In modern construction, all interior surfaces that are exposed to outdoor, unconditioned air, are insulated to deter heat transfer from indoors to outdoors. These surfaces include the ceilings that border the attic, the exterior walls, the floors that are adjacent to the unheated crawlspace, the ductwork that is located outside of the heated envelope of the house, and the water pipes. Windows also play a role in the speed at which the exterior temperatures influence the interior controlled temperatures, but they are not considered to be insulation in the same way the previous locations are considered.
Insulation Inspection: A Brief History
Over time, the building codes have changed on a fairly regular three-year basis. They have directed the builders to increase the level of insulative materials. This is usually driven by energy inflation and the cost of utilities to the end-user. Early homes, say at the turn of the 20th century, didn’t have any direction on insulation. In fact, insulation properties weren’t even known at this point in time. The earliest insulation this inspector has ever seen is when people would lay out open newspapers across the attic floor in an attempt to retain heat inside their homes. Over time, enterprising individuals were able to create products that would help in slowing down heat loss. Unfortunately, some of these developments were used with materials that were found to be hazardous to our health. These materials have since been discovered and taken off the market, and when an inspector sees them, he or she is keen to what they are looking at and what the recommendations should be. We will cover this topic in fuller detail in the “Health and Safety” blog topic on this site.
Attic insulation is installed above the uppermost ceiling to keep heat from transferring to the exterior at the top of the house. The most common insulation materials to install at this location are fiberglass (either loose-fill blown-in OR a batt style which is placed or rolled out onto the attic floor) or cellulose (this is a loose-fill blown-in application only). The height of the materials and their “R-Value” is what is used to calculate their effectiveness to reduce heat transfer both out of the house in the cooler months and back into the house in the warmer months, known as solar heat gain. Another insulation type is available, but the cost of this application is much higher. A person can opt to have closed cell spray foam installed as the insulation material. This option offers more insulative value per inch and seals the majority of airflow where it is placed, but the expense is often a turn-off and most people opt for a more standard material such as fiberglass or cellulose.
Wall insulation is not visible to the inspector unless the interior walls of the house are not yet complete. Wall insulation can be any of the materials as were listed in the attic insulation section. The inspector should be up to date with past building codes and realize when a house should already be insulated and when the buyer should be encouraged to have the insulation added post-construction. Also, if a house is older and does not have any wall insulation installed if the owner of a home elects to have the interior wall covering removed and reinstalled, wall insulation is directed to be insulated at that time.
Floor insulation is installed between a finished floor and an unconditioned space. The area below will either be a crawlspace, a garage, or an unheated basement. The insulation in this location is almost always fiberglass batting, but in a small number of homes, the owner may have elected to have closed cell spray foam installed in this location. Again, closed-cell spray foam is expensive, so the owner of the house usually opts for adding fiberglass to the underfloor area.
Insulation Inspection for Energy Efficiency
The ductwork that is running in unheated areas needs to be sealed and insulated. These ducts that deliver conditioned air to the interior of the home are often ignored. This is too bad. People don’t realize that when the delivery system has holes in it, the warmed or cooled air the owner of the house already paid for is lost before it even enters the home. This is an energy loss for certain, but more importantly, this is a money loss. A leaky and inefficient delivery system could cost you hundreds of dollars per year. In fact, the cost to seal and insulate your ductwork could be saved in the first full year of use. This also means you can achieve the same amount of energy savings year after year after year. Duct systems are often thought of as the lowest hanging fruit for energy efficiency.
Water pipe insulation is often overlooked. The water pipes are usually set in unheated spaces below a structure and are often times found to be uninsulated. The winter months bring cold air that can cause water temperatures to be lower once they reach the point of use. This causes the user to have to turn up the heat at the fixture and in turn, wastes more energy and water trying to get the proper temps to the water use fixture.
Importance of an Insulation Inspection
Home insulation is often overlooked. Some people feel it is too expensive for an addition to the house that cannot be seen. What these people are overlooking is the quality of life inside the home. Insulation additions or upgrades are the first things this inspector adds to a structure when originally purchased. An upgraded building’s thermal envelope is something that is appreciated and realized every day after its installation in interior comforts and lower energy bills all year long.
“It was an absolute joy to work with Chris. He did two inspections for us and his attention to detail was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. My husband and I are first-time home buyers and we are so grateful that he was part of our home buying experience. Both reports were received within 24 hours and left us feeling significantly more informed and prepared to make important decisions. I am genuinely excited to direct friends and family to Chris’ home inspection company in the future.” – Sydney (Google Review)
Get an Insulation Inspection with Octopus Home Inspections
At Octopus Home Inspections, we are committed to upholding a strong code of ethics, including professionalism and integrity. Our insulation inspections (and home inspections) are extremely thorough, fairly priced, detailed, and accurate. We strive to be a home inspection company that you can trust completely, knowing we have your safety and wellbeing in mind. If you’re looking for a home inspector you can trust in Portland, Oregon, contact us!