews that cook all day (and heat the home at the same time).
Once you’ve started the whole family thinking about saving money on heating and cooling, it’s time to think about spending a little money up front to make big change over time. Every house is different, so it’s impossible to make any blanket statements about insulation, but these two techniques are the best ways to *generally* start.
  1. Invest in a programmable thermostat. It’s easily the best investment you’ll make. You can set the temperature so that it’s more comfortable when you’re home, and less so when you’re not.
  2. Get an energy audit from a company that specializes in doing one. The infrared technology these companies use will help show where your house is leaking, and what might need more insulation. The knowledge you’ll gain through an audit literally is power to do something about it. Once you’ve identified the major areas of need, you can spend your money wisely in order to help rectify the situation.

Windows are obviously a big part of the insulation challenge in a house. Our sister site, CleanTechnica, posted an article about how to best tackle the window insulation challenge, so we won’t cover it in great detail here. Suffice to say that extra panes of glass in a window are basically the same idea as putting the blanket on your bed at night. What double and triple pane windows do is trap layers of air on the inside, so that there are barriers between the air in your house and outside, which helps stop the transfer of heat. In the winter, you can also cover windows with blankets, or if they’re in a place where you want the light to shine through, you can also get some clear plastic and tape it up around the edges of the windowsill to trap another layer of air as a barrier to the outside.

Whatever you end up doing, know that investing in insulation usually has a very rapid payback period. Often this can be less than a year for really drafty homes, and likely several years for the average home. After that, watch the savings just roll in for the rest of the life of your home!

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About the Author

Scott Cooney is a serial eco-entrepreneur including being the solo founder of Pono Home,, and CleanTechnica; author of two books; former sustainability consultant with clients including Johnson & Johnson, Eastman Chemical, Wal-Mart, and Duke Energy; former Adjunct teaching the first course in sustainable business in the MBA program at UH Manoa; lover of local, healthy food and especially vegan nachos. Find Scott on Twitter

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