How Yesterday's News Will Change Your Home's Comfort

How unsold copies of the New York Times and other newspapers are transformed into the solution to a more comfortable and energy efficient home.  

Goodbye, sweltering summers and frigid winters.  Hello, even room temperatures and lower energy bills.

An insulation product called cellulose insulation uses recycled newspaper that can be installed in the attic and walls of your existing home.  It works a bit like fiberglass insulation in that it adds thermal resistance.  Let's say your home was built before the 1990's when insulation and energy efficiency began moving to the forefront of the construction industry.  During seasonal heating and cooling months, poorly performing or nonexistent insulation in your walls and attic contributes to comfort issues in different areas of your home.  Using specialized equipment, cellulose insulation can be added to these areas to improve their overall resistance to extreme temperatures, resulting in a more comfortable and energy efficient home during winter and summer months.

In homes with cellulose insulation, homeowners notice improved comfort, reduced levels of noise, and lower heating and cooling bills.  The cellulose insulation can reduce outdoor air-infiltration when installed using the dense packing technique, a method commonly used when insulating walls and underneath attic decking.  It means the material is blown into an enclosed cavity using specialized equipment at a very high velocity.  The fibrous material congeals together to form a solid mass inside the enclosed cavity, eliminating the movement of air and creating a barrier between the extreme temperatures, noise, insects and seasonal allergens located outside the home, and the indoor living spaces located within the home.

Fiberglass insulation is a competitor to cellulose, but it doesn't have the resistance to noise, insects, air-infiltration, or rodents offered by cellulose insulation.  Premium versions of cellulose insulation use a 100% borate formulation as a fire retardant.  Borate, a naturally occurring mineral formed from rocks and minerals containing Boron, is added to cellulose insulation to impart flame resistance.  The mineral protects the fibers by melting around them to form a protective glassy coating when exposed to a heat source.  Borates are commonly used in cosmetics, medically as an eye wash solution, as a water softener, and in many other products as a neutralizing or buffering agent.  Borates are less toxic than table salt and are a compelling alternative to the caustic chemicals often found in other insulation products.

It's worth noting how upgrading a home's insulation levels compares to replacing windows.  According to the U.S. Department of Energy, floors, walls and ceilings contribute 31% of the total air-leakage in a home, whereas windows only account for 10%.  That means a combination of upgraded air-sealing and insulation may be more than three times more effective when compared to replacing all of a home's windows.  Additionally, a single-pane window has an R-value (the capacity of an insulating material to resist heat flow, the higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power) equivalent of roughly R-1.  A typical single-pane window paired with an exterior storm window is about twice as effective at an R-2.   A premium triple pane replacement window has an R-value equivalent of R-5.

Compare that to adding cellulose insulation to an existing wall without insulation and the comparison becomes really compelling, even to the point where you might consider keeping your windows and adding insulation to the rest of your home.  A wall without insulation is roughly an R-4 depending upon its construction,  compared to the R-value of an insulated wall, generally greater than R-13.  That means great R-value over a larger percentage of the exterior of your home (exterior walls commonly account for between 75-80% of a home's exterior surface), often at a lesser cost than premium replacement windows.

A home energy audit is a great way to learn if your house is a good candidate for cellulose insulation.  Whether your home is traditional, contemporary, or historical, a home energy audit will help stretch your home improvement budget by offering prescriptive recommendations that offer the highest savings-to-investment ratio.