Ways to check to know if you need insulation and Air sealing
Attic: Go up in your attic and look to see how much insulation is in there. Measure the amount from the ceiling to the top of the insulation. On average insulation is about R-3.3 per inch give or take a bit. So if you have 6 inches in your attic you have around R-20. Code in Nova Scotia is R-50 which is 12 to 20 inches depending on what insulation was used. If you have less than this amount you need insulation.
Walls: The easiest way to check your walls is to take off a plug cover(turn off the power to this plug before doing this)and look between the plug and the gyprock to see if there is insulation in the walls. If you can’t tell by doing this drill a small hole in a closet or somewhere that isn’t noticeable and insert something with a hook to see if you pull out any insulation. If you don’t see any insulation, you need insulation blown in your walls. Code in walls for Nova Scotia is R-24.
Basements: If the walls are covered with something check them the same way as you would in the walls. If the concrete is showing then you need insulation. Code in basements for Nova Scotia is R-20.
Rim/Header: These are located on the top of your basement wall where your joist runs out over the cement wall or in between the first and second floor, if you have a second floor. These are sometimes left uninsulated and other times are done with fiberglass and vapour barrier. This is a very hard place to insulate and air seal and if it is done with fiberglass and vapour barrier there will usually be air movement through it. It is best to spray foam this area. If the ceiling is covered with gyprock or paneling the only way to see if it is insulated is to get someone with a small camera and drill a hole or remove a section to look in. Code for Rims in Nova Scotia is R-24. If this area isn’t insulated right your floors will be cold.
Garage Ceiling: Check your garage ceiling the same way that you would you walls. In some cases there may be one layer of fiberglass, but does not fill the cavity. It is best to cut a larger hole to see how much is in there and if it isn’t filled with insulation then you need insulation. If your floor above is always cold this is a sign that you need more insulation. Code for garage ceiling in Nova Scotia is R-31
Overhangs: Any overhangs like cantilevers, bow windows, and additions that are exposed to the outside need the bottom insulated. This is a conmen place that is over looked when insulating, but can cause big problems if left uninsulated. The best way to check is to drill a hole or remove what ever material is covering it. If there is no insulation or a small amount you need insulation. Code for overhangs in Nova Scotia is R-31.
Windows and Doors: There are a couple of ways to check and see if your windows and doors are not insulated or sealed right. First way is to simply hold your hand around the window to see if you can feel any airflow. The second way is to take a lighter and move the flame around the edge of the window to see if the flame moves or gets blown out. The third way is to take a piece of plastic that is larger than the window and place it over it. Hold it in place with green painters tape and seal completely around the edges with the tape. If the plastic is bow out towards the inside of the house then you have air leak through your windows. There are a couple of ways to fix this, one way is to buy some good silicon and go all around the edges of the windows. Another common problem is that the window isn’t insulated around it’s perimeter. To do this you will need to remove the moulding and cut the gyprock back about two inches. If there is not insulation or fiberglass shoved in between the edge of the window and the stud you need insulation. If there is fiberglass remove it and replace it with DIY can foam from your local building supplies. This is a project you may want to try yourself or get a carpenter or handyman to do this for you.
Plumbing and Electrical Penetration: Any plumbing or electrical penetration in new or old construction should be sealed with can foam or acoustical sealant. If you had work done in your existing house some things to look for are; if the trades person was in your attic make sure the insulation was correctly installed back over the work that was done(this is a common problem that we see all the time). If there were holes drilled through your exterior wall make sure that they are sealed.
Ducts: If you have ducts in your attic or in an overhang that is exposed to the outside make sure they are sealed and insulated. In the attic they can be insulated by simply getting blown in insulation over the top of them. If you have uninsulated ducts in overhangs or unheated basement they need to be insulated with closed cell spray foam or duct board and sealed. Duct board is a dense fiberglass that is covered with reflective like material.
Energy Saving Improvements Typical Payback Years
Attic/Ceiling Insulation 2 - 6 Years
Wall Insulation 2 - 7 Years
Floor Insulation 2 – 5 Years
Seal Large Air leaks 1 -2 Years
Seal Small Air Leaks 1 – 3 Years
Seal Ducts 1 – 2 Years
Window Replacement 10 – 25 Years