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Experts: Act now to reduce next year's heat bills

March 22, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - This winter may have brought hefty energy bills to consumers trying to stay warm, but homeowners can save themselves some money next year.

People living in homes built before the 1970s lose heat through inadequately insulated attics, said Darby Dean, a building code official in Martinsburg, W.Va.

According to several area insulation experts, it's a problem seen throughout the Tri-State area and homeowners can reduce their energy cost with a few insulation upgrades - starting with attics, windows, doors and floors. Homeowners who weatherize can reduce heating and cooling needs by up to 30 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy Web site, www.doe.gov.

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"Most homeowners don't realize the amount of energy lost in a poorly insulated attic," said Brian Starliper with McCormick Insulation in Hagerstown.

"I can tell by looking at the way snow melts on rooftops following a snowfall. If it melts away as soon as it hits the roof, a house is probably losing heat," he said.

Hagerstown architect Bob Stouffer agreed, saying his firm recommends a minimum insulation of R-30 in local attics and R-19 in exterior walls using Maryland's Model Energy Code. He said installing new thermal windows and doors also can help reduce energy costs and make a home significantly warmer.

If your home was built before the 1970s, there's a high probability it may have been insulated with a paper-based insulation like cellulose, according to Hagerstown restoration contractor Brian Emigh with Potomac Valley Building Restoration.

"Unlike fiberglass, it tends to hold moisture when it gets wet," said Emigh. "Cellulose also condenses and falls down the wall cavity, leaving gaps caused by moisture and gravity."

Water-resistant fiberglass insulation didn't become available until after the '70s, according to Emigh. Wet fiberglass insulation still can be used if it's allowed to dry. It also won't condense and fall inside wall cavities unless it's not installed correctly, Emigh said.

Homeowners are advised to contact product manufactures for more specific information on product performance and how to properly handle wet fiberglass insulation.

While Washington County doesn't have a mandatory insulation building code, "we use the Maryland Model Energy Code to recommend insulation levels" to residential and commercial contractors seeking permits, said Larry Rollins, a Washington County building inspector.

Maryland has a system of numerical climate zone ratings ranging from nine to 13. The zone ratings are used to help builders and local authorities determine adequate levels of insulation in residential and commercial buildings, according to Steve Shen, the state's chief of compliance enforcement and training.

Washington County has a climate zone rating of 11 and Carroll County's rating is 13, Shen said.

"The lower the rating, the warmer the climate," said Shen, who could not provide specific temperatures used to establish each rating.

Homeowners who want to find out if their home is energy-efficient can contact their local building code inspector, a professional insulation contractor or go to the U.S. Department of Energy Web site.

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