Adding insulation is one of the easier and cheaper ways to improve your homes energy efficiency and cut your heating and cooling bills.
If putting a dent in your home's heating and cooling bills is a priority, then adding insulation needs to be at the top of your to-do list. It's a relatively affordable home-improvement project, and the savings can be felt almost immediately. Some DIYers can even tackle the project themselves over a weekend. For a 2,200 square foot home, adding insulation to an attic can cost from $1,000 to $2,500 including labor, depending on how much you put in and how easy it is to install. Effort and expense go up when you add insulation to exterior walls or around hard-to-reach ductwork. A federal energy tax credit worth up to $1,500 can help defray the cost.
It all comes down to R-value
Insulation is measured in R-value, the resistance to heat flow. The higher the number the better the insulating power. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends R-values (http://www1.eere.energy.gov/consumer/tips/insulation.html) between 30 and 60 for most attics. Take a peek in yours. If your insulation is level with or below the attic floor joists, then you probably need more.
There are different types of insulation, including fiberglass, cellulose, mineral wool, spray foam, foam board, and cotton batting. The most familiar is pink fiberglass roll insulation. If you're not sure what's best suited for your home, check with an insulation contractor. Just about all insulation qualifies for the energy tax credit (more below) as long as its primary purpose is to insulate-insulated siding, for example, doesn't count-and it brings your home up to recommended R-value guidelines. Energy Star (http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_sealing.hm_improvement_insulation_table), a joint program of the DOE and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, suggests R-38 insulation for most attics (or about 12-15 inches, depending on the insulation type). In colder climates, R-49 may be required. The DOE's online calculator (http://www.ornl.gov/sci/roofs%2bwalls/insulation/ins_16.html) can recommend R-values for all areas of your home's "envelope": attic, walls, floors, basement, and crawl spaces.
Generally, most homes built before 1980 have inadequate insulation. The easiest insulation to add is blown loose-fill insulation. You'll probably need to hire a contractor. Since insulating an attic isn't too complicated, you can get quotes-at least three-by phone. However, get a copy of the quote in writing before work starts, and be sure it specifies R-value. Michael Kwart, executive director of the Insulation Contractors Association of America (http://www.insulate.org/), recommends rolled insulation for do-it-yourselfers. New insulation can be added on top of existing insulation.
Savings and sustainability can add up
Depending on where you live and how much insulation you already have, adding more can trim heating and cooling costs anywhere from 10% to 50%. A homeowner in the Northeast with an uninsulated attic, for instance, can save about $600 a year by adding about 15 inches of insulation (R-38) between the rafters, according to the Energy Department. Just 6 inches can net annual savings of about $200.
The $1,500 federal tax credit (http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=tax_credits.tx_index) can be applied toward 30% of the cost of insulation installed in your primary residence during 2009 and 2010. Let's say you spend $1,760 on enough R-38 roll fiberglass to insulate the attic of your 2,200 square foot home. That's $40 per 50 square feet retail, a fair estimate. You'll be able to subtract $528 (30% of $1,760) straight off the top of your tax bill, as long as you paid more in federal taxes than you're claiming in credits. Since a typical homeowner won't be able to use up the entire tax credit on insulation alone, the remainder can be applied to other qualifying energy-efficiency upgrades like new windows (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/tax-credits-replacing-windows-doors-and-skylights/) or roofing (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/tax-credits-replacing-your-roof/). Just keep in mind that the total credit claimed for all of these improvements can't exceed $1,500 for the two-year period.
Save receipts, and if a contractor did the work, get a receipt that's itemized. Labor costs, typically 25% of the total bill, according to Kwart, don't count toward the tax credit. There's no need to file receipts when you claim the credit on Form 5695, but the IRS could ask you to cough one up later. Also hold on to product stickers from packaging that show R-values and manufacturers' certification statements that attest to tax-credit worthiness. Check manufacturers' websites for a copy of the statement. If you're building a new home, you're out of luck; only existing homes qualify for this tax credit, which can't be carried over into future years.
Adding insulation is just the beginning
In conjunction with adding new insulation, conduct a whole-house energy audit (http://www.houselogic.com/articles/paid-energy-audits-the-costs-and-benefits/) to find other ways to reduce power consumption and save even more on monthly bills. Caulk around drafty windows and doors, and stop gaps in siding and the foundation, says Matt Golden, president and founder of San Francisco-based Sustainable Spaces (http://www.sustainablespaces.com/). Reducing a home's air leakage by 25% can lower annual energy costs by about $300, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (http://www.lbl.gov/).
This article provides general information about tax laws and consequences, but is not intended to be relied upon by readers as tax or legal advice applicable to particular transactions or circumstances. Readers should consult a tax professional for such advice, and are reminded that tax laws may vary by jurisdiction.
Gil Rudawsky has been covering business and consumer issues as a reporter and an editor for 18 years, most recently as a business editor at the Rocky Mountain News. He lives in a house built in the 1930s, and always keeps the home's character in mind when making upgrades.
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