Archive for January, 2011

Okay, let’s have a little fun. You don’t want to contribute to “global warming” by heating your neighborhood with your heating unit, right? And I’m sure you don’t want to cool it down with your air conditioner either, right? Radiant barrier is being used by families all across the globe to control their interior climate. Is this the key to getting a handle on your home comfort levels?

The whole purpose of your HVAC system is to allow you to control your indoor temperature despite what the thermometer may say on your patio. Since heat will naturally seek out a cooler place to roam, the proper use of radiant barrier throughout your home can ensure that you get the most out of your heating and cooling system.

In the winter months, when the temperature drops, your goal is to keep heat that has been generated by your heating system or solar heat that may come through your windows trapped in the interior spaces of the home. In the summer months, as the mercury climbs, your goal is to keep heat generated from the sun outside. Optimally, that heat is blocked before ever entering your home.

Radiant barrier is the insulating product that many homeowners are turning to in order to achieve both goals. As a result, many are finding that the life of their heating and cooling systems are extended since they don’t have to work as hard, run as long, or turn on and off as often as before they made the decision to switch to the more effective radiant barrier.

When you are able to effectively direct the radiant heat that is generated through your equipment or by the sun, it puts you in control of where you want that heat to go. For example, a radiant barrier that is stapled to the rafters in the attic has the ability to reflect up to 97% of the sun’s heat back outside. This means that your attic space will be cooler along with the rest of the home.

Conversely, in the winter months, a radiant barrier placed in interior walls or the floor of your attic will direct the existing heat from your interior spaces, most likely generated from your heating unit, back into your living areas rather than escaping to the outside. This keeps the heat right where it will do the most good. After all, “global warming” by heating the outdoors with your heating unit is not your intention, right?

In every climate, the ability to control heat flow through the use of radiant barrier insulation methods is key to controlling the climate inside your home, even though we cannot control the climate outside. With the rising costs of utilities and the concerns over energy and the environment, radiant barrier is becoming the insulation of choice for many homeowners.

Today I have the distinct pleasure of enjoying a day that’s minus 18 degrees.  “Enjoy” might not be the best word, on second thought.  Or maybe I do mean it, but in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way.

The Midwest is known for our corn and our pork.  We’re known for good public school systems and for those bridges in that Madison County movie.  But we’re also known to have some pretty darn cold winters.  And that’s a fact.

As a native of Florida, I detest the cold weather.  Over a decade of living in Iowa hasn’t thickened my blood or made me less susceptible to being discomfited by the frigid temperatures and biting wind.  I stay indoors as much as possible and avoid stepping outside, even into our garage, as much as possible.  That can make for a long five months of a season, for sure.

One thing that’s made Old Man Winter more tolerable has been the insulation project we finished late last summer.  Tired of astronomical cooling bills, we scheduled a home energy audit with our utility company.  He told us that all those faint drafts and cool rooms added up to some significant air transfer, and that’s not a good thing.

He determined we had some decent basic insulation in our attic, but that we certainly had room to add more.  He also suggested we look into a relatively new product (but evidently one that’s getting a lot of press) called reflective insulation.  The product looks a lot like tin foil, the stuff you might use in the kitchen.  But the foil insulation effectively stops heated air from moving into spaces where there’s colder air.  That was a perfect solution for our house, where the warm air we were paying for seemed to keep rising into the attic and out into the atmosphere.

Owners of acreage or hobby farms are in a unique position.  Whether they own a handful of horses, goats, cows, chickens or dogs (or maybe all?) they need practical solutions to protecting their animals from the winter weather.  Unfortunately, most solutions are geared toward large-scale commercial applications and therefore cost prohibitive.  Is the only option to not have animals around your spread?  There may be at least another solution in radiant barrier.

Heat lamps and ceramic heaters can get costly, and a great deal of the heat produced is lost in the open spaces of barns and stalls.  Many types of animals habitually group together out of either a communal instinct or a primal need to share body heat.  Radiant barrier plays into those needs.

Unlike heat lamps or heaters which produce external sources of heat, radiant barrier serves as a way to contain heat by blocking its ability to pass to cooler spaces.  For example, if radiant barrier were to line a stall where three goats slept at night, the radiant barrier would effectively contain the body heat those goats generated, preventing much of its loss to the elements.  If the stall were to have a top as well as a slightly raised floor, heat conservation would increase still further.

Radiant barrier is made of 99% aluminum baked over a woven polyester scrim.  The scrim makes the product durable and easy to handle, while the aluminum provides a highly reflective surface.

Place radiant barrier along the inside of that chicken coop you’re building, along all four sides, top and bottom.  Use it to line dog houses as well.

In some cases you may want to cover the barrier with chicken wire or random 1×1 strips of wood in the  event your animal likes to chew.

Sledding is just about one of my kids favorite pastimes.  They live for the chance to go farther or faster than one of their siblings.  Over the years, we’ve bought a number of really nice sleds and boards all claiming to be the best ride.  Sometimes these pieces of equipment have been costly.  Other times, they’ve just led to disappointment when the claims didn’t hold true, or the quality was so poor the item fell apart after a couple good-sized hills.

Being a thrifty and practical kind of person, I’ve found ways to duct tape some of them back together.  I’ve used heavy coats of wax to make the bottoms more slick.  I even went so far as to use a light piece of board and some screws to hold a couple of pieces which wanted to split together, just to eek a little more life out of the sled.

Inspiration came one day when I heard about my youngest using the wax paper from his sandwich to grease his way down the slide at the playground.  My mind immediately turned to the reflective insulation I’d used to make our home more efficient by reducing the loss and gain of radiant heat through the attic.  Turns out I still had some scraps of the reflective insulation in the garage, so I began cutting strips off for each of the kids to use.

A few weeks later, we got another good snowfall.  It was time to test our theory that reflective insulation was so smooth and slick that it would make the best sled around.  With a good sprint and a leap, my kids went sailing down the hill on their reflective insulation sled.  Fun times!  And a good way to make good use from leftover material.

You may be thinking ahead to spring already.  With spring comes fresh new Honey-Do lists.  Is getting a jump on the heat of summer top on your list?  You can ward off blistering rays with radiant barrier.

Also called foil insulation or reflective foil, or even reflective insulation, this product is comprised of a woven polyester scrim surrounded by 99% aluminum coating.  While easily cut with scissors or box cutters, it’s virtually impossible to tear – a characteristic which makes it easy to handle.  Sold by the roll in several lengths, radiant barrier works in conjunction with existing insulation to block the flow of radiant heat from one area into another.  While it may resemble aluminum foil, it’s definitely not a cooking product.

Radiant barrier should be installed in your attic when temps are mildest in your area.  Not only does that help ensure that you don’t get overheated or that your fingers are warm enough to work properly, it means you’ll be getting the project done before the worst of the season arrives.  In that way, radiant barrier can start saving you money immediately.

While it’s not critical to have another set of hands helping during the installation process, things can go more smoothly when someone else can unroll and cut the product, leaving you to staple and smooth along the rafters.  It will also make the installation process move a little more quickly, a definite perk to any DIY project.  Estimate one weekend afternoon to get the project completed.

If you’re interested in understanding just how well the product works, be sure to keep copies of your energy bills and make year-over-year comparisons of pre-installation and post-installation.  Make note of any significant changes like the addition of another refrigerator or freezer, anything that might counterbalance a reduction in energy consumption provided by the radiant barrier.