Foundation insulation improves the look and feel of your home

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Wed., Jan. 15, 2014
- Contributed Photo

Until recently, I never thought much about the exposed concrete foundation on which my house is perched. It is “just there.” The foundation on three sides of the house is mostly obscured by shrubs, bushes and seasonal flower gardening. One day, as I was passing a new house under construction, I noticed the foundation was being poured using insulated concrete forms (ICF), an innovation that is gaining some traction in the home-building industry.

ICF is not something that can be retrofitted to older homes, but older foundations can be insulated to some degree on the outside and quite easily on the inside.

Insulating foundation walls improves the comfort and energy efficiency of your home, whether or not the basement area is partially or fully finished. At the same time, dressing up an otherwise drab concrete exposure can enhance the curb appeal, perhaps making your property stand out just a bit over others in the neighborhood.

The Extruded Polystyrene Foam Association (XPSA) maintains that up to one third of a home's heat loss can be attributed to an uninsulated foundation. Although this is an organization of foam insulation providers, there is apparently corroborating information from other sources to support this statement.

If your concrete foundation was not insulated when the house was built, you may be limited by the amount of exposed exterior foundation you can cover. A house built on a level grade may have only a foot or two of exposed foundation wall. If your property slopes, or excavation for the foundation was limited, there might be more exposed concrete. Nonetheless, covering that exposed area can add insulating R-value of 5 to 10 over that surface.

Textured insulation panels are an option on the outside of the foundation. In one step, they cover the cold concrete with insulating material while upgrading it from “blah” to “voila!” Styro Industries is one company that offers foam panels in various thicknesses with a texture that simulates stucco or aggregate stone finish.

Using any one of many insulating foam solutions from companies such as Dow, you can insulate the exterior foundation in one step and finish with your own coating choice. With products such as Styro Industries FlexCoat or Tuff II, you can apply a thin acrylic coating over standard insulation panels which can be textured and or painted.

If there is little you can do on the exterior, focus on insulating the interior of the foundation. Even if your family spends little time in the basement area, insulating the concrete walls will moderate the temperature and moisture in the environment. That, in turn, helps the environment in the living space above it. It also prepares the basement to become a finished living space, whether or not you take it to the finished state.

There are a few interior insulation alternatives. Conventional fiberglass insulation will add an R-value of 11 when installed in a wall studded with 2x4s against the concrete. If you don't like the idea or cost of framing in the basement area, there are many foam insulation solutions. The foam is designed to easily fit between furring as well as studs.

Extruded polystyrene is a rigid foam board (usually pink or blue) with an R-value of 5.0 per inch. Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is white in color, is not as dense (similar to coffee cup material) with an R-value of 3.5. Polyurethane, white or yellowish in color, is rated at R-value 6.0 per inch. Polyisocyanurate, which is a whitish rigid board backed with foil, to radiate heat, also has a 6.0 rating.

While installing fiberglass insulation batts requires precautions against airborne fibers and particles, the foam insulation choices are non-toxic and much easier to work with. Most foam insulation, however, is flammable, and must be covered with drywall.

If you are thinking about undertaking such a project, wait for warmer weather to do the exterior job. Take advantage of the winter months to get the interior work done.

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