Insulate now to save on heating this winter-and cooling next summer.

Any homeowner can appreciate the value of insulation. Justglance at your power bill! Because of skyrocketing energy costs,blanketing your coastal home against the cold makes sense―andsaves cents. Before shopping for insulation or calling contractors,here are a few pointers.

Start small. To get the most out of your insulationinvestment, especially in colder climates, address not-so-obviousenergy leaks up front. My favorite trick: On a breezy day, hold alit match in front of doors, windows, electrical outlets, and dryervents. If the flame flickers, you have gaps to fill. Uselong-lasting caulk when filling gaps less than ½ inch wide. Tofill cracks ½ inch to 3 inches wide, buy spray foaminstead.

Read directions. Insulation generally comes in threeeasy-to-handle forms: rolled batts of wool or fiberglass;loose-fill fiberglass, foam, or cellulose; and rigid foam. Each isintended for a specific application. To decide which one's best foryou, see the Department of Energy's site, eere.energy.gov/buildings/info/homes/insulatinghome.html.

Keep dry. Due to humidity, windblown rain, and salt spray,the coastal environment can place great stress on any buildingmaterial, including insulation. If even a small amount of moisturegets into a buttoned-up space, it could cause flooring, walls, orceilings to rot. The remedy? Make sure there's adequate ventilationin attics, crawl spaces, and walls to dissipate moisture build-up.Most common forms of insulation come with vapor barriers on oneside. In colder, drier climates, you want the vapor barrier facingthe inside of the house to avoid trapping moisture between thevapor seal and the building envelope. In hotter, more humidenvironments, face the barrier away from the house'sair-conditioned space to keep humidity out.

Protect yourself. The most common insulating material isfiberglass, notorious for depositing particles on every inch ofexposed skin during installation. Inhaling particles or gettingthem in your eyes can cause real harm. If you tackle the job, wearlong sleeves, pants, gloves, a hat, protective eyewear, andbreathing filters. Or get a pro to handle the job.

Listen to local experts. My insulation installer is in lovewith a product called Ottawa Fiber (ofigroup.com). He insists it'sespecially well-suited for cold Northern coastal regions. Chancesare, there are preferred products where you live, too. Get anoverall industry perspective at simplyinsulate.com. Or goto some of the big names, such as Johns Manville (jmhomeinsulation.com)and Owens Corning (owenscorning.com/foryourhome).

How to Speak Fluent Contractor
The most important consideration in every installationdecision is R-value, insulation's resistance to heat flow. Thehigher the R-rating, the more resistant the insulating material isto heat penetrating air-conditioned space in the summer or escapingin the winter. The Department of Energy suggests different R-valuesfor particular regions and components such as floors, ceilings, andwalls. Visit ornl.gov/sci/roofs+walls/insulation/ins_16.htmlfor detailed insulation recommendations.

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