Can attic insulation help with your home's AC efficiency?
Your guide to attic insulation and efficiency
When was the last time you ventured up into your attic? For most homeowners, the attic isn’t something they spend a lot of time thinking about. In fact, it’s sort of a forgotten space within the home. However, when it comes to energy-efficiency, your attic is much more important than you might think!
In this article, we’ll review everything you need to know about attic insulation, including what R-Value is—and how it works—what types of insulation are out there, and whether or not adding insulation to your attic is worth the upfront cost.
How thick should attic insulation be?
Most homeowners, when they hear “attic insulation,” they assume they’re good to go. After all, their home’s attic has insulation—no problem, right? Actually, for most homes here in Albuquerque, the problem isn’t that there’s no insulation in the attic. It’s not having enough of it, and, as we’ll explore below, insufficient insulation can end up costing you a lot of money.
To understand just how much insulation your attic needs, we’ll first need to review something called “R-Value.”
In the simplest terms, R-Value is the degree to which your attic insulation is able to block heat from either escaping or entering your home. Insulation with a higher R-Value is successfully able to slow heat from being transferred out of your home in the winter and into your home in the summer.
When it comes to R-Value, there’s no “magic number” that applies to every home. Since attic insulation primarily helps keep wintertime heat inside, homes in colder climates need more insulation—and thus a higher R-Value.
To help with this, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has divided the United States into 8 distinct climate zones, with Zone 1 being tropical or subtropical environments like South Florida and Hawaii, and Zones 7 and 8 being northern Minnesota and Alaska.
Albuquerque’s R-Value Zones
Here in New Mexico, homes in Albuquerque and Santa Fe fall into one of two zones:
Zone 4: Bernalillo County, Cibola County, Valencia County, Socorro County
Zone 5: Torrance County, Sandoval County, Santa Fe County, Los Alamos County
As you can probably infer, these different designations have to do with the relative elevation of each county. Your home may need a higher R-Value if you live in a certain county, but at a higher elevation.
Here’s a breakdown of our two R-Value zones and what they mean for attic insulation:
If you already have insulation, Zone 4 homes may need to add R38 to supplement it. If there is no attic insulation, R38 to R60 should be added.
If you already have insulation, Zone 5 homes may need to add R38 to R49 to supplement it. If there is no attic insulation, R49 to R60 should be added.
How much insulation does my home need?
Because we have neighborhoods at varying elevations here in the Albuquerque and Santa Fe area, the question of how much insulation you need can often come down to your individual home. It’s why we recommend you speak with an HVAC professional. Not only can we help you figure out where your home sits—Zone 4 or Zone 5—but we can also measure your current insulation to determine how much needs to be added.
As we’ll discuss below, don’t underestimate the impact of attic insulation. This relatively simple upgrade to your home has the potential to save you hundreds of dollars over the next few years.
What types of insulation are there?
While R-Value measures the efficiency of your attic insulation, it’s distinct from the type of insulation your attic has.
Here are two of the most common types of attic insulation, as well as several others you may have heard from:
The least expensive insulation to install (between $1 and $4 per-square-foot), blown-in insulation—true to its name—involves using a fan tool to send insulated material into the attic. That material may take different forms (most often, cellulose), but the process is relatively the same.
It’s still a good idea to have a professional handle this, since there are multiple steps that need to be taken to prepare for even blown-in insulation.
Spray-foam insulation is one of the most common types of insulation. Relatively inexpensive ($2 to $5 per-square-foot), spray-foam insulation involves spraying a foam between wood beams, which then dries and hardens into an insulating foam.
Spray-foam insulation is relatively versatile and easy-to-apply, and it’s often the best choice for homes with some degree of existing insulation.
Batts, Panels & Loose-Fill
There are many other types of insulation out there, but they often have more niche uses. Batts and structured panels work well for either large spaces or new builds—their large size means they’re not right for tight attics.
While similar to blown-in insulation in terms of material, loose-fill insulation isn’t blown into the attic, but instead places more meticulously.
What’s the best insulation for my attic?
That honestly depends on your attic, the age of your home, where you live, and many other factors. As the different price-per-square-foot suggests, it also comes down to what you’re willing to pay.
We recommend talking to a local pro and getting an assessment of your home.
Is insulating your attic worth it?
The short answer is yes. If your home has insufficient attic insulation, you’re wasting money throughout most of the year. Even an incremental improvement to your insulation can make a huge difference.
Getting your attic brought up-to-date in terms of insulation can significantly cut your winter heating and summer cooling costs. The DOE has named adding attic insulation as one of the most beneficial things a homeowner can do to improve your home’s efficiency.
How much does adding insulation cost?
According to data collected by HomeAdvisor, insulating an attic costs anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 on average. As you might imagine, the final total greatly depends on the square footage that needs to be insulated: a larger home and a larger attic will cost more to fully insulate. Most homeowners pay anywhere between $1 and $7 per-square-foot to insulate their attic.
Another reason why the costs vary so much? That’s a nationwide average. Homeowners in Minnesota need more insulation, and therefore can expect to pay more than homeowners in South Florida (the trade-off, of course, being that they have more to gain through greater efficiency!). The type of insulation being installed also plays a role in your final costs.
While homeowners may be able to save some cash by doing the installation themselves, just remember that—when it comes to insulation—you don’t get points for trying. Gaps in insulation, or an inadequate insulation depth, will quite literally cost you down the road. One of the benefits of hiring a professional for attic insulation services is that you can ensure the work is done right.
Does insulation increase my home’s value?
In most cases, the answer is yes. Adding attic insulation—and improving your home’s overall energy-efficiency—adds significantly to your home’s value. In a 2016 study on the subject, Remodeling magazine found that the average attic insulation project had a 116% return on investment when the homeowner sold their home. This makes it one of the better home projects in respect to ROI!
To put it another way, homeowners make a few hundred dollars, on average, by adding attic insulation and then listing their home.
Add efficiency details to your listing
If you are upgrading your home and thinking about listing it in the near future, make sure you add details about the home’s energy-efficiency improvements—including attic insulation—to both the online and MLS listing. You’d be surprised at the number of homeowners who strongly value energy-efficiency improvements. After all, as anyone who’s gotten a high winter heating bill knows, home efficiency is worth every penny.
Not planning to sell your home?
And, again: you don’t have to be selling your home to see the benefits of adding attic insulation. If you stay in your home, you’ll get lower energy bills over the coming years. That really adds up, and it’s why home attic insulation is such a win-win for homeowners.
Of course, when it comes to improving your home’s energy efficiency, you don’t have to stop with just attic insulation. In the section below, we’ll outline a few other ways you can boost your home’s energy-efficiency even further, putting your home on the road to long-term, sustainable savings.
What are other ways to improve efficiency?
Here are a few things you can do in conjunction with adding attic insulation to make your home more energy-efficient:
Replace your aging HVAC systems
Father Time, as they say, is undefeated. If your air conditioner, heat pump, or furnace are getting up there in age, it might be time to start thinking about replacing them. As HVAC systems get older, they run far less efficiently than they did when they were new.
On top of that, new systems have overtaken them in efficiency and performance. Take AC efficiency, for example. It’s not unheard of for some homeowners to have an 10 SEER air conditioner, when the minimum is now 13 SEER, and many high-efficiency systems can reach 19, 20, or higher SEER.
If your air conditioner or furnace is more than a decade old, start looking into replacing them. At Wagner, we offer free in-home estimates on new systems. We’ll send an installation expert out to your home to review your options and discuss which system might be right for your home.
Schedule seasonal checkups
Not every HVAC system needs to be replaced. But, every system—including air conditioners, furnaces, heat pumps, ductless mini-splits, and more—should be maintained by a professional once per-year. For air conditioners, that means scheduling an AC checkup in the spring; for furnaces, you should book your checkup in the fall.
Annual maintenance helps your system (and you!) in multiple ways. First, it helps prevent breakdowns, ensuring that the system is running its best heading into the upcoming summer or winter. Second, it improves the unit’s energy-efficiency, helping you cut down on your cooling and heating bills. Finally, it’s worth noting that professional maintenance plays a crucial role in extending the lifespan of your system.
At Wagner, we specialize in air conditioning and heating checkups. Click the button and fill out the form below to schedule your next seasonal checkup.