No More Contractors: DIY Insulation Is Easier Than You Think!

No More Contractors: DIY Insulation Is Easier Than You Think!

Keep Your Home Warm Without Breaking The Bank

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It's been a busy season and before you know it - winter is here. The house is getting colder, and you need more insulation to get through the winter comfortably. Time to call a home repair contractor, right?

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Wrong!

DIY insulation can be a simple project that warms your house. All it costs is the materials to insulate your house, and the time to read up on the methods. If you have a willing partner (and maybe some semi-willing kids), it can even be a fun family project.

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No matter how old your house is or when you last had insulation installed, there are simple tricks and tools that will leave you and the family warm, secure, and satisfied in a job well done and a lot of money saved.

Ready to learn about DIY installation and keep that cold winter air where it belongs - outside? No time like today!

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Your Home Needs You!

You might think you can tough it out during the winter. It's not that cold, right? The kids can just put on another sweater like grandma always told you to.

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Wrong! When a home isn't insulated, it's not just the people inside who are shivering. The home itself suffers. A sudden gust of wind can knock a priceless heirloom off a shelf (or even worse, that beloved hand-drawn picture of the refrigerator!).

Plus, no one wants to move into an uninsulated house. You might think you're staying put, but what if that perfect job offer comes in? Adding DIY insulation to your house adds value, which can make selling the house a much faster and more rewarding process.

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Insulating your home makes everyone inside more comfortable, makes your belongings more secure and makes your home more valuable. There's no time to waste - it's only getting colder.

Where To Begin...

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No doubt you've already started looking on the internet for links on DIY insulation. They're everywhere! It's hard to know where to begin - which is why we've combined everything into one handy article for you here at hvacify.com.

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The first step to a successful DIY installation project is to create a plan of action. No starting in a hurry and then going back to fix things. Preparing once avoids working twice.

Every insulation job requires a different approach, but every approach benefits from a complete plan before you kick it off.

No Time To Waste? Installation In A Snap!

It's always best to do a job well and once, but we know - sometimes there's just no time! If winter is bearing down and you need to warm up your home in a hurry, here are a few ways to insulate your home on the cheap with little work. They may need to be done again next year, but they'll do the job for now.

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  • Get Rid of Air Leaks

Wind blowing in from loose areas in doors and windows can turn a room into an icebox. Getting rid of these leaks is as simple as buying weatherproofing tape and covering the leaks. A kit costs under $20 and takes only minutes to apply.

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  • Replace Those Old Curtains

Tired of feeling the wind blow in from your kitchen window? The culprit may be those ratty old curtains you've had since you moved in. Replacing them with a modern option like the Thermaliner Blackout curtains will keep the cold out and the heat in.

An even cheaper and easier option is to buy a fleece liner or a PVC shower curtain and hang it alongside existing curtains for added reinforcement.

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  • Seal Up That Chimney

A fireplace can keep your home toasty in the winter, but there's a tradeoff - if the fireplace flue doesn't seal off completely, you'll lose a lot of heat through your chimney.

An open chimney can be sealed up with a laminate-covered chimney balloon - available at most houseware retailers for $40 to $0. You can also make your own using common household items. If you plan to use the fireplace, leave yourself a reminder to remove the balloon before lighting a fire.

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  • Air Getting Through the Door? Send in the Snake!

A loose-fitting door can cause a constant stream of cold air blowing into your living room. A "door snake" is a thin stopper that fits snugly at the bottom and keeps the air where it belongs - outside. Made of household items like socks, pillowcases, and anything else you have lying around, they're easy to make and cost nothing.

door snake fits snugly at the bottom of the door

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  • Time to Tackle the Attic

If you have an attic, you know it's easy for things to disappear up there - but you don't want your heat to be one of them! Heat rises, and if your attic is leaky, all that heat will disappear outside. Using reflective foil found at your local hardware store, you can seal the attic and keep that heat circulating in your house.

drafty old attic

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DIY Installation - Built To Last

If you have the time and effort, it's worth your time to tackle a DIY insulation that will last years and keep your house as warm as a professional job. Unlike the five tips above, this will cover your entire house.

You don't start any project without your trusty tools by your side, so the first step is to decide what insulation you want to install. The good news is, you're spoiled for options. Each insulation material has its own R-value, standing for the thermal resistance of the material.

r value table

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Batts and Blankets

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This common insulation is perfect for do-it-yourselfers. Sold in easy-to-carry rolls at your local hardware store, it's perfect for nailing to basement and attic walls. Cutting it to fit around plumbing pipes and electrical outlets is easy.

Fiberglass batts and blankets are widely available and are easy to fit between rafters and joists.

Look for paper or foil-faced models to make installation easier, and wear protective clothing to avoid itching from stray fibers. R-value is 3.0 to 4.0 per inch.

Rockwool batts and blankets are a natural alternative to fiberglass that has gained popularity because of its greater fire resistance and recycled content. It is more expensive and retains moisture, so it should be placed where leaks are unlikely. R-value is 4.5 per inch.

Cotton batts, also called "Blue jeans," are itch-free all-natural rolls of insulation best for walls. While they're pricier than the other choices, they contain a borate fire retardant and insect repellant. R-value is 3.5 to 4.0 per inch.

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Batts and blankets are best for insulating flat areas like walls, floods, and ceilings.

Loose-Fill Insulation

Need to fill some tighter spaces, keeping those nooks and crannies from turning into cold spots? Loose-fill insulation is your answer. Using a small blower machine you rent or buy from your local hardware store, you blow strands of fiber into the attic or wall and plug up any hard-to-find holes.

loose fill insulation

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Loose-fill fiberglass insulation is the most common kind, and it's light enough to apply over an entire attic ceiling. It's highly fluffy and should be reinforced by blanket insulation if you want full protection in the coldest temperatures, and protective clothing should be worn to prevent itching. R-value is 2.2 to 2.7 per inch.

Loose-fill cellulose installation is a heavy-duty alternative that becomes more effective as the air gets colder, and the thicker fibers don't cause itching and can't be inhaled. It contains fire retardant for added safety, but is too heavy for most attic installations - better for walls. R-value is 3.2 to 3.8 per inch.

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Loose-fill installation is best for ceilings, reinforcing existing blanket insulation, or insulating hard-to-reach places like attics.

Structural Insulated Panels

Looking to combine maximum protection with maximum ease? Structural Insulated Panels, or SIPs, are your ticket to easy street. They save you up to 15% on energy over other insulation types, but you'll pay for it. Compared to the price of a contractor, you still come out ahead.

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These panels come in four-by-eight-foot sheets, but top manufacturers offer sizes as large as eight-by-twenty-four. This type of insulation is mostly used in new construction, but a savvy homeowner can make a DIY insulation job a snap.

Polystyrene SIPs are thick hard panels and come in two types - Expanded and Extruded.

Ranging in R-value from 3.8 (Expanded) to 5.0 (Extruded), they're lightweight and easy to install but have to be cut to fit around pipes. They should be reinforced with sealing foam for gaps and aren't structural.

Polyisocyanurate SIPs are the best option in the SIP field, with the highest R-value per inch (5.6 to 7.7). Up to two inches thick and faced with foil to keep out moisture, it's easier to install and is ideal for new walls.

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SIPs are a great option for keeping your home warm, but are most often used in new walls. An experienced handyman can handle a DIY insulation job, but first-timers will want to use a simpler option.

Spray Foam

More expensive than batt or blanket insulation but with a higher R-value, this insulation starts as a liquid and hardens. It locks out air, doubling as a caulk. While it's highly effective at keeping moisture in, it shouldn't be breathed, and installation is a professional job.

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Ready To Go? The Next Step!

Once you know the insulation you want for your home, the next step is getting everything you need for your DIY insulation project. For a first-time DIYer, we recommend batt or blanket insulation. It's easy to install and minimal equipment, and protective gear is needed.

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Find Your Home's R-Value

The best way to find the insulation you need is to check what you already have. Most attics come pre-insulated, but should be replaced when they settle, and air starts getting in. Inspect the condition of your insulation and calculate the current level.

Using a tape measure, check one of the insulated joists. A poorly insulated older home may have as little as four inches of 

attic insulation'

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insulation, while a properly insulated southern home should have a foot and a northern home will ideally have up to eighteen inches.

You should also check the insulation material, multiplying the depth by the material's R-value by the depth to get the home's R-value.

Keep Heat In, Keep Moisture Out

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Before installing your DIY insulation, make sure the moisture in your home is controlled. Proper ventilation is the best way to keep moisture out, since water vapor moves with air currents, by diffusion, and by heat transfer. As the temperature cools, moisture condenses and settles on surfaces.

If your attic has a moisture problem, the best way to solve it is through vapor diffusion retarders. This water-resistant material keeps moisture out of your insulation and helps it last longer and keep heat trapped. Vapor diffusion retarders can be bought in sheets at major houseware stores like Home Depot.

Gather Your Tools and Materials

It's time to go shopping! You know the insulation you need, so write down your home's R-value and head to your nearest hardware store. Pick up your insulation, your vapor retarder, and any tools you don't have at home.

A simple guide on all the tools and materials you might need for insulation can be found here.

If you're using fiberglass batts or blankets, you'll want to wear some protective equipment. A guide to dressing safely can be found here.

Expect the Best, Plan for Trouble

Anyone who's done a home improvement project knows that unexpected snags happen, and DIY insulation is no different. Before starting work, make sure you have the resources you need on hand. This includes an internet connection to look up questions, a trusted friend or two to pitch in if you need extra hands, and contact information for a well-reviewed local 

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contractor should you run into an issue that needs professional help.

Alright, you're ready to begin!

DIY Insulation, Step By Step

Step One - Out With the Old, In With the New!

You're up in the attic with all the tools and help you need. The first step is to remove the old, settled insulation from your joists. Wearing gloves, pull it loose and check for signs of mold or roof damage. These are problems that require professional help, and you want them resolved before applying new insulation.

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Houses built before 1980 may have asbestos, and a consultation with a professional contractor is recommended for safety.

Step Two - Check for Moisture Issues

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! This is where you check for signs of moisture damage in the roof. If you see discoloration or wet spots - most likely near a water pipe - foam pipe sleeves around the water pipe keep the moisture where it belongs. They can be cut to size with a utility knife and slide right over the pipe.

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Also, check that all bath fans have exterior exhaust rather than venting into the attic. Any vent ducts in the attic should be covered with HVAC insulation.

Step Three - Seal Off Any Air Gaps

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Feel around the attic for cold spots. This is where you're losing the most heat. Protecting them before applying your batt installation will increase its effectiveness. Weatherproofing tape is often enough to seal off these air leaks.

Step Four - Seal Off Your Heater Flues

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This is key to preventing fire hazards from new insulation. Using high-temperature caulk, run a bead of caulk around the flue and use two small pieces of sheet metal to surround the flue. Staple them to the joists, and your flue is protected from touching the insulation.

Step Five - Map Out the Attic

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Before installing the insulation, make sure you have a diagram of all utilities and major points. This will make any future repairs easier, and keep a contractor from having to tear up the hard work you put in.

Step Six - Check Your Skylights

If you have recessed lights in your attic, check if they're rated type IC. If they are, they're acceptable for insulation contact, and you have nothing more to do. If not, you'll need to protect them to prevent a fire hazard.

attic recessed lights

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Using drywall and screws, build a three-inch box to place around each light. Use high-temperature caulk to seal it in place along the seams on the ceiling. You can now insulate the skylight passages safely.

Step Seven - Insulate the Joists

The joists are the large wooden slats holding the insulation along the floor and ceiling of the attic. Fill them completely with insulation, then cover the insulation with plywood to prevent the insulation from settling or becoming moist.

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If you have wiring around the joists, cut the installation to fit around it. Fiberglass insulation can be split into thinner layers to fit into narrow spaces. Small excess pieces work as fillers for plugging up small gaps.

Step Eight - Install the Second Layer

If your previous insulation was in good condition, it can be layered over the new layer to create a second protective layer. If the old insulation is junk, add a second new layer. This should be a long, thin sheet of whole insulation.

handyman unrolling insulation against the attic floor

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This sheet should be airtight, so start by tucking the insulation between the rafters against the rafter vents. Unroll the insulation in the opposite direction of the first layer, keeping the rolls tight together. Continue the installation in the direction of the attic hatch, insulating as close to the hatch as possible while leaving room to enter and exit the attic.

Step Nine - Insulate the Stair Hatch

Apply self-adhesive weather stripping where the door and the frame make contact. After applying adhesive to the back of the hatch, place a piece of rigid foam onto the surface and secure in place with nails. Make sure the attic hatch closes properly, trimming the foam if needed.

Congratulations! You've just insulated your attic. Enjoy the added heat and the satisfaction of a job well done!

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Follow along with this video link for easier instructions during the installation.

Save Yourself The Hassle - Check Your Work!

A few final cautions will help ensure your work is built to last and you don't have any unpleasant surprises coming your way. DIY insulation can be built to last, but only if you keep these factors in mind and have a backup plan.

You're Not Insured or Warrantied

A licensed contractor has a guarantee that the work is built to last. A DIY job doesn't have that, so it is worth your money to get a professional to do a quick look at your work. You saved so much money on labor and equipment - a little piece of mind is worth the investment.

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Check the Attic After Every Weather Event

Had a bad rainstorm? Snow coming down in waves? It's time to make sure the insulation is holding up. A quick trip to the attic will let you know if the insulation is doing its job.

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If you notice cold spots, that doesn't mean your job is failing - it might be as simple a repair job as adding a third layer of insulation to that spot.

Is the House Still Cold?

Insulating the attic is the biggest part of keeping your house warm, but it won't do all the work if you still have loose doors or windows. The next stage is to follow up your DIY insulation job by tracking down your house's other cold spots and sealing them off.

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Most cold spots inside your house can be sealed off using less-intensive insulation techniques like curtains, weatherproofing tape, and caulk.

DIY Insulation - No Time Like The Present!

When winter settles in, there are cold months ahead. Tired of those rising heating bills and complaints from the family? Take matters into your own hands and turn a major contracting job into a one-day home insulation project.

Not only will you enjoy a warmer house and a safer, more modern insulation; you'll have saved a lot of money and given yourself a massive confidence boost. There are many common household repairs you can tackle with some ingenuity and the right tools.

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So grab that toolbox and get started!

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