Q I'm trying to convince my parents to insulate their old house and make other retrofits. Do you know of a table that links energy-saving measures to cost savings?
A Talk about a model child! If only your parents realized that you aren't just lobbying to save the world, but to save them big bucks, too!
Toronto is teeming with lovely old houses light on insulation and heavy on bone-chilling drafts. I know - I rent one of those old creakers. Okay, so global warming may eerily allow us to reduce our furnace use, but we'll eventually need air conditioners in February if we keep up our wasteful ways. So what should you do, and how much will it save your household?
Extensive draft-proofing can cut your power bills by at least 20 per cent. That means pulling out the caulking gun, weatherstripping windows, doors and baseboards and adding extra insulating to your attic, crawl spaces, basement and walls.
Though some would say any and all insulation is eco-friendly if it boosts energy savings, it's important to support the options with the greenest life cycle.
You certainly want to avoid mostblow-in polyurethane foam types, especially since they're often treated with PBDEs, those super-persistent fire retardants that lodge themselves in living tissues. And the HCFC agents used to blow the stuff in, while CFC-free, are still somewhat ozone-depleting. Foam-Tech's SuperGreen polyurethane insulation and Icynene are free of CFCs as well as HCFCs.
Expanded polystyrene foam emits neither greenhouse gases nor ozone killers, but it does put out smog-inducing pentane.
Many greenies consider fibreglass a big no-no because formaldehyde is used in the binding process and there are concerns the headache- and nausea-inducing chem could offgas into your home. The industry insists it's no longer a problem, and neither is harmful fibreglass dust.
So what insulation gets the green thumbs-up? Air Krete is a good one. A foam made of formaldehyde-free cement and seawater, it's a blown-in type that's considered non-toxic and very low in polluting VOCs (volatile organic compounds; www.airkrete. com). There are concerns, though, about post-installation shrinkage.
BioBase501 insulation was voted product of the year at the 2003 National Green Building Conference . It's actually a polyurethane foam, but it's made in part with soy, it's blown in with water and is CFC-, VOC- and formaldehyde-free (www.biobased. net).
Blown-in cellulose made of recycled paper is another sensible choice. Canadian-made Thermo-Cell cellulose is 95 per cent recycled newsprint and is fire-retarded with borax. It's also certified by Environment Canada's EcoLogo program. You can install it yourself in attics but will need professional help if you want to blow it into walls (available at Home Hardware and Home Depot; www.thermocell.com). Note that cellulose can be pretty dusty, so make sure it's well sealed.
If you'd rather avoid the blow-in types, Bonded Logic makes non-toxic panels of insulating batting out of old denim (www.bondedlogic. com). Compressed straw bale insulation is an über-eco option to consider for those building a house from scratch.
The best t00l to help you calcute what these types of retrofits will save you is Toronto Hydro's handy-dandy Home Efficiency Calculator (www.torontohydro.com, under "conservation"). If your ceilings have less than 6 inches of insulation, for instance, and you double that, then blow a little insulation into a few walls (which tend to contain none of the stuff), put a few inches of batting in your basement and caulk air leaks, you'll save about $300 in hydro bills every year, not to mention the 8 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions you'll prevent from spewing out of electrical plants.
Want help getting your house up to snuff? Give an organization like GreenSaver a call and they'll help track down drafts and tighten up your home's "thermal envelope" (www.greensaver.org).
And tell your folks to keep in mind that undertaking all these energy retrofits means they can later sell their home for up to 10 per cent more. That's a good chunk of change that works double duty for the planet.
Oh yeah, and if you discover old grey vermiculite batting or nuggets in your attic, call a pro - you may have a dangerous asbestos problem.