Columns | Daily Chronicle

Newman: Insulating yourself against energy costs

Editor’s note: This is the March installment of a monthly column written by the city of DeKalb’s Citizens Environmental Commission that focuses on increased awareness of issues such as promoting projects and ordinance changes involved in recycling, reducing energy consumption, and planting native habitat.

Living in DeKalb, and by extension this region of the Midwest, residents are able to experience the full range of seasons.

This allows for residents to have hot summers, colorful autumns and snowy, picturesque winters. However, having this full range of seasons exposes our homes to massive fluctuations in both temperature and humidity. These fluctuations can create difficulties for keeping your home comfortable and safe.

One of the main concerns when it comes to keeping your home comfortable is the amount of energy it requires to keep your home either heated or cooled. The U.S. Department of Energy has calculated that roughly 49% of your monthly electricity bill is dedicated to running your air conditioner or furnace to keep your home comfortable. This may be because your home is not properly insulated.

The purpose of home insulation is to reduce the amount of air that can move in and out of your home, which is called heat flow. Heat flow is comprised of three mechanisms: conduction, convection and radiation. These mechanisms, which all create problems for keeping a home at the proper temperature and ambient moisture, are related to how resistant home materials are to allowing heat flow and how effectively the home is sealed.

Since heat and cold always move towards equalizing each other, homes without proper insulation and/or poor sealing will always lose heat towards the attic in the winter. Warmth will warm move through the walls and windows in the summer. Installing home insulation and/or sealing openings such as windows and doorways can make your home more resistant to this air exchange, which will vastly improve the energy efficiency of your home.

The U.S. Department of Energy determines that installing insulation in your home can reduce home energy bills by as much as 15%. According to research conducted by EnergyStar, installing insulation and improving home sealing can also help to reduce the risk of home health hazards, such as mold, mildew, pollen and pests from entering your home.

There are many different types of insulation you can install to take advantage of these savings and improved health standards. Insulation often takes the form of fiber materials, mineral wools, or foams and foam boards.

The most common form of fiber insulation is fiberglass, which can be installed either through open-blow applications (often used to apply fiberglass blanket sheets to an attic space) or closed-cavity injections (when fiberglass is injected into existing walls). Mineral wools are manmade mineral fibers that can be installed in similar situations to fiberglass, but they offer the advantage of being naturally fire-resistant. Foam and foam board insulation and/or sealant are an easy place to start for many homeowners and are used to fill in gaps or holes in existing walls, windows, and doorways, thus reducing the ease at which air can move through your home.

With all these options, homeowners have many different methods that they can utilize to improve their homes energy efficiency and resistance to airborne health hazards. This will allow DeKalb residents to save money and improve their overall health easily and effectively.

  • Nick Newman is vice chair of the city of DeKalb’s Citizens’ Environmental Commission.