The Costs & Benefits of Attic Insulation for Your Home
Home improvement projects can come with a hefty price tag, especially when you factor in any professional labor needed for installation. However, these investments have the potential to yield significant long-term savings and enhance the overall value of your property. But how do you weigh these possible benefits when faced with decisions about which home improvements to tackle, and how?
With more than half of our home’s total energy consumption going to heating and cooling, improvements that reduce these expenditures can substantially affect your annual cost of living. This article will lay out both the costs and potential savings of one of the most effective ways to reduce energy consumption: insulating your attic. We’ll break down not only the long-term benefits of attic insulation but also the different types of attic insulation materials, their respective cost estimates, value, and installation needs.
Attic Insulation: Forgotten or Feeble
As New England natives, where old homes are abundant, we’re not surprised to find a house lacking attic insulation or with a less than optimal insulation type and distribution. But the Northeast isn’t alone in this. Across the country, attics are often a forgotten or inadequately insulated element of residential buildings. There are many reasons why this is often the case:
- Historical Construction Practices: You’ll often find attic insulation absent from older homes due to historical design and lack of awareness around the benefits of insulating your attic. In the past, energy efficiency wasn’t a primary concern and insulation materials were less readily available or affordable than they are today.
- Limited Access: Attics can sometimes be difficult to access making installation more challenging. If attic insulation wasn’t installed when the house was built, homeowners may feel insulating is more work than it’s worth.
- Regional Climate: Homes in warmer climates with milder winters may have uninsulated attics because the perceived need for insulation is less pronounced.
- Building Codes: Requirements for insulation differ from one region to another or may only apply to new construction and major renovations.
General awareness is also a barrier to insulating your attic. Without understanding the benefits, homeowners might avoid the upfront cost of insulating this little used space.
Savings & Benefits of Attic Insulation
When you think of insulation, you probably think about keeping heat inside your home, like wearing a puffy down jacket on a cold winter day. But many don’t realize that your insulation can impact more than just your home’s temperature. Insulation plays a role in moisture levels, air quality, and even heat diffusion in hot weather. This applies to insulation throughout your home, but these effects can be felt even more keenly in your attic, which is closest to exposure to the sun, weather and rising humid air from within the structure.
Energy Cost Savings
Properly insulating your attic can help maintain consistent indoor temperatures. That means it helps to keep your home warm on cold days and cool on hot days. This reduces the workload on your home’s heating and cooling systems, which can result in substantial energy cost savings. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, adequate insulation can save homeowners up to 15% on heating and cooling.
Reduced energy consumption also translates to a lower carbon footprint and a more environmentally responsible home. With a lower need to use your gas, propane, fuel oil or electric heating and cooling systems, fewer greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide are released into the air. The overall environmental impact will depend on the types of attic insulation materials you choose for your home, but energy savings essentially go hand in hand with ecological benefits.
Increased Property Value
Upgraded attic insulation adds value to your home, making it more attractive to potential buyers if you’re thinking of selling. This can be a crucial selling point for regions with more extreme seasons. In 2022, the National Association of Realtors estimated that insulation upgrade projects have a 100% cost recovery and are a great marketing point for increasingly climate-conscious buyers.
Regulating Moisture in Your Home
Attic insulation also plays a vital role in controlling your home’s humidity levels. Properly insulated attics help maintain balanced indoor humidity, which can have multiple benefits. When humidity levels are excessively high, it can lead to condensation on surfaces, including ceilings and walls. Over time, this condensation can cause water damage, like peeling paint, stains, and even structural issues. The proper insulation will allow excess moisture to escape your home, protecting your structure from damage. This vapor diffusion and specific ingredients added to your insulation material can also mitigate the growth of mold and mildew, helping you maintain healthier indoor air quality.
Understanding Different Types of Attic Insulation
Depending on the size, accessibility and final use of your attic space, batt and blow in attic insulation are most common. Batt allows you to insulate between rafters and is an excellent option for homeowners who want to transform their attic into a functional storage or living space. Blow in attic insulation is an effective method for achieving even coverage in hard-to-reach places but requires professional tools and installation experts.
There are also multiple types of attic insulation materials with varying costs, benefits, environmental impact, and attic insulation R value. Let’s review the four types of attic insulation that are most common.
Loose-fill fiberglass insulation is made from molten glass spun or blown into fibers. Though some fiberglass is manufactured from recycled glass, most is made from sand. It is noncombustible, will not rot or absorb moisture and does not support the growth of mold and mildew. However, fiberglass is known to be a skin and lung irritant, posing hazards to your family. It’s also not an effective pest preventative and can become the home to rodents, insects and more. All insulation can be a home for rodents if we’re being honest. Fiberglass isn’t biodegradable, making it durable in your home but leaving it in a landfill when disposed of.
Mineral wool or rock wool is made from stone or slag heated to a high temperature and spun into fibers. Its feedstock is often the industrial waste from the steel industry that would otherwise have no use. Mineral wool has many of the same properties as fiberglass, including potential irritation to the skin and lungs and its inability to biodegrade once disposed. It has the added benefit of increased sound-deadening, making your home quieter and more comfortable. Though boards and batts are common, it is harder to find in loose-fill form.
This paper-based blow in attic insulation can be made from any cellular plant source like corncobs or sisal but is mostly commonly made from recycled newspapers, cardboard, office paper, and other everyday wastepaper products. While this makes it more eco-friendly and biodegradable than its glass and mineral counterparts, less paper is being manufactured and recycled as our world becomes increasingly digital. It’s relatively inexpensive but can settle over time, resulting in pockets that transmit hot or cold air into the home. Cellulose can also take a long time to dry if it becomes wet, reducing the attic insulation R value and leading to the formation of mold and mildew.
New to the American insulation market, wood fiber insulation is made from woodchips discarded by lumber and sawmills, giving it a consistent, renewable, eco-friendly feedstock. The fibers are treated with borate and baked to eliminate the potential for off-gassing, giving wood fiber insulation the benefit of mold, and fire resistance without the risks to human health. Borate is added to building products to deter pests and insects. It arrives at your job site already carbon-negative, making it the most sustainable option for attic insulation. It is vapor-open to manage indoor humidity, offers industry-leading acoustic performance, and features interlocking fibers that are resistant to slumping over time.
Cost of Attic Insulation
Of course, the cost of insulating your attic will depend on the material you choose, but homeowners can expect to pay between $0.30 and $2.50 per square foot. Because blow in attic insulation requires expert installation, labor costs should also be considered. Although this varies from community to community, contractors usually charge $0.50 to $2.75 per square foot. In total, that makes the average cost of attic insulation about $3.00 per square foot.
How to Perform a Cost Benefit Analysis on Attic Insulation
To better understand how the insulating of your attic would impact your finances, you can perform a quick cost-benefit analysis (CBA) using the averages above. Start by measuring your attic space to determine its square footage. If your attic is inaccessible, you can estimate it using the square footage of your topmost living space floor. Then, multiply that total area by the average $3.00 cost for insulation materials and installation.
Total Attic Sq. ft x $3.00 = Average Cost of Attic Insulation
We already know from the National Association of Realtors that this cost is immediately recouped in added value to your property. But to determine the ongoing savings of insulating your attic, you’ll need some info on your home’s current energy costs. It’s best to use an average from across a calendar year to account for seasonal changes but if you don’t have this data on hand, you can use your most recent monthly energy bill instead. Multiply your monthly energy cost by .15 to determine how much you would save with proper attic insulation. You can multiply this result by 12 to know your annual energy savings.
Average Monthly Energy Cost x .15 = Monthly Savings from Insulation
Investing in attic insulation is a strategic decision that can lead to significant long-term savings, improved comfort, and increased property value. By understanding the various insulation blow in attic insulation options and considering factors like material costs, installation expenses, and long-term benefits, you can make informed choices tailored to your needs and budget. Whether you prioritize energy efficiency, environmental responsibility, or simply a more comfortable and healthier home, the right attic insulation can help you achieve your goals and enjoy the rewards for years to come. And if you need more help understanding how to make your home project budget most effective, reach out to our team of building science experts for their advice on attic insulation and more.