Beating the cold: A primer to winterization

Another Minnesota winter is on its way. For folks living in many of the older homes throughout Southwest, it’s time to flip the switch on the furnace and crawl under the blankets.

But there are other ways to stay comfortable this winter, while reducing heating costs and energy use. Now is the time to start thinking about winterization.  

The Southwest Journal sought advice from Mike Monahan, owner of Monahan’s Remodeling in South Minneapolis, who has worked in insulation and home remodeling for more than 35 years. Here’s some of his advice for keeping warm this winter:

Southwest Journal: What are the basic components to weather stripping and wall insulation, the two main components of winterization?

Mike Monahan: Insulation is usually meaning a material that has a resistance to heat flow … whereas weather stripping may not have much of an ‘r’ value [resistance to heat flow] but it’s designed to prevent air infiltration so you don’t have a draft. A lot of times it’s some sort of a strip that can be attached so that it fills a gap … so when you shut the door or the window there’s not a gap where air can infiltrate.

SWJ: When should homes get insulated?

Now’s a great time — before winter is always better. That’s when people think about it more. But anytime’s a good time … then you can save on cooling costs in the summer. It can save you costs nearly year-round. Don’t wait, don’t hesitate. It’s a good time to do it.

SWJ: Why should homes get winterized?

It’s good for the pocketbook and good for the environment … because you’re saving on the need for more energy production or use because you’re needing less fossil fuels to provide enough warmth or enough coolness in the summer. Whether it’s gas or electrical, the most common, or somebody has a wood burner or a fireplace … it’s always going to be a toll on the environment. Any type of insulation is going to help save on energy use … It’s best to get practical before you get too exotic — you can get real exotic with different types of green alternatives, but if you haven’t done the practical thing, you haven’t been as efficient as you could be.

SWJ: What areas of a home should be insulated?

Your main area to look at first as far as an energy saving aspect for insulation is going to be your attic; that’s generally where you’re going to have the best investment and get a payback in savings on your money invested. It’s going to offset your costs and then save you money eventually, especially as energy costs soar. The second most important part of the house to insulate is any exterior walls. Also a crawlspace, if an addition was put on. Another common place is at the fill line … or rim joist, which is at the exterior of the house between the basement and floor level. That’s a common place that’s under-insulated or not insulated, and it should be.

SWJ: What materials are used to insulate?

There are different types of a loose fill. The most common type is a fiberglass, that’s blown in. There’s cellulose, which is a paper type material that’s got certain retardants on it to stabilize it and make it safe from fire. Then there’s vermiculite, which is an extruded mineral composition, which means it’s processed in a certain way to make it pop, so it becomes kind of like popcorn.

SWJ: Which material is best?

Those are the more common, and I’d say it depends on the situation. There are greener alternatives also now too, when the insulation is made from some sort of recycled material, even something like denim jeans. Those are alternatives, too. They tend to be more costly.

SWJ: How often should a house be re-insulated?

As the energy costs rise, the recommended amounts of insulation increase, so unless a house has been done recently, it may be outdated to what the needs are. I would safely say the majority of houses are under-insulated or under-weatherized. I rarely go to a house that doesn’t need something. When you start looking, you find out there are areas that haven’t been dealt with.

Does insulation need to be done professionally, or can homeowners do it themselves?

I would say get educated, and do what you’re confident with. I’m a believer in self reliance as well, and if someone wants to tackle it themselves, then [they should] get educated and do what [they’re] confident with. Then if they feel the need to have it looked at or done further, they can still consult with somebody who’s professional.