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Stylish wood-burning stone fireplace provides a central focal point in this contemporary living room.Attila / Shutterstock.com

Stylish wood-burning stone fireplace provides a central focal point in this contemporary living room.

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Rock-Wool Insulation: What It Is and Where to Use It

The importance of a well-insulated home can’t be overstated: Properly sized and installed insulation can reduce energy usage, keep you warmer in winter and cooler in summer, and save you money with lower energy bills.

rock wool insulationHome Depot

Rock wool insulation provides thermal and sound insulation and can be used as a firestop between floors.

For homeowners and homebuilders alike, fiberglass insulation has been the insulation of choice for many decades. While fiberglass remains very popular, there’s a relatively new type of insulation that’s making headway—and headlines—in the insulation industry. It’s called rock-wool insulation.

What Is Rock Wool Insulation?

Rock wool, which is also called mineral wool, comes in easy-to-install batts, similar to fiberglass. But instead of being composed of fluffy glass fibers, rock wool is made of—you guessed it—rocks, which doesn’t even seem possible. Here’s a brief explanation of the manufacturing process.

Natural rock is heated in a furnace to about 3,000 degrees until it melts into a liquid. The magma-like liquid is exposed to a high-pressure jet of air or steam, and then spun at super-high speed into long fiber strands. (Think: cotton candy machine filled with liquid rock.) The strands are captured and compressed into thick, dense mats, which are then cut into convenient-sized batts of insulation.

The unique composition of rock wool produces a high-performing insulation with the following features:

  • Made from natural, sustainable material
  • Typically contains up to 75 percent recycled content
  • Retains heat well and traps air, which slows the transfer of heat
  • Non-combustible and fire resistant to about 1,400 degrees
  • Highly water repellent
  • Excellent sound-deadening properties
  • Higher insulating value than fiberglass
  • Long-term performance—rock wool doesn’t degrade over time
  • Allows moisture to escape (which deters mold and mildew)
  • Dense, firm batts are friction-fit into place; no stapling necessary

Where to Use Rock Wool Insulation

Rock-wool insulation can be installed wherever you’d install fiberglass or any other type of insulation, including walls, floors, ceilings, attics and crawlspaces. However, it’s particularly well-suited for rooms along the cold north side of the house and for interior rooms in need of sound deadening, such as media rooms or music studios.

Because rock wool is highly fire resistant, it’s ideal—and often code-required—for use as a firestop between floors of a house. (During remodeling or new construction, ask the local building inspector to identify specific areas that require rock wool firestops.)

Rock wool is also easy to work with: The firm batts can be cut with a serrated knife or handsaw to fit snugly into place. If it gets wet, water beads up and rolls off without soaking into the fibers. The rock-wool fibers are compacted so tightly together that there’s no chance of the insulation shifting out of position or slumping down, which would dramatically decrease its insulating value.

Note that rock-wool insulation only comes un-faced, meaning there’s no kraft-paper or foil barrier. Depending on the situation, you may need to install an independent permeable membrane to serve as a vapor barrier.

The Bottom Line

At this point you might be wondering why rock wool isn’t the only type of insulation being installed. Here’s why: price.

Fiberglass insulation for a 2×6 wall costs between 57 cents and 72 cents per square foot. Rock-wool insulation for the same wall cost about $1.06 per square foot. That’s a significant difference, especially if you’re insulating an entire house or large addition.

However, in most cases, you’ll recoup the additional cost through lower energy bills, because, while fiberglass insulation has an R-value of 19, rock wool has an R-value of 23. The increased insulation capability allows you to keep your home at a comfortable temperature for longer without needing to adjust your thermostat, meaning you’ll make up the initial cost within a couple years. Plus, with rock wool insulation’s long-term durability, your home will be well-insulated with little maintenance needed for years to come.

 

Joe Truini is a home improvement expert who writes about a variety of topics related to carpentry and plumbing. Joe is also the author of numerous DIY books, including the best-selling Building a Shed. To learn more about Rock Wool insulation and other products for insulating your home, please visit the Home Depot website.

 

5 Ways to Reduce Your Heating Costs Now

Cut energy usage, reduce your heating costs, and improve home comfort with these immediate steps

gas burners in furnaceDreamstime

Gas burners blast into this furnace’s heat exchanger.

Home heating oil and natural gas prices are lower this year than prices we’ve seen since 2009, but heating fuels still take a big bite out of our budgets. According to Energy.gov, home heating fuel is typically about 42% of a home’s utility bill.

Pushing our houses toward energy efficiency with air sealing, insulation and energy-efficient appliances are the big-ticket answers. But what are a few easier ways to keep heating costs affordable?

Here are five helpful strategies you can jump on right now.

#1: Turn down the thermostat

Yes, this means that when you’re home, you may have to put on a sweater. But by turning down your thermostat 2 degrees, you can save about 6% on your energy bill. In other words, if your monthly energy bill is $300, you can save about $18.

When you’re asleep or away from home, the temperature can go even lower. A [easyazon_link identifier=”B0044UYVFW” locale=”US” tag=”hometips”]programmable thermostat[/easyazon_link] will give you the necessary control. It can be programmed to turn the heat down to 61 degrees just before you go to bed, bring the heat back up to 68 degrees a few minutes before you get up in the morning, turn the heat back down when you leave for work and return it to a comfortable temperature just before you get home. According to Energy.gov, installing one of these will save an estimated 10 percent on heating and cooling cost.

Even better is a “smart” thermostat such as one made by [easyazon_link identifier=”B0131RG6VK” locale=”US” tag=”hometips”]Nest[/easyazon_link], [easyazon_link identifier=”B00ZIRV39M” locale=”US” tag=”hometips”]ecobee3[/easyazon_link] or [easyazon_link identifier=”B00FLZEQH2″ locale=”US” tag=”hometips”]Honeywell[/easyazon_link]. Not only are these programmable, but they learn your habits and automatically adjust the temperature accordingly, and some can be operated via a mobile phone app.

#2: Use the sun’s warmth

Windows that face the sun can be effective solar collectors. Open curtains on south- and west-facing windows during the day to warm interior surfaces. Then close all curtains at night to help keep the heat from escaping. Consider hanging [easyazon_link keywords=”thermal curtains” locale=”US” tag=”hometips”]thermal curtains[/easyazon_link] for additional efficiency.

Though fences and trees that block the wind can help protect a house from heat loss during the winter, consider trimming trees or bushes that prevent the sun from reaching windows. Deciduous trees that lose their leaves during the winter are ideal because they allow the sun during winter but shade during the summer.

#3: Control where heat is delivered

Consider shutting off or reducing the heat to seldom-used rooms and closing the doors to them. Do not shut down a room where the thermostat is located—this would cause the heating system to stay on most of the time.

If your home is heated by a forced-air system, talk to an HVAC pro about whether it’s possible to close down the heating registers in unused rooms or adjust dampers in the ductwork to redirect heat to the rooms that require it. This should be done by an HVAC pro because heating systems are balanced, and too much “back pressure” caused by closing vents can cause the ductwork to leak and the furnace to work inefficiently.

Be sure the flow of heat from registers into rooms is not obstructed by furniture or drapes.

You can sometimes stay comfortable in individual rooms while turning down the central heating system’s thermostat if you utilize [easyazon_link identifier=”B000TTV2QS” locale=”US” tag=”hometips”]space heaters[/easyazon_link] or wood- or [easyazon_link identifier=”B007LHGMTI” locale=”US” tag=”hometips”]pellet-burning stoves[/easyazon_link] to keep the spaces cozy.

#4: Keep expensively heated air inside the house

Some homes never feel comfortable because the heat being produced inside escapes through the walls and attic. Air sealing, insulating and weatherstripping help solve these issues.

Be sure the fireplace damper is closed when the fireplace is not in use—an open chimney can suck a tremendous amount of expensively warmed air out of the house.

Additionally, minimize the use of ventilation fans, such as bath fans or kitchen fans, because they draw heated air out of the house. Be sure to shut them off as soon as they’ve done their job. A [easyazon_link identifier=”B00IB0ZJXE” locale=”US” tag=”hometips”]timer switch[/easyazon_link] or [easyazon_link identifier=”B00LEZKFIW” locale=”US” tag=”hometips”]occupancy sensor[/easyazon_link] makes this a no-brainer.

In many two-story houses, heat distributed downstairs rises to the second floor where it overheats the upstairs rooms. In a typical scenario, somebody downstairs turns up the heat, and then someone upstairs opens a window to provide cooling ventilation. The resulting “chimney effect” pulls more warm air upstairs and sends it out the window, causing a draft downstairs. This, of course, defeats efforts for conservation and comfort—and isn’t great for family relationships.

If possible, close doors between upstairs and downstairs to keep the warmed air from rising. Then try reducing the delivery of heat to the upstairs rooms (strategy #3, above). Ultimately, the best way to solve this is to install a zoned heating system that utilizes [easyazon_link identifier=”B0015S9GWE” locale=”US” tag=”hometips”]automated dampers[/easyazon_link] to control the flow of heat.

Even in a single-level home, heat rises and collects at the ceiling. If your home has a reversible ceiling fan, set it to slowly spin in reverse to gently push warmed air back down into the room.

#5: Get the most out of your heating system

If your home is heated with a forced-air system, have the system serviced regularly. Clean filters or replace them every month or two.

Be sure air ducts are free from blockages and that they are properly sealed. A tremendous amount of heated air can be wasted if joints between heating ducts become disconnected. Also be sure that any ducts passing through unheated areas such as the crawlspace or attic are insulated.

If your home uses radiant heat, be sure radiators are clean and unobstructed.

Hot-water radiators should be cleared of trapped air once or twice each season. Unless you know how to do this yourself, hire a pro.

To improve efficiency of a radiator, you can place a [easyazon_link identifier=”B008GYPT6C” locale=”US” tag=”hometips”]heat-resistant reflector[/easyazon_link] between the radiator and an exterior wall. These are available online or at home improvement centers.

If your home is heated by electricity, be aware that many electrical utilities have “tiered” billing. With this, the more electrical power you use, the more you pay per kilowatt of usage. If you reduce overall electrical usage, your costs will stay in the lower billing tiers.

A final word: These strategies are just first steps toward energy efficiency, but they are relatively easy and affordable ways to keep your home warm and comfortable.

This article, written by HomeTips’s Don Vandervort, originally appeared at US News.com. 

 

Is It Time to Boost Your Attic Insulation?

In the battle against winter cold and sky-high home energy costs, the first line of defense is attic insulation. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s estimates, homeowners can save an average of 15% on heating and cooling costs by sealing up air leaks and adding insulation to their attics. And that’s just the average. If you live in the northern part of the United States, your savings may be even greater because the climate is more severe and energy for heating can be more expensive.

cross section of energy efficient houseJaddingt / Shutterstock.com

A fully insulated attic can dramatically reduce energy loss in a home.

The really good news is that adding insulation is an improvement that qualifies for tax credits and is excellent at returning value on your investment.

Current federal tax credits will cover 10% of the cost up to $500 for qualifying insulation and air-sealing products purchased in 2016 —so it makes sense to jump on this before the end of the year in case these incentives are discontinued. Note: These credits do not cover installation costs. For more about this program, see EnergyStar.gov. You can check on whether additional programs are available in your state at http://www.dsireusa.org/.

When it comes to value, Remodeling Magazine’s 2016 Cost vs. Value study determined that the addition of fiberglass insulation to an attic offers a better return on investment than any of the other 30 projects studied in this year’s report. Their cost source, RemodelMAX, estimated the average nationwide cost of insulating an attic to be $1,268. Real estate professionals who responded to their survey projected that, within a year of insulating, this improvement would increase the average home’s sales price by $1,482, resulting in a 116.9% return on the investment.

An Insulation Primer

Basic home building materials used for siding and roofing are great at providing shelter but readily allow the conduction of heat. The result is heat loss in the winter or heat gain in the summer. Insulation materials, typically made of fiberglass, cellulose or foam, have an open-cell structure that resists heat transfer—so when these materials are added to attics, walls and floors, they reduce energy loss. Just how effectively they do their job depends on the particular material and quality of installation.

An insulation material’s ability to resist heat transfer through conduction is measured and rated by an R-value: the higher the R-value, the better the insulation.

The R-values to target in your home depend primarily upon your climate and secondarily upon the part of the house being insulated. It’s most important to insulate the attic because that’s where the majority of a home’s heat is lost.

Fiberglass blanket insulation provides an R-value of from 2.9 to 3.8 per inch of thickness. Loose-fill cellulose insulation can vary from about 3.2 to 3.8, depending on how thoroughly it is installed. Sprayed polyurethane foam can be rated as high as 6.0 to 7.3 per inch. Air pockets, shallow coverage or compressed insulation cause diminished effectiveness.

For a more in-depth comparison of different kinds of insulation, see Energy.gov.

How Much Insulation Is Right?

EnergyGuide.org offers complete information on figuring the right amounts of insulation for your home. Note that the lowest recommended amount is R-30, which is the equivalent of about 10 inches of fiberglass or 8 inches of cellulose. For very cold climates, R-60 is recommended.

measuring attic insulation©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Use a ruler or measuring tape to measure depth of existing insulation in the attic.

If your attic already has some insulation, you’ll need to measure its thickness to figure the amount you should add. When in the attic, be sure to stand or kneel only on fully supported planks or joists—if you step between the joists, you’re likely to fall through the ceiling below.

Before insulating an attic, it should be air sealed, especially in cold climates where warm air that rises into the attic can cause heat loss and create moisture problems. Air sealing is the practice of using expanding foam to seal up cracks, crevices and connections where walls, plumbing stacks, electrical wires and chimneys penetrate the attic. This keeps the rooms below from leaking expensively heated air into the attic. Though some do-it-yourselfers can tackle this, it’s generally best to have it done by a professional.

Basic Insulating Practices

If you’re adding more to existing insulation, it isn’t necessary to use the same material. It’s okay to blow loose-fill insulation on top of fiberglass batts or to place fiberglass batts over loose-fill.

If you intend to install batt or blanket fiberglass insulation, note that you can buy it with or without an attached foil or paper facing (vapor barrier). When you’re insulating a previously un-insulated attic, buy the type with a facing and position this facing toward the warm-in-winter side (against the ceiling below). When you’re adding more to existing insulation, however, buy un-faced insulation or use loose-fill insulation, which doesn’t have a vapor barrier.

recessed light with insulationJohns Manville

Hold back insulation from recessed lights in the ceiling beneath the attic floor.

In an unfinished attic, insulation is installed between the ceiling joists of the room beneath the attic (the attic’s “floor” joists). When adding more batt or blanket insulation to an attic with existing insulation, the conventional wisdom is to orient the new batts perpendicular to the joists. Be aware, however, that doing this will make it much harder to identify where you can safely stand or kneel because you won’t be able to see the joists once they are covered. So start at the outer perimeter and work your way toward the attic hatch. Place and fasten planks or plywood, supported by joists at both ends, where needed for safely accessing and working in the attic.

Do not install insulation over the eaves vents—this will interrupt proper attic ventilation. Also, to avoid causing a fire hazard, never place insulation over recessed light fixtures unless the fixtures have an IC (Insulated Ceiling) rating. Use wire mesh to hold back insulation if necessary. Last but not least, insulate and seal the attic access panel.

This article, written by HomeTips’s Don Vandervort, was originally posted at USNews.com