9 Signs That Your Home Is Poorly Insulated

Ginny Bartolone
Written by Ginny Bartolone
Updated December 19, 2021
A young couple covered in a blanket watching tv
Photo: cherryandbees / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • Insulation regulates hot and cold air in your home throughout the year.

  • Not all regions of the country require the same insulation R-values.

  • Drafts, high energy bills, and a leaking roof are signs of poor insulation.

  • While you can inspect your insulation yourself, it's best to call in a professional.

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If you find yourself tip-toeing over your cold kitchen floor on a winter morning or cranking up the AC on a not-so-hot summer day, it might be time to upgrade your insulation. It's a common misconception that only historic homes in chilly climates have insulation issues. Homes of all ages and in all parts of the country can benefit from insulation upgrades to protect against cold drafts, the hot sun, and even mold and mildew from building up in your walls.

Home Insulation Basics

If you're a bit rusty on the ins and outs of home insulation, here's a good place to start. Homebuilders install insulation inside the floors, walls, and ceiling. You will also find insulation in your attic, basement, crawl space, around your windows and doors, and even in some cases, on your roof as a radiant barrier. Insulation materials and placement will depend on where you live and the age of your home.

How Insulation Works

The Department of Energy explains that insulation controls three factors: convection, conduction, and radiation. In other words, it affects the movement of warm air toward cool air, the transfer of heat through materials, and the direction that heat travels.

Insulation controls how heat gets in and out of your house. Without it, convection would cause all the warm air from your radiators to soar up into your cold attic in the winter and right out through the roof. In the summer, the hot air would come rushing inside when you turn on the AC. Insulation in your floors also keeps you from needing thick slippers to walk across the floor.

Lastly, we often forget that insulation also protects against mold growth. Proper temperature control in your house keeps the air from reaching the dew point when condensation forms. Condensation on and inside your walls can lead to mold buildup over time.

9 Signs Your Home Is Under Insulated

It's hard to miss insulation issues when you know how to look for them. But if you've become comfortable with weird drafts and high heating bills, it's easy to normalize long-term problems that can be fixed.

1. High Heating and Cooling Bills

The Department of Energy notes that you can save between 10% and 20% on energy-use costs after upgrading air sealing and insulation in your home. If your heating and cooling bills seem to creep higher each year, the treated air may be escaping through under-insulated walls, ceilings, and floors, old windows, or your basement and attic insulation.

2. Uncomfortable Rooms

Do you find that your bedroom just can't hold in heat like the rest of the house? Or that your living room is always stuffy in the summer? Take note of uneven comfort levels throughout your home. This could be a sign of poor exterior foundation insulation or air leaks.

3. Ice Dams and Roof Leaks

A man installing thermal roof insulation on a house’s attic
Photo: artursfoto / Adobe Stock

The next time it snows, look out for icicles. Poorly insulated attics allow warm air to escape through the eaves, heating the snow and turning it into a dam of ice. Over time, the ice formation can damage the siding and shingles. A worn-down roof leads to leaks, water damage, and even mold formation.

4. Cold Floors and Walls

If you get out of bed each morning and touch down on an icy floor, it may not be as well insulated as it could be. Some rooms also sit above the crawlspace, which is prone to draft and air leaks.

The same goes for your walls. Cold winds and the hot sun inundate the outside of your walls, so insulation in these areas is crucial. If your walls are very cold or hot to the touch—depending on the season—it could be a sign of insulation decay.

5. Freezing Pipes

Pipes in unheated areas of your home require insulation to avoid freezing in the winter. These spaces include the attic, basement, crawlspace, and garage. If you find that your pipes are freezing even when you keep the heat on, a lack of insulation could be your culprit. Pipes are also more prone to freezing if you do not have proper insulation surrounding your pipes in the walls, ceiling, and floors.

6. Temperature Fluctuations

Your HVAC system works hard to keep your home at a consistent temperature in extreme weather. Your insulation should work hand-in-hand with this system to protect it from running at all times. If cold drafts swoop in the moment your heat clicks off, it means the air is escaping too quickly for your system to keep up.

7. Visibly Low Insulation

In some parts of your home, you can inspect insulation just by looking at it. Keep in mind that it is possible to perform a basic home insulation check yourself with the proper precautions, but it can be dangerous in some scenarios due to asbestos in older homes. And even if you are certain there is no asbestos present, always use gloves, safety goggles, and a face mask before inspecting insulation.

If you're taking the DIY approach to check your insulation, you can:

  • Determine the type of insulation you have (fiberglass, spray foam, or cellulose insulation).

  • Note if insulation blocks any ventilation in your attic or crawlspace.

  • Remove power outlet covers (after turning off the breaker) and shine a flashlight through the hole to inspect the presence of insulation.

8. Noise Issues

Insulation naturally fortifies your home from honking horns and loud neighbors. If cold drafts also come with constant noise complaints, updated insulation could ease the problem. Keep an ear out if some rooms keep sound out better than others, even from within the house.

9. Pest Problems

Cracks in your foundation, home siding, and roof can also welcome unwanted visitors into your insulation. The warm and soft layer attracts everything from mice and rats to fleas and bedbugs. Pest control pros near you may recommend inspecting your insulation if you suspect an infestation. Insects and rodents either burrow through and damage your insulation, or in the case of some insects, even eat it over the years.

How to Address Poor Insulation

If you suspect issues with your insulation, consider investing in a home energy audit. The visit costs between $250 and $650, and is one of the best ways to be sure your insulation and ventilation are up to par. During the home energy assessment, the team may use infrared tools to detect air leaks or drafts. Professionals can also recommend materials and ongoing upkeep that will save you money—and chilly morning feet—in the long run.

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