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Insulation is important no matter what area of the country or world you live in. It reduces our need to heat homes and our need to cool homes. However, there are some differences on how to go about improving insulation in homes located in the South versus homes located in the North.
In colder climates, the main purpose of insulation is to reduce heat loss. In hotter climates, however, the goal is to let heat leave while retaining cooler air. Therefore, different insulation levels and techniques are recommended in these different climates.
Very simply, to find out the recommended insulation level in your area, the U.S. Department of Energy has a page that will tell you the ideal level based on your zip code.
But insulation is about more than a number.
In the North
In colder climates, it is critical to make sure the building envelope is thoroughly insulated. Windows, doors, roofs, walls, and air infiltration barriers need to be throughly insulated and sealed. Bulk insulation (e.g. glass fiber, rockwool and cellulose fiber), weatherization, and minimizing of non-insulative materials and glazing is the most important.
In the South
In hotter climates, like my home state of Florida, minimizing solar gain is critical. Good shading, light-colored roofing, heat-reflective paint, and, then, good insulation are great ways to keep a house cool even in the hottest of climates. Radiant barriers underneath roofing materials or attics are also especially effective in hotter climates. “When a radiant barrier is placed directly underneath the roofing material incorporating an air gap, much of the heat radiated from the hot roof is reflected back toward the roof and the low emissivity of the underside of the radiant barrier means very little radiant heat is emitted downwards. This makes the top surface of the insulation cooler than it would have been without a radiant barrier and thus reduces the amount of heat that moves through the insulation into the rooms below the ceiling.”
Plant some trees or create shade in another way and make sure you have a “cool roof” if you want to save energy (meaning, money and the environment) in a hot climate. And check your insulation, too.
This is really just a simple primer on insulating homes in different regions. I’ve touched on some of the most critical or effective ways of doing so in each climate. For more on this, you can continue looking into these topics on your own or get the help of a home energy professional.
Photo via Marxchivist