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House Superinsulation Project



We decided to give our house a "superinsulated retrofit."  This method is much different from conventional approaches to insulation. In this article I describe why and how.  This article is primarily intended to help anyone who is interesting in doing this sort of thing and doesn't know where to start.  (This may not quite qualify as "superinsulation," depending on how your define this term, but it is close -- see below for further discussion.)

Here is what I cover:

1. Why do a superinsulated retrofit at all? 

2. What are the alternatives to an exterior superinsulated retrofit?

3. What were the steps in the process?

4. What could we do to improve things further?

5. What were the results?

One of the most significant obstacles to finding out about a superinsulated retrofit is that almost no one has heard of it or knows anything about it, including insulation contractors, E-star rating people, various renewable energy organizations and experts, people at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and so forth.   Some contractors offered us bids on work which, even if done competently, would not have been as effective as what we eventually got (or possibly might not have worked at all).  It's important to have the advice not just of good construction experts but also energy experts.  

Actually, there's a pretty good reason for this lack of knowledge: almost no one in the United States has done this type and extent of insulation.  There are relatively greater numbers of people have blown in insulation into their walls, put in more insulation in the attic, sealed cracks around windows and doors, etc. (all of which is very good), but very few who have done this sort of superinsulation.  I hope that this will inform people as to what can be done, and that people can offer improvements to the techniques used here.  This is an important topic.  The energy crisis is upon us, and even if we start today to make all the new buildings energy efficient, we will be living with these older buildings for decades.  We need to know how to retrofit them to make them more efficient.  

We did find some good information and some people to work with.  We found a book, The Super Insulated Retrofit Book by Brian Marshall and Robert Argue.  This book is by a couple of Canadians and was written in 1980, back in the days when people thought they were facing an imminent energy crisis.  We didn't follow their advice for a superinsulated retrofit exactly, but it was helpful in sorting out the alternatives.  I was unable to locate these people via the internet, and I'd be interested in talking to them, so if you know where they are (or if you are them) please let me know.  

We also were very greatly helped by the advice of Steve Andrews, who is very active in ASPO-USA -- thanks VERY MUCH, Steve.  We didn't follow all his advice either, so we can't blame him for anything that goes wrong, but what we got right was due in large part to his contributions.  

Finally, we had an excellent contractor do the work, Tiimo Mang of Norseman Construction Services.  You can contact him at: 

8805 W 2nd Ave
Lakewood, CO 80226
(303) 232-9003

Tiimo Mang

We almost had to become experts ourselves to get the job done.  There are more pitfalls than your typical home remodeling project.

I don't think that what we did quite qualifies as "superinsulation," but it is close, and will probably do reasonably well for Denver, Colorado.  One definition is that a building is superinsulated if the walls are R-40 and ceiling R-60.  Our house now has walls probably about at R-35 and ceiling at R-50, which probably falls just a bit short.  My objective is just to show what can be done and what the results are, when you are stuck with an existing house constructed in a traditional manner.  Hopefully, whatever you do will be less difficult than what we had to do and information can be collected and spread as to how to retrofit existing buildings to dramatically reduce or eliminate fossil fuel energy usage.  

Keith Akers
November 24, 2007