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Insulation tips

How one homeowner insulated on a tight budget

Joan Churchill

When I had the home inspection done on my little pre-depression fixer house, the inspector made note of the lack of insulation. “You’ve got about the equivalent of a spring coat up here,” he said. In our climate, a parka would be more appropriate.

In fact, most people with homes over 25 years may find themselves in the same chilly situation. Fortunately, insulation is a relatively inexpensive fix.
On my budget, buying a well-insulated home—or new home for that matter—was out of the question. I figured I would just hunker down with a drawer full of sweaters knowing that in time, room-by-room, my house would eventually get insulated. That was five years ago and today I’m proud to write that almost 75 per cent of the exterior walls on the main floor and my attic, have been fully insulated. My sweaters? Most have been donated to charity.

Quick win in the attic

Even though a lot of heat loss happens through exterior walls and basements, how do you upgrade wall insulation in house you’re living in? In my case, very slowly. My solution was to start with a quick win—the attic.

The 2012 BC Building code recommends a minimum R40 in the Southern Interior and R50 in the Kootenays for attic insulation—R-value is a measure of the ability of a material such as insulation to retard heat flow. I only had a few layers of newspaper and about two inches of old batt insulation, which at some point had been inhabited by furry and feathered creatures. So I’m thinking the R-value was probably zilch! Not wanting to add new to old, I removed and properly disposed of all the old insulation, cleaned the attic and then had a professional insulation company blow in enough loose-fill cellulose to reach R40.

Rebates and energy savings

When I had my attic insulated rebates weren’t available, but you’re in luck! FortisBC offers rebates on attic, wall and basement insulation. You could get up to $3,250 back if you’re insulating your whole home.

Not all was lost on my part, however. Even though I didn’t get a rebate, my monthly heating bills were reduced by more than 20 per cent just from having my attic insulated.
 

Warmth underfoot

After the attic, the next place I hit was the under-insulated floors of my dining area and bedroom. The floors were so cold I had to use a space heater in the bedroom to warm it up just so I could jump into bed without freezing first. The dining area remained unused in the winter.  And no wonder! Upon removing the plywood ceiling below, I found only one inch of fiberglass insulation, and it was sitting at the bottom of the 10 inch joist, not up against the underside of the floor above.
 
So far, I added nine inches of stone wool batt insulation to fill the 10 inch joist cavity, bringing the R-value up to R38 (meaning really cosy!) and my comfort up tenfold. R38 was probably overkill on my part (the B.C. building code recommends R25), but with a drafty older house I was less concerned about over insulating which could lead to problems like moisture build-up, mold and indoor pollution.
 
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​ ​Before and after insulating the joists under my dining area and bedroom.

Cold basements are not cool

Basements lose so much heat due to their large, uninsulated surface areas above and below ground level. And my basement is no different. Like many older homes, it’s uninsulated and unfinished. The only thing covering my concrete foundation is a coat of paint. When my budget allows, I’ll complete the crawlspace insulation by sealing the floors and walls, and adding a foam board to the underside of the floor joists.
 

A wall of savings

In the past five years, I’ve gutted and renovated the bathroom, the entry and living room and the kitchen and dining area. Other than the walls of the dining area, none of my walls had any insulation. Apparently this was typical back in the day. So each room renovation included sealing air gaps, adding R14 insulation and a vapour barrier. 
 
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My kitchen as the wall insulation was being installed and after the renovation was complete. Can you tell how warm and cosy it now feels!

Insulation recommendations

The 2012 BC Building Code recommends the following R-values for insulation.
For wall insulation, the R20 recommended assumes the home has 2 x 6 framing. Many older homes, like mine, were built with 2 x 4 framing. Therefore the maximum R-value I achieved in my exterior walls was R14.
 
Woodframe construction​ ​Zones 4-5 (Southern Interior) ​Zone 6 (Kootenays)
Attic spaces R40​ R50​
​Cathedral or flat roofs ​R30 R30​
​Above grade walls ​R20 ​R25
​Below grade walls ​R20 ​R20
​Suspended floors ​R25 ​R30
​Slab on grade floors ​R10 R15​

Before you insulate, do this first

Before I was able to make any major renovations on my home, I used various tricks to save energy and make my home more comfortable. Draftproofing, or air sealing as it’s sometimes called, is a simple, low cost way to save energy and money. You can start by caulking and weatherstripping your exterior doors and operable windows. If you’re not sure how, we’ve got some great how-to videos that will show you.
 
If you want to draftproof or are make upgrades to your home, consider having an EnerGuide® home evaluation first. By doing so, you’ll be eligible for a draftproofing rebate of up to $500 through the Home Renovation Rebate Program.

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