Attic insulation for homeowners on a budget

Although messy, blown-in cellulose offers best bang for the buck

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Apr. 5, 2013

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Although messy, blown-in cellulose offers best bang for the buck

Paul Bianchina
Inman News®

Q: I need to insulate my attic since what I have up there is little to nothing. The small brick home is only 1,450 square feet. What is the best stuff to put up there at reasonable cost? What is the best stuff that I can install myself? --Annette Z.

A: One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to insulate an attic if you're having a contractor do it is to have him blow in loose-fill fiberglass insulation.

If you'd like to do the work yourself to save some money, I'd suggest blown-in cellulose. It's a pretty straightforward project, although it is a little messy. Simply open up the bags of cellulose (it's a gray, papery material, made primarily from ground and treated newspaper) and dump them into the blower. Direct the hose from the blower into the attic, and spray a uniform layer of insulation. Complete instructions, including safety precautions for protecting yourself and creating air spaces around chimneys and other heat-producing fixtures, are included with the insulation.

Blowers and bags of cellulose insulation are available at most home centers and some other retailers that sell insulation. Many home centers and larger retailers will also give you free use of the blower if you purchase a certain minimum quantity of insulation, so there's a way to save even more.

Some Home Depot stores are now also renting blowers for installing loose-fill fiberglass insulation. If your local store has that option, you might want to compare the costs between that and cellulose.

Q: I own an antique house with an oil hot water heat system with the old large radiators. My heating contractor told me that although we replaced the furnace several years ago the piping in the house is old and oversized, with some pipes as big as 3 or 4 inches. He said that means the system holds a great deal of water and takes a very long time to heat and circulate throughout the house [especially at] the end of the system. This was rectified by turning up the temperature on the water to a high of 180 degrees.

Now the heat is fine, but the hot water is scalding and my oil use is very high, and very expensive. He tells me if I had the pipes replaced with smaller pipes that would help, but I just can't afford a project of that magnitude.

My friend tells me I should put in a hot water storage tank so my furnace won't keep coming on every time we use some hot water. Is that a way to help oil consumption and will it help my scalding problem? --Nancye F.

A: In my opinion, adding a hot water storage tank isn't going to solve your problem. That's going to be somewhat like adding another water heater -- it would have to be well insulated to prevent standby heat losses, and it would require some type of energy to keep the water in it heated and ready for use, which would pretty much defeat its original purpose.

As far as preventing scalding, the water tank wouldn't help with that either, since you've said that you need to keep the water temperatures up around 180 degrees in order to have sufficient heat in the lines to feed the radiators at the end of the system.

There isn't much I can suggest that your heating contractor hasn't already suggested. I agree that the large-diameter pipes seem to be the culprit here. You might talk to him about installing an Aquastat control if he hasn't already done so, which allows you to lower the water temperature when the weather isn't as cold and the demand for heat isn't as high. There are modulating Aquastats that sense the outdoor temperatures and make the adjustments for you, or you can opt for a less expensive manual model that you adjust yourself as needed. Either one will cut down on your fuel costs, and also the scalding danger, at least part of the year.

The only other thing I can suggest is that you look into the cost of scrapping the antiquated system altogether, rather than trying to replace the pipes. It might be less expensive to simply switch to a high-efficiency oil or natural gas central heating system, and do away with the radiators and water lines.

Q: I'm reading a lot about lithium-ion batteries for cordless tools lately. What are they, and are they worth investing in? --Glenn S.

A: Lithium-ion (Li-Ion) has definitely become the new standard for batteries used in portable power tools, as well as many other portable consumer products. Lithium-ion batteries are able to produce the same amount of power as older-technology nickel-cadmium (NiCad) batteries but with less weight, and they also offer a longer run time per charge. They also don't suffer from "memory effect," so they can be recharged at any time, even if they're only partially discharged, without damaging the battery's ability to take and hold a full charge.

Most of today's cordless tools are now being offered with lithium-ion batteries, and the combination of lighter weight and greater run time makes them well worth the cost, which, incidentally, continues to drop as more and more manufacturers come on board with this technology.

On a related note, Milwaukee, one of the leaders in lithium-ion battery technology, has just introduced its sixth-generation Li-Ion battery pack for use in any of its M18 18-volt tools. According to the manufacturer, the M18 RedLithium 2.0 and XC4.0 batteries now offer up to twice the run time, twice as many recharges, and 20 percent more power than other lithium-ion batteries. If you already own a Milwaukee M18 tool, this is an upgrade that's well worth checking out.

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1. Kenneth Lawrence said... on Nov 3, 2013 at 10:42PM

“thanks for this. good idea about home improvement while saving budget at the same time. ive read about some tips at http://www.ventwerx.com/attic-insulation/ that i think would help home owners too.”

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