Existing home buyers:
If you are buying an existing home, you need to ask the right questions to the seller about the home’s efficiency. The answers to these questions will help guide you in making a wise decision about buying an existing home. The costs to retrofit a home with upgrades that would make it comparable to a new home can be very time consuming, intrusive, and expensive. Below is a list of common questions, answers and tips that are useful in the buying process:
1. What R values are in the exterior walls and exterior ceilings?
Zone 7 current minimums for new construction are R21 exterior walls and R49 exterior ceilings.
2. What types of products were used to insulate the home?
Insulation costs and performance from least expensive/lowest rated performer to most expensive/highest rated performer read as follows: cellulose, fiberglass batts, fiberglass cavity blow, hybrid (polyurethane foam with batts or polyurethane foam with blow), and 2 pound closed cell polyurethane foam.
3. Has the home ever had a blower door test? If so, what is the natural air change per hour (NACH)?
A respectable NACH would be .35 or lower.
4. Does the house have air exchange equipment installed?
Recommended if the home is air sealed.
5. Has the seller invested in any retrofit insulation and air sealing? If so, what was done?
6. Does the home have a HERS (Home Energy Rating System) index number?
A good HERS index number is somewhere between 50 and 75.
7. What is the annual utility cost for the home?
8. What is the U factor on the windows?
Zone 7 current requirement is .30.
9. Are the appliances Energy Star Rated? Is the home Energy Star Rated?
10. What type of heat system does the home have?
11. Was the home built as a “Spec” home?
If you are buying a “Spec” home, be especially cautious because the home was built exclusively to generate income, therefore, it could have been built inexpensively to maximize return on investment. A speculative home is a home being built without an owner/occupant.
12. Have there been additions or extensive remodels done on the home? If so when and what?
13. If the home sits on a crawlspace, is the crawlspace insulated? Is the floor in the crawlspace wet or dry?
New Home Buyers (or building a new home):
Since you are building a new home you have the opportunity to verify the insulation installed, and that your home meets code, and the standards you want. Ask yourself a question before you build – When the home is done will I have an asset or a liability? To ensure you end up with an asset you have to keep track of what the architect designed, what the subcontractors bid, and what the builder is orchestrating. If all four of you are not on the same page you need to get any outstanding issues out of the way before something goes awry. The nicest finishes do not make up for a draft coming through a window, cloudy windows, or hearing someone relieve themselves in the powder room.
Understanding insulation proposals can get confusing depending upon how many bids you have received. Not all subcontractors are going to bid the home the same way. If you are lucky you will have at least one bid that is per plans and specifications. Use this proposal as a starting point and then have every bidder comply with that bid.
It is always good to know how your insulation installers will be paid – either by the piece or the hour. Piece rate pay was designed to control labor costs. If an installer makes $.06 a square foot to hang batt insulation he will have to hang 122 square feet an hour to make minimum wage. To get paid a respectable wage an installer needs to hang more on the order of 217 square feet an hour, without travel time. This is a lot of insulation for a guy to properly install in 1 hour. On average, a good hourly worker will properly hang 1,000 square feet a day. The best installers are paid for their time and not their production rate. We recommend you make sure the installers on your home are paid hourly.
The more you know the better chance you have of making good decisions. This section was never intended to include everything you need to know, but it is a good starting point. Feel free to call or email your concerns about properly insulating your home or project, and we would be happy to make recommendations.