Arrrggghhh! I’ve been waiting for a chance to use some pirate-ease on this blog. Because I can’t wait until Talk Like a Pirate Day, which only comes around once a year, I figured I’d jump at the chance now. I know, I know … you’re still scratching your head. Wait for it.
With renovations kicking into gear—something that seems to happen only when we pay someone else to do the work—it’s time to talk insulation. And you can’t talk about insulation without talking about R-values. (Now you’re catching on! Say it with me, “Aargghh-values.”)
According to Energy Star, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency voluntary program that helps businesses and individuals save money and protect the environment through energy efficiency, R-value is a measure of insulation’s ability to resist heat transfer. The higher the value, the better the thermal performance. Different climates and housing zones (not to be confused with hardiness zones) perform differently, requiring varied levels of thermal protection to be cost-effective.
In our zone-4 abode, the minimum recommended R-value is 25. As we gutted the structure, we found not only multiple types of insulation (original plaster, blown cellulose and rolled fiberglass) but also varying levels. The rolled fiberglass (the pink stuff found in many homes today) was an R15—well below the recommended minimum.
Seeking to make the 100-plus-year-old house as efficient as possible, we weighed the costs and benefits and determined that spray foam was the way to go for our farmhouse. While costly upfront, the spray foam would provide future savings in the form of lower heating and cooling bills, as well as tax incentives. (Check with your local utility company and the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Energy to see if your project qualifies.)
Courtesy Stephanie Staton
There are DIY options for spray foam, but we opted to get recommendations and quotes from local service providers to ensure the job was done well and to maximize the insulation’s efficiency. Just as different climates and housing zones require different R-values, they also require different insulation types, such as closed versus open cell, and thicknesses of spray foam. Instead of choosing the cheapest company, we chose one priced middle of the road because it was both informative and flexible with our budget. It offered suggestions for areas to insulate now versus later and explained how each would impact the home’s efficiency.
I was curious to see how the insulation could be contained, knowing that spray foam expanded once sprayed. After spraying the walls, the foam is left to dry before the excess is sawed off flush with the wall studs, using a big saw that reminds me of an electric turkey-carving knife. The technicians insulated the entire house in less than four days, including clean up. This has been, by far, one of our fastest projects on the house to date.