How can I tell if my insulation needs replacing?

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According to Energy Star, the leader in energy efficiency, if you added up all the leaks, holes and gaps in a typical home's envelope, it would be the equivalent of having a window open every day of the year! This can mean many things for you as a homeowner, both for your comfort and your energy bill.

Having your home be a comfortable temperature is important, no matter what the season. The question is, is your home being kept at a temperature that is comfortable for you? And are you paying too much money to keep your constant temperature? Many of the answers depend on whether your insulation is performing optimally. We put together different assessment tools so that you know when it’s time for some insulation upkeep.

Energy Bills

If your insulation is beginning to fail, it is letting air out of your home envelope, creating more work for your furnace and air conditioning systems. This may each month leave your home a little less comfortable and your wallet a little thinner.

Start by looking a recent energy bills. Do you see a slow rise over the past few months? This may indicate that your insulation is becoming less and less effective as it wears over time and that your heating and A/C systems are working much harder to keep your home at a comfortable temperature.

Compare your current energy bills with last year’s bills in the same time frame so that you know whether it’s the energy usage itself that's making your bills go up or just a fluctuation in energy prices.

Wear and Tear

Another indicator that's easy to measure when assessing your insulation is just looking and feeling. Insulation should feel soft and malleable. If it crunches and crumbles, then it may be time to think about replacing. It's especially important to assess wear and tear in your basement insulation. If there has been a lot of snow melt or rainfall, it's likely that your insulation got wet and could be molding, which will lead to mold.

Pests in your home are another catalyst to wearing down your insulation. If you've had a pest problem recently, it is important to check the insulation for eggs as well as spots where the insulation has been eaten through. These signs of wear and tear may seem trivial now, but if not taken care of can cause many problems down the road.

Ice Dams

An ice dam occurs when water builds up behind a blockage of ice. In a poorly insulated home, this can cause many problems during those long stretches of below-freezing temperatures. As heat rises, it builds up in the attic. If the warm air is not ventilated properly, it will melt snow on the roof. The melted water run-off will freeze to form what looks like a giant icicle on your gutter. Although beautiful, this is actually an ice dam and can cause a myriad of problems including destruction to your gutter and roof, leaking and water damage.

If an ice dam occurs, Energy Star advises against trying to chip away at the ice yourself, as this can be dangerous and will likely cause further damage to your roof and gutters. Instead, try calling your local home insulation specialist to help with this issue as well as do a diagnostic evaluation of your insulation deficits to prevent this problem in the future.

How fast can you notice a difference when replacing insulation? "We just had a crew install 16 inches of attic insulation, and the difference was immediate and discernible. The house feels quite a bit warmer and hopefully my heating bill is plummeting,'' said Rob Reuteman, journalism professor at Colorado State University.

If, after taking our self-assessment tips you feel that insulation upkeep is a worthwhile investment to your home, using TotalHousehold.com’s database of contractors is the solution to finding qualified insulation experts in your area.

—Carrie Pope

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