Upgrade Your Building Insulation to Save Money & Improve Comfort
June 15, 2022
June 15, 2022
Upgrade Your Building Insulation to Save Money & Improve Comfort
Insulation is a Heat Pump's Best Friend—and Your Key to Comfort & Savings.
Building insulation hides in the rafters, behind drywall and under the floors. In terms of comfort, it’s arguably one of the most important features of a home yet the easiest to ignore.
The US Department of Energy estimates that nine out of ten homes in the U.S. lack insulation for their weather conditions. Given today’s sweltering heat waves and sudden cold snaps, building owners lose a lot of money on energy costs (and rack up tenant complaints) from this lack of insulation.
When combining building insulation with a heat pump, building owners can amplify their energy savings while making deep energy efficiency improvements. This is both a win for the wallet and the planet.
What is building insulation?
Building insulation is a term used to describe any material added to the main building structure that helps a building maintain its indoor temperature.
It includes padding materials for the walls, roof and floors. It also includes sealants for ducts and cracks in the building structure. Inexpensive add-ons like window glazing or heavy curtains also count.
Even the building materials used in the frame, walls, and foundation of a property may provide some insulation.
How does building insulation work?
Building insulation is used to keep the temperature of the indoor spaces of a building at optimal levels for our comfort. It prevents excess airflow between the building’s exterior and interior.
In hot weather, insulation keeps the hot air out and the cool air in. When it’s cold, it does the opposite by buffering the building from unwanted chills and heat loss.
Put simply, energy and money used to heat and cool our buildings goes to waste if we don’t also have adequate protection from the elements. What’s the right amount of insulation?
How insulation is measured
The different materials used in a building’s design all have an R-value. The “R” stands for heat resistance. A higher R-value means a material has a higher resistance to temperature losses.
Here are the R-values for some of the most popular insulation materials on the market:
- Fiberglass: R-2.9 to R-3.8 per inch
- Mineral wool: R-2.8 to R-3.5
- Cellulose: R-3.1 to R-3.7
- Expanded polystyrene: R-4
- Polyurethane: R-value of R-6.3 per inch
Building owners should target a specific R-value that matches their needs. This preference can vary based on the regional climate, desired comfort level, energy efficiency goals, and design considerations like compatibility with a heat pump.
Don’t worry—the experts on the BlocPower team are here to help you find the right insulation for your project.
Building insulation types
Here are the most common types of insulation, listed from cheapest to most expensive:
Blanket batt and roll insulation
Useful for wall, ceiling, and floor insulation, batt or roll insulation is designed to fit the standard width between supports like wall studs, rafters and joists. It’s known for its low cost and ease of installation, especially for new construction.
The most popular material used in batt or roll insulation is fiberglass. This material comes with some health risks as a lung and skin irritant. It’s best to hire experts who are familiar with the proper safety precautions for handling fiberglass insulation.
Alternative materials used in batt or roll insulation include cotton, mineral wool, and plastic.
Blown-in insulation is an application that uses a specialized machine to spray fibrous insulation into building gaps such as attics and wall cavities. It’s useful for construction that is already built, because it can quickly insulate hard-to-reach spaces.
Blown-in insulation often uses cellulose material made from recycled newspaper or cardboard. Fiberglass or mineral wool can also be applied with this technique.
Foam board insulation
Foam board is the most popular insulation for lining the envelope (exterior) of a building, beneath the siding. It may be applied to an existing structure or to new construction. Foam board insulation is more efficient (has a higher R-value) by thickness than most other insulation types.
Spray foam insulation
As a more expensive option, this type of insulation is mostly used for sealing cracks and gaps around ducts, pipes, or window cavities. Made of liquid polyurethane, it expands to fill gaps and hardens into a solid foam after it is applied.
This type of insulation is not recommended for DIY projects: it should be handled by a professional.
Top 6 reasons to pair building insulation with heat pumps
When making building retrofits, building owners have to consider costs, long-term viability and practicality.
At BlocPower, we help simplify these decisions by providing expert strategies for building owners to save money, improve comfort and reduce building emissions. One of our favorite combinations is the dynamic insulation + heat pump duo. Here’s why.
The same way a thick wool coat keeps us warmer than a t-shirt in winter, insulated buildings are better at protecting us from the elements.
Insulation helps comfort in other ways, too. It improves the indoor air quality of a building by preventing mold, pollen, dust, and pollutants. It also reduces noise and protects a home from fires.
Add a heat pump, and your comfort level will only improve. Heat pumps control the temperature for both heating and cooling with just one unit. Air source heat pumps work by moving the heat that exists in the air either in or out of the inside of a building.
Many heat pumps also come with humidity controls. Multi-split ductless heat pumps give you the opportunity to heat individual rooms to a precise temperature, too.
2. Energy cost reductions
Insulation is a strategy used by green building experts to improve a building’s energy efficiency. A poorly insulated home is a money drain, wasting valuable energy purchased for heating or cooling purposes.
An ENERGY STAR report suggests that on average, households spend over $2000 per year on energy costs, with heating and cooling accounting for 50-70% of the total expense.
A well-insulated home can save roughly 15% on heating and cooling costs compared to an average building, according to the EPA. Heat pumps can add another 5-25%, reducing energy consumption by 20-40%.
3. Insulation helps you get ready for a heat-pump
Building insulation minimizes the cost of purchasing a heat pump. It can help reduce the size of the air pump needed for a given space. This can significantly drop the upfront cost.
The insulation will also improve the heat pump’s efficiency after it’s installed, because heat pumps work best in spaces without airflow leaks.
If there are cracks, gaps, or other thin exteriors where heat can escape, a heat pump will have to expend more energy to get the same results. This will diminish the energy consumption savings potential of a heat pump.
Installing the right amount of insulation is one of the most important hacks for getting your heat pump to operate efficiently.
4. Lower building emissions
Twenty percent of the total US greenhouse gas emissions come from residential buildings’ energy use.
Insulation may be one of the least buzzworthy ways to reduce emissions, but it’s incredibly effective. This matters for residences that don’t have massive budgets to spend on equipment upgrades.
Getting deep reductions, though, takes more than quick add-ons. It means cutting out fossil fuels from the heating and cooling equation. This is where building electrification comes in.
By transitioning buildings to all-electric HVAC units like heat pumps, they can more easily source energy from renewables. Even if there aren’t renewables available in an area, the CO2 footprint of a heat pump is up to 54% lower than a natural gas heater.
5. Bypass gas and oil price spikes
Across the Atlantic, UK activists have raised their voices on behalf of building insulation to defend energy independence in response to the Russian war in Ukraine.
In the US, Washington state took a bold step recently to require heat pumps in new buildings. It’s clear that building retrofits are a logical climate-friendly response to the gas supply upheaval.
Yet, gas price volatility is hardly new. As a traded commodity, gas prices will always come with peaks and valleys.
Owners of buildings of all shapes and sizes can bypass the problem of gas heating volatility with building insulation and an electric heat pump.
Ready to take the next step? A BlocPower expert can help evaluate the right upgrades for your building. Get started here.