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I know a number of people in a similar situation that want to add insulation to older, poorly insulated homes. Homes are similar. Poorly insulated attics (6" of fiberglass batts), no insulation in exterior walls. The attic square footage is relatively small compared to the roof area because of high pitched roofs and kneewalls.

Doing this as a DIY project that would be completed in stages maybe one weekend every couple of months or so.

What order would you tackle each project the following insulation/air sealing projects to get the most cost savings early?

A) Add R-30 unfaced fiberglass batts over existing attic insulation. Attic floor sq footage is I'd say roughly 75% or less of the 2nd floor sq footage due to kneewalls on most of the exterior walls on the 2nd floor.

B) Get access to back of kneewalls on 2nd floor and add insulation to back of interior wall and over interior ceiling. Studs are only 2x4 but since there's plenty of space may use R19 or greater kraft faced insulation for walls, R30 for over ceiling. About 60% or so of the 2nd floor exterior walls are kneewalls with conditioned living space underneath.

C) Add fiberglass batt insulation and those foam insulation vent boards to allow airflow to the sloped ceiling space over the kneewall. This would be done at the same time as either A or B.

D) Blow in fiberglass insulation to exterior 2x4 framed walls from interior that are not knee walls. All the exterior walls on the 1st floor and about 40% of the 2nd floor exterior walls.

  • Ha! I just bought a home that needs all of this. Add to the equation that the lath/plaster is bad and that the wiring is knob and tube, I chose to gut everything upstairs... It's taking a lot longer than I estimated :) I'm interested to hear the answers that you'll receive. – bitsmack Dec 21 '15 at 23:44
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    Check with your public utility to see if they offer energy audit, air sealing, and insulation rebates. Sometimes you can hire out the work with the rebate for the same cost as just doing it all yourself. – DA01 Dec 22 '15 at 4:28
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Insulating is actually typically the last step in a major whole-house energy efficiency retrofit. If you insulate before you've air-sealed, the air will simply bypass the insulation. If you air-seal without fixing any water leaks or flashing errors, you've created a mold problem. If you air-seal without adding mechanical or passive ventilation, indoor pollutants will rise and combustion appliances may backdraft, potentially poisoning the occupants. And so on.

Step 1: remove or vent indoor combustion appliances that are not sealed and vented. Give a gas range an exhausting range hood and replace sub-90% efficiency water heaters and furnaces that are within the house with sealed combustion versions that pull their combustion air from outside.

Step 2: Fix any roof leaks, window flashing errors, or any other water entry points into the building envelope.

Step 3: Make sure the bath fan works and run it constantly.

Step 4: air-seal as well as you can.

Step 5: insulate.

Step 6: test the air quality for CO2 and the combustion appliances for backdrafting and see if a better ventilation system is needed.

To finally answer your question, once you get to insulating, your biggest bang-for-buck is anywhere you can add insulation where there is none, which would be the walls in this case. If you're not planning to remove the drywall or siding, find a crew to blow dense-packed cellulose into the wall cavities. Make sure it's dense-pack and that they have a track record of success. Don't do blown fiberglass and don't do anything that;s not dense-packed, as it'll settle. If you are planning to remove the drywall, then put mineral wool batts in the walls yourself. If you are planning to remove the siding, then dense-pack the cavities and add 2 inches or more of rigid foam or mineral wool over the sheathing, and use this opportunity to replace the windows or fix any overt flashing errors. If the wall has no water-resistive barrier or if it is deteriorated, replace it with a new layer (tar paper, Tyvek, etc) on the same plane as the windows and integrated with their flanges/flashing.

Attic insulation is often very cost-effective too but it can be substantially more complicated. The attic floor must be airtight. And where you insulate depends on what's in the attic and what it will be used for, if anything. An attic that has mechanical equipment in it, that will be finished, or will be used for storage needs to have spray foam at the roofline or rigid foam under the roofing. And if there's any knob-and-tube wiring where insulation should go, that needs to be replaced first. Otherwise, the attic can have a few feet of loose-blown cellulose or fiberglass piled up on the floor and that'll work very well. This approach is DIY-friendly, too. You need to pay close attention to any chimneys or flues, too. Insulated that isn't specially rated (usually some type of mineral wool) can't be installed touching it, and an air gap may be mandatory. Depends on the chimney or flue.

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    Not convinced that #3 belongs as high on ghe list ss it is, or needs to be there in all climates. Also, in my climate, boosting the attic insulation (if you don't need that space for storage) is high on the cost-effectiveness scale (after air sealing, which I agree is first step); may be different elsewhere. – keshlam Dec 21 '15 at 23:57
  • #3 is kind of a CYA step since it's very site-specific. In a house with no gas appliances, it's less important. But otherwise, I stand by my wording, especially since active ventilation will become more important as you progressively tighten up the house. As for cost-effectiveness, it's always more effective to add the first R to an uninsulated assembly than is is to add more Rs to an already-insulated assembly. – iLikeDirt Dec 22 '15 at 0:22
  • As I mentioned in my question air sealing and insulation will be done at the same time. – OrganicLawnDIY Dec 22 '15 at 1:51
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    Running a bath fan constantly would just be sucking out conditioned air and bringing in cold air. – DA01 Dec 22 '15 at 4:29
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    Also, if the house is tight, then running an exhaust fan like that with gas appliances is actually a bad idea. If the concern is ventilation, you want to install an air exchanger. – DA01 Dec 22 '15 at 4:29

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