While you can hire someone to do an energy audit, there are a few tips and tricks you can use yourself to figure out if your home is underinsulated.
A quick note before we begin in earnest: everyone’s definition of what underinsulated means might be a bit different. When you’re trying to reach net-zero energy consumption, you’re going to need a lot of insulation. These signs, then, won’t tell you how much insulation you’re going to need – they’ll simply let you know you may not have enough.
Sign #1: Your Interior Walls Are Cold
To understand insulation, you need to understand the building envelope. Without getting too technical, building envelopes are what separates the environment inside your home from the environment outside your home – walls, windows, doors, and the like.
A properly insulated building envelope will stop heat from exiting or entering your home via insulation between your interior and exterior walls, among other things. In the wintertime, when your interior walls are cold (or in the summer, when your interior walls are hot), it means there’s heat transfer happening when there shouldn’t be.
You might find that the whole wall isn’t cold or hot, and that it’s just a particular spot – that still needs to be addressed. Heat will always transfer at the lowest point of resistance, so you’re losing a lot of efficiency.
Sign #2: Moisture and Mold
The building envelope serves to create a barrier between the outdoor and indoor environments. That helps regulate moisture as well as temperature; after all, you wouldn’t want rain falling on your head while you sleep.
When insulation is improperly installed or getting old, it can lead to moisture seeping into the space between your exterior and interior walls, especially if there are gaps or cracks in your exterior wall. This can be decreased, in part, by using insulation with moisture barriers and a drainage gap so that moisture has somewhere to go.
Cold spots when there’s a lot of heat (or vice versa) can also create moisture through the process of condensation. When you see wet spots, mold, or other signs of moisture, you should get your insulation checked.
Sign #3: It’s Drafty
Insulation impedes airflow, among other things. When an area of your house feels like there’s a constant breeze, you’re going to want to look at the insulants in the area – poor insulation is one of the top causes of airflow problems.
It’s worth mentioning that most of us think of insulation as the stuff we put between walls and up in our attic. But there’s a lot more to insulation than that – you could be getting a draft because your door isn’t properly weatherstripped, or because your windows aren’t properly sealed. You won’t necessarily have to shell out hundreds to fix those issues.
Sign #4: Cold/Hot Rooms
This is an extension of the cold/hot walls we wrote about earlier. As long as an area isn’t insulated, the heat will continue to transfer into or out of that area – whatever is worse (seriously, that’s how this works).
There are some things to check before assuming it’s insulation. First, check to see if there are hot/cold spots on the walls or floor. Second, make sure the AC or furnace is properly venting to that area. You’ll also want to ensure that the door to the area is open most of the time, to allow for proper airflow. When you’ve checked all of this and you still find the room’s temperature to be abnormal, it’s probably the insulation.
Sign #5: Visual Inspection
This “sign” is more of a task you’ve got to complete, but it’s well worth it. Check the exterior of your home for any cracks, holes, or other wear. As you probably know by now, the home’s exterior (under siding) is as valuable to insulating the interior as the insulation you’ll find between walls. Holes let more air through, not to mention rodents and bugs.
You should also check any areas where insulation material is visible, like your attic. When the insulation looks old, gray, or otherwise shabby, it’s a good sign it might be time to replace it.
Sign #6: Your Bills Are Too High
Whether it be your heating bill or your electrical bill, when your insulation is poor, you need more energy. More energy = more money. The math is as simple as that; when your home has better insulation, your bills will go down. Whether or not that’s worth the price of new insulation is a matter of number crunching, but for minor upgrades, like proper weatherstripping, the benefits are well worth the cost.