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Insulation’s Early Years: Promise for Progress

Building science is a fairly new field. We still develop new materials, new solutions, and constantly look to advance. In this industry, there are many specialists who all work together to make your house one cohesive system. In the past, this process was not so smooth.

About 75 years ago, painters refused to paint insulated buildings. In Bill Rose’s book Water in Buildings, he details the history of building science research in our country. According to Rose, building science first became a field due to the issue of painting insulated buildings. From 1937 to 1942, the country adopted a set of practices to control moisture in their homes. These techniques were the foundation for the way that we still treat our homes today.

A day in the life of an owner of a newly insulated home, circa 1935. Let’s call him Joe. Joe wakes up on his New England January morning and expects a sharp chill when his feet hit the floor. Surprisingly, the chill does not seem as powerful today. Joe smiles. His home is newly insulated.

Joe goes outside to collect wood for his stove, but on his way to the woodpile something catches Joe’s attention. He always took pride in his deep red home, as it stuck out between his neighbor’s white home, black shutters. But what was this? Joe’s paint is peeling. He forgets all about his mission to bring in wood, and heads straight inside to call his painter.

As it turns out, when insulation began to make appearances, painters found that their paint jobs were peeling. Joe was not the only one with a peeling home. His early insulation job led to moisture problems due to the intense difference between internal and external temperatures.

Joe finds out that the water vapor that collected inside of his home diffused through his wall, and settled there. As his paint peels, Joe follows the breaking research. He heard what the problem is: Joe needs a vapor barrier.

In the early 1950s, the National Paint and Varnish Association declared a “War Against Water.” They saw water vapor as an enemy in homes, simply because the building science did not yet know how to control water vapor.

Early building scientists made some pretty substantial observations. For example, a researcher named Teesdale figured out that a material’s wetness relates to its temperature; colder materials are wetter, and warmer materials are dry. In early building science, researchers mainly focused on vapor barriers. Because they focused heavily on vapor barriers, early building scientists did not see what we know now.

Early building science started the industry that keeps progressing. What we later discovered was that while preventing vapor diffusion is important, but it is also important that the building is capable of drying out. Looking back to the beginning, we can see how far building science has come. We can only image how much more we will progress in the upcoming years.

The Hidden Energy Stealer: Where to Look

It seems like the easiest way to get things done these days is to make a list. We have lists for grocery shopping, lists for a busy day of meetings, and lists of the best lasagna recipes. So, to follow the trend and make things a little easier, here are three simple things that you can do to make a huge difference in your home’s energy bills this winter.

Many homeowners look at the visible solutions in their home. These may include installing energy efficient light bulbs, curtains, and windows. While all of these add to your home’s efficiency, some of the places that will save the most energy are not in plain sight—some of the biggest culprits of energy loss are hiding under you.

1. Moisture in your basement

Many basements are not properly sealed off from the outside environment. Air leakage in basements causes the moisture from outside to enter into your home. The wet air then works its way up into our living space due to the stack effect. While we try to heat our homes in the winter, the outside air leaks into our basements and works its way up to our living areas. Moisture in the air makes it harder to heat our homes, so we waste energy trying to control this damp air. By air sealing the problem spots in your basement, and adding insulation, you can reduce the unwanted moisture in your home.

2. Ventilation in your basement

Vents often lead to intruding air. If your basement is not properly ventilated, air sneaks in from outside. This brings in cold air in the winter and hot air in the summer, which makes it harder to control your home’s temperature.

Seal your home off from the outside environment. Ventilation is necessary, but we want to control the air in our homes. With proper ventilation along with air sealing your home, you can balance air flow with sealed control.

3. Insulation

Many homeowners look past their insulation. If the home already has insulation, why should they be concerned? Homes with moisture in the basement or poor ventilation often have failing insulation. When moisture takes over your basement air, it also seeps into the insulation. Depending on your insulation type, this built up moisture can cause it to be heavy and even moldy.

Properly insulating is necessary to make sure that insulation does its job. Insulation provides a barrier between your sealed home and the outside weather. As you work to prevent the outside air from getting in, make sure that you are not just looking at the small fixes. The bigger upgrades provide long-term energy efficiency and offer a great sealed home for your new energy efficient light bulbs.