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4 home insulation projects for good ROI

Karl Fendelander | Improvement Center Columnist | August 12, 2013

When you're ready to remodel or renovate, it's easy to forget about insulation. Unless you spend a lot of time in the unfinished parts of your home, you simply aren't around it, but this out-of-sight savior definitely shouldn't be out of mind. Insulation certainly isn't flashy, which makes spending money on it less fun than other projects, but it is effective. Before you go installing new, energy-efficient windows to lower your heating and cooling bills, take some time to assess your insulation situation. The EPA estimates that upgrading your home's insulation and sealing things up could save you up to 20 percent on utilities. You could be missing out on a high-ROI home investment that will make your life better while paying for itself.

Ready, aim, insulate!

There are good and bad places for insulation, and every home is different. As a general rule of thumb, more insulation is almost always better, but that doesn't mean you need to pack every open cubic inch of your home with it. Here are four main areas to focus on:

1. The basement. If you've ever been camping and slept without much between you and the ground, you know how cold it can get. Don't let heat escape through the floor. Make sure your foundation, crawl spaces and basement are well insulated. You won't just be preventing heat loss; you'll also be helping to protect your foundation from extreme heat/thaw cycles (in harsher climates) and prevent moisture build up, insect infestation and radon infiltration. Rigid insulation is usually the way to go.

  • Insulating a 200-square-foot basement should run you anywhere between $250 and $400 depending on materials (or $1.25 to $2.00 per square foot) for a professional installation -- or around $100 to $150 for materials alone.
  • Depending on the climate and how much upgrading your basement and foundation insulation requires, you could save up to $300 a year in heating and cooling costs, meaning this one pays for itself in under two years.

2. The ducts. Your home might be an impenetrable fortress of thermal retention, but when was the last time you took a close look at your air ducts? Make sure that precious hot (or cold) air is flowing where it's supposed to (i.e., seal up any leaks), and then wrap all of those ducts with blanket (batt and roll) insulation.

  • Cost varies dramatically by how much surface area needs to be covered, but insulating an average home's ducts should cost between $150 and $300 for a professionally done project -- or less than $100 for materials alone.
  • Depending on the state of your duct system, you could save almost $200 a year for a complete return on investment in just over a year.

3. Exterior walls. If you're in the middle of another remodeling project and your walls are already opened up, blanket insulation is easy to install yourself. If you don't want to tear off all of your drywall, the professionals have come up with some pretty cool tricks. Spray-in foams and loose-fill insulation can both be essentially injected into your exterior walls to fill up that dead air space, reduce radiative and conductive heat loss, and keep conditioned air inside where it belongs.

  • Depending on materials and methods, insulating your exterior walls can cost anywhere from $250 to $750 for an average home insulated professionally. Again, with opened-up walls, it's easy to do this one yourself for around $100 to $150 in batt insulation.
  • Exterior walls transfer a lot of heat, both in and out. You could save more than $300 a year for a complete return on investment in one to three years.

4. The attic. Hot air rises, plain and simple. If your attic doesn't keep your hot air in in the winter and prevent the sun from cooking you in the summer, it's in need of an insulation upgrade. Loose-fill insulation provides the best coverage (when installed properly, of course). People in truly toasty climates should consider also adding a radiant barrier to ease the sun's effects.

  • For an average, approximately 200-square-foot attic, professional insulation can cost between $250 and $375 depending on what materials are used and how tricky your attic makes things. You can get away with materials only for around $100.
  • With an annual savings of $120 (much more in cold climates), this project pays for itself in one to four years.

Not all insulation lasts as long as your home, so be aware of dropping R-values (insulative power). It may not be easy to market directly to prospective buyers the fact that your home is well insulated, but be sure to show them your low utility bills.

About the Author

Karl Fendelander cut his teeth on web writing in the late nineties and has been plugged in to the newest technology and tuned in to the latest trends ever since. With an eye for design and an ear for language, Karl has created content and managed digital media for startups and established companies alike. When he unplugs, Karl can be found biking about town and hiking and climbing throughout the West.

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