Consumers often view the HVAC system as something that operates independently to provide comfort. When the equipment fails to reach the levels they expect, consumers often seek a mechanical solution. But well-informed HVAC contractors know that the HVAC system operates as part of the overall house and other factors impact its performance.
Insulation is one of those factors. In fact, it’s a key factor. Increasing the amount of insulation in the right spots of a home can have a noticeable effect on the HVAC system’s results. But insulation is designed to be out of sight, and for most consumers that means out of mind. It shouldn’t be that way for HVAC contractors.
The technicians at PV Heating and Air in Atlanta are trained to keep aware of insulation levels and how they impact home comfort, said David Peavey, the firm’s owner. The place he finds are often under insulated are attics, especially in older homes. But most homeowners assume they have enough insulation and even if they have doubts, they don’t know what to look for Peavey said.
“It doesn’t really affect the client until it gets hot or really cold,” he said.
Peavey said most clients are unaware of insulation issues on their own. One way they find out about inadequate insulation is when the home is inspected. The other time is when the call out an HVAC contractor when the home fails to reach the expected comfort levels on very hot or very cold days.
A Whole-House Approach
Peavey said discussions about insulation usually arise after PV technicians perform load calculations, design work, or home assessments. PV does load calculations on every job and also has a fulltime design/consulting department. The firm’s staff views their job as communicating current conditions and providing options on how they can improve overall comfort.
BARRIER: Well-placed insulation creates a barrier between cold and heat outside, while keeping the desired temperatures inside a home. (Photo courtesy of Webb Heating and Air Conditioning)
“We have to communicate how the attic insulation levels are getting to affect tonnage, how they are going to affect cooling, heating, and overall comfort,” Peavey said.
“Everyone understands that if you increase insulation levels, your system are more efficient, they won’t have to run as much, and you’ll be more comfortable.”
Jeff Wagner, owner of Jansen Heating, Air Conditioning and Electrical in Freeport, Illinois, also takes a whole-house approach. Wagner views insulation as a way to serve customers beyond just installing equipment.
“We usually start with an analysis of the home before we offer any equipment,” he said. “We’re looking for ways to correct a problem versus putting more equipment in.”
The goal is limiting the amount of heat lost. Jansen Heating technicians will inspect a home’s insulation, especially around the rim joist. Wagner said 20% of heat loss can come that part of the floor system. Wagner said improving insulation also helps reduce cooling costs in the summer.
Josh Bradshaw, general manager of Webb Heating and Air Conditioning in Greensboro, North Carolina, said his firm also takes a whole-home approach. Bradshaw said Webb started offering insulation as an outgrowth of its duct testing.
“You’re trying to decrease infiltration,” Bradshaw said. “The more you can control the air coming in or out of the house, the better.”
Some of a home’s most attractive features can prove the biggest culprits when it comes to leakage. Bradshaw said they often add installation to can lights and bathtubs, as well as outlet covers. The biggest target for added insulation, though, is the sheet rock. Webb technicians will use thermal imaging to show customers how hot or cold their home’s sheet rock gets. Insulation is also useful in keeping out humidity, which improves the comfort level of a home along with other benefits.
Webb offers Home Energy Ratings Systems scores as part of its services. These calculate home’s energy performance so owners can take steps to reduce costs. Improving insulation makes a major stride in accomplishing these goals, Bradshaw said.
“In certain situations, you’re able to install a smaller size air conditioning, which is better for the house,” he said. “It’s eye-opening, how much better it is.”
Insulation isn’t always a high spending priority for consumers, Bradshaw said. But many energy providers offer rebates that make it more affordable. These energy providers then pass on the leads to firms such as Webb.
Since the start of the pandemic, homeowners have turned little used rooms into workspaces. Bradshaw said improving a room’s insulation makes it functional without having to expand the HVAC system.
There are many parts of a home that can benefit from extra insulation. The cost for HVAC contractors to offer this service is fairly low — a machine and a way to transport it. But the savings for consumers can be quite high.