$7000 Attic Insulation: Stuffed with gold and fairies, or a good deal?
September 17, 2010 8:08 AM   Subscribe

Related back to this question, we are finally pulling the trigger on a new furnace, hoping to get the work done before a state rebate program for such purchases expires. We have gotten several good bids, and are taking more, but the best one came from a guy who would also fix our insulation problem- for $7000. We're a little daunted.

The bid came from a guy who says a lot of things that make sense. For example, he's talked to us about lowering the BTU's that our furnace would produce from 100,000 to 75,000, while making the output 95% efficient. Sounds good, right? So we also had him check out our insulation scene while he was here.
One of the reasons that we haven't fixed the insulation since I asked the last question is that there is more work to be done than meets the eye. The last person who owned the house installed insualtion without putting down a vapor barrier first (which is entirely in tune with the bizarre, penny-wise-pound-foolish houseflip choices that she made as a homeowner). So just blowing in insulation is not really an option, anyway.
But to get back to the question: sensible sounding HVAC guy takes a look at our attic, and says that he would seal the attic and the leaky corners with a foam vapor barrier, which would have an R value of seven, and then proceed to bring the R value of the insulation up from there. Here's where it gets tricky, though. He says that his firm only does top of the line insulation, which entails said vapor barrier, seals the corners, and then blow in more insulation over that. Sounds great! The catch is the price tag: over $7000. I can't imagine this paying for itself in the short term, and I'm having a hard time imagining it even effecting the resale value of the house. In other words, I don't know if paying that much money is a good return on investment, if we can get someone else to do a non-premium job for around half of that cost.
Has this guy spotted a sucker in me? Could we talk him down from that price? Or is this a reasonable price for an insulation job that will keep us warm, and keep our house value up?
posted by pickypicky to Home & Garden (5 answers total)
There are a few factors to consider:
What are your heating bills like? Where do you live, and what is the climate like there? How big is your attic (and your house for that matter)?

Insulation is rarely a bad choice, and there are currently federal and state-level tax incentives for installing energy-efficient insulation in your house.
posted by schmod at 8:21 AM on September 17, 2010

Does the $7K include the new furnace installation? If so, I don't know that it's that bad. My one data point from the recent past is an oil boiler-->gas boiler replacement for a ~1,000 sq. ft. bungalow. Bids for that averaged around $3,000.
posted by yellowcandy at 8:27 AM on September 17, 2010

The furnace is a separate expense, and costs roughly as much as the insulation, or even a little bit less when rebates kick in. Our heating bills last year were pretty high, especially considering that our house is not all that big. We're not questioning our need to change the furnace, or to do more insulating- that need is pretty desperate. However, does "top of the line" really mean something in this situation? Will it do more than say, $3000 worth of insulation? From the previous question, when we were thinking that we had less to do in the attic, we were getting bids from $800- 1000 for parts and labor.
posted by pickypicky at 8:33 AM on September 17, 2010

In general, you need a vapour barrier between your ceiling and your attic. If you don't have a vapour barrier, you risk wet insulation in the attic, which is not very effective at insulating (this depends on the specific type of insulation) and can let mold grow. You don't want mold in your house.

Spray foam is a good option for a vapour barrier in a pre-existing attic, because it is less labour intensive than other methods (plastic sheeting or foam board).

Secondly, spray foam is a good method to reduce air leakage. Air leakage is a big contributor to heating costs and any reduction you can make will help. If you just throw on more insulation into a leaky house, you won't achieve significant improvement.

You need to get some other quotes for the insulation work. No one here can tell you if you need $7K of insulation work or $3K of insulation work with the information you have provided.

You may also want to consider having a home energy audit. For a few hundred dollars, you can get your house tested and get suggestions about where to best direct your money to increase efficiency and how much energy/money you can save by making specific upgrades. It sounds like an energy audit would be very useful to you in the situation you are facing and will answer the questions you have much better than AskMe can. This is a situation where you would be well served to pay for an expert evaluation.
posted by ssg at 9:48 AM on September 17, 2010

It's also worth finding out what the building codes are in your area. Call up the building permits office and ask for an inspector to come out (it may cost, depends). A home energy audit is also useful, as mentioned earlier.

Maybe insulating your attic isn't the biggest bang for your buck at this point.

That will tell you what you need to bring your house up to standard. Then you can decide if you want to meet that, improve what you have, or try to exceed it. There are diminishing returns eventually.

And definitely get multiple quotes. You not only learn what a fair price is, but also gain the insight from many opinions and can make your own choice better informed.
posted by jpeacock at 10:32 AM on September 17, 2010

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