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Insulation & Air Sealing 101

Welcome to Home School, a place where we can learn about ways to make our homes sustainable, healthy, and beautiful. We are starting this educational series to empower people with knowledge to improve their homes. We at TreeHouse understand the pervasive effect a better home can have on our families, community, and planet. Be sure to check back here often for new articles, tutorials, and guides to help you improve your home with ecological and human health in mind.

People come into TreeHouse every day and ask what first step they should take in improving the health and sustainability of their home. Our answer is simple: weatherization. Today, we are going to explain key aspects of weatherization and why you should consider it first when taking steps to improve your home.

Insulation and air sealing are a crucial first steps in home improvement. They are inexpensive and quick to execute, immediately improving the health and sustainability of your home in multiple ways. Not only will you stay cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, but your indoor air quality will be better and energy bills lower. Let’s breakdown the basics of weatherization together.

What Is Weatherization?

Fulfilling one of your basic needs, a shelter keeps you safe from the elements. But which elements, in particular? If your home is not sufficiently sealed, outside air and volatile organic compounds, commonly referred to as VOCs, sneak in and inhibit efficiency and overall health. Weatherization is the process of tightly sealing gaps that can occur throughout the home, in the attic, and at the HVAC system. A house that is properly weatherized has a closed envelope to prevent dust and moisture, as well as outside hot or cold air from entering our living spaces.

In addition, weatherization ensures that a home’s HVAC system is working properly and with the most ease on the correct areas. If conditioned air from the HVAC is leaking into our attic, for example, the house is wasting energy and costing us money. An average home leaks 27% of its conditioned air into the attic due to insufficient insulation and duct sealing. Sealing a home has an immediate effect on its overall energy usage. Also, sealing these breaches keeps harmful materials from your attic from entering your home’s air. Dust, animal droppings, mold, cellulose, and fiberglass insulation particles can enter the HVAC at leaks in the ductwork and be blown into your living spaces.

In Central Texas right now, the outside temperature is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (again). For a home to be habitable, we need to keep that hot air at bay outside the home and make sure the mechanisms to cool the house from the inside are not overly strained. Weatherization maintains a consistent and desired temperature for your home and keeps your air quality free from contaminants.

Think of weatherization as a koozie for your house. We’ve all relied on a koozie at some point to keep our beverage - and by extension us - cool during these hot summer months. With your house snuggly sealed into comfortable insulation, you’re cool all summer long.

Why Weatherize First?

As noted above, insulation and air sealing is a crucial first step in improving the health and sustainability of a home. Making a home more comfortable and consistent in temperature, as well as limiting particulates and VOCs that can enter the air, is not only fundamental, but also a low-cost, easy first step in improving the home. A fully weatherized home can drastically reduce overall energy use by allowing the HVAC system to run more efficiently, avoiding costly breakdowns, repairs, or replacements of your home air system. Weatherization also delivers the fastest returns of any home improvement project, immediately reducing energy bills and improving air quality.

Once your home is weatherized, you can get a more accurate read on its energy usage and needs. If it is time to replace the HVAC or add solar arrays, weatherization might reveal that your home runs efficiently on smaller, less costly equipment. If your goal is to reach net-zero energy usage in your home, weatherization is a necessary first step in understanding the benchmarks of this process.

Insulation

A key component of weatherization is the insulation material added to your home. So you can make the best decision for your home, it is important to understand the different types of insulation available:

  1. Blanket, or batts and rolls, are made from materials like mineral wool, fiberglass, and natural fibers that are fitted between walls and in attics.
  2. Foam board or rigid foam is a polyurethane or polystyrene product made with a high insulation value and minor thickness.
  3. Loose-fill and blown in insulation made from cellulose, fiberglass, or mineral wool and added to finished areas like attics and can be made to fit irregular shaped spaces to prevent air gaps and thermal bypass.
  4. Rigid fibrous or fiber insulation is made from fiberglass or mineral wool to withstand high temperatures.
  5. Sprayed foam, like loose-fill, can be applied to areas with a range of shapes and sizes and can be made from cementitious, phenolic, or polyurethane materials.
  6. Structural insulated panels, or SIPs, are foam or straw-core boards fit together at construction to fully cover a home.

At TreeHouse, we select insulation products that do not contain harmful chemicals, pesticides, or environmentally damaging materials. Our standards result in the highest quality products to keep you safe and comfortable. TreeHouse exceeds recommendations by the Department of Energy on levels of insulation by over 30%, ensuring the most comprehensive seal for your home.

Our most trusted insulation product at TreeHouse comes from Knauf Insulation and is made from 100% recycled glass. Knauf Insulation is Red List free, containing none of the chemicals found in other home products that are known to be harmful to human health. EcoFill loose insulation from Knauf is GreenGuard qualified for indoor air quality and produces no dust or off gassing.

How We Weatherize

Come into TreeHouse when you are ready to start improving the efficiency and health of your home through weatherization. First, the experts with our energy retrofit services will come to your home to investigate and map out points of inefficiency. We inspect the attic, HVAC, ductwork, doors and windows, and plumbing, finding every spot where air is leaking at your home. Together, we will develop a comprehensive plan with the right materials to insulate and seal your home.

Once a plan is in place, our team will work with your schedule to find the right time for installation. The installation process is very straightforward and requires about 2-5 hours of work. The work is non-invasive and painless on your home and budget.

It is important to note that our insulation process goes the extra mile for your home. While the Department of Energy recommends an attic insulation level of R-38, much of that can move around or settle over time. TreeHouse adds 30% more insulation, up to level R-49, to give you extra protection and comfort, and to prevent the need for additional insulation down the line.

TreeHouse seals all ducts and duct connections with our low-VOC sealant, Dynoflex, and tests the HVAC system to make sure it meets or exceeds recommendations by Energy Star. Duct sealing has the added benefit of preventing condensation from forming in the attic, which would promote mold mildew growth and make your air unsafe.

We also close up any openings in the ceiling around can lights, fixtures, and bathroom vents to ensure that no hot, humid, or dirty air enters your living spaces and you can breath easy. Finally, we update the weather stripping on windows and exterior doors to make sure they are effectively blocking outside air. We test everything again to make sure the right air is in its proper place.

And Beyond

Think of weatherization as the first step into a whole world of improvement that can make your home more healthy, sustainable, and beautiful. As a foundational process, it is surprisingly straightforward and has a great immediate impact on your home. As soon as installation is complete, your HVAC will run more efficiently, making your energy bills lower, and the level of air quality in your home better. The benefits to your home and your own health will persist for years to come. And when the next Texas summer rolls around, you can sweat it (literally) a little less.

And with an efficiently insulated and sealed home, your next project will be a breeze. You can install a Nest thermostat to make your home even smarter about its own heating and cooling needs, or add solar arrays to harness the power of the sun. Each additional project will be enhanced by ensuring that the home is running as efficiently as possible on its own.

Home School will be back with tutorials, guides, and more on exactly those next steps to improving your home.

Come into TreeHouse and we can start planning your weatherization project together.

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