For optimal energy efficiency, your home should be properly insulated from the roof down to its foundation. Unless you’ve added extra insulation when building your home, or added insulation to the home you bought or renovated, there is a good chance your home does not have enough.

Home builders will generally build a home with the minimum amount of insulation required to pass building code. Even though your home may have met minimum requirement at the time it was built, does not mean it is up to current code. Building code changes over time and minimum insulation requirements has been something that increases over time.

Because your homes insulation is behind walls and in the attic, it makes it a little more difficult to tell if you have poor insulation. Thankfully, there are some signs to look out for that will help you to identify this.

Signs of Poor Insulation

Fluctuating Temperatures

If your home is properly insulated, the temperature will remain the same regardless of the room you enter. If different rooms have different temperatures – say, you freeze in the kitchen but feel too warm in your living room – that’s a clear sign your house is under-insulated.

High Energy Bills

Keep an eye on your utility bills year or year. If you start to see an significant increase over time, it may mean your blown-in insulation in the attics and walls may have settled. This makes the insulation in these areas less affective. You may not notice extreme temperature shifts in your home if your heating or cooling units are working overtime. However, you will notice your extreme energy bill.

Cold Walls, Floors and Ceilings

One of the easiest ways to tell if you have poor insulation in your home is to do that touch test. When you touch the inside of your wall, it should be dry and warm. This means the insulation is keeping the cold air outside. Alternatively, when you touch the outside of the wall, it should be cold. This means the insulation is keeping the warm air inside your home.

Cold Rooms

This goes hand in hand with fluctuating temperatures. If you find some rooms inexplicably colder or hotter than others no matter what you do and those rooms are well ventilated, then the problem is probably poor insulation. These rooms are often above the garage or below the attic. That’s why it’s important to make sure all areas of your home are properly insulated. Heat and cool air can escape almost anywhere that doesn’t have insulation to stop its path.

Chilly Drafts

During the winter months, drafts in certain areas of a home are caused by cool air entering around window frames and doorways. By having extra insulation added to these areas, you and your family can avoid having to cope with chilly drafts. Adding insulation will not only make your home feel less drafty, it will also save you on energy bills. Spray foam insulation seals and insulates and is good for cracks and crevices.

Another thing to look at when it comes to exterior doors is to ensure proper weather stripping. Weather Stripping the the rubbing that attached to the door stop. The use of weather stripping is to help seal the door when closed. Without the weather stripping, there would not be an air tight seal. No matter how much insulation is around the door, there will always be a draft.

Ice Dams on Your Roof

A sign of poor insulation you may notice during the winter months is ice dams. Ice dames are the result of heat, rising from your poorly-insulated attic and melting the bottom layer of snow off of your roof. The melted water then trickles down towards your gutters and may begin to freeze once it hits the cooler air. The result is large chunks of ice and oversized icicles, called ice damming. It can wreak havoc on your roof and your gutter, not to mention it can turn into a safety hazard for those below. If the ice dam become large enough, it can actually start to lift up your shingles causing your roof to no longer be waterproof. This can then lead to many different water related damages.

Frozen Pipes

Since some of your homes water pipes run inside exterior walls, poorly insulated walls can cause pipes to freeze. When pipes freeze, they have a tendency to burst. This can then cause thousands of dollars worth of damage to your home.

How to Properly Insulate Your Home

As mentioned above, there are multiple areas of a house where insulation used. Each area uses a different type of insulation. For a full list of different types of insulation, click here. The effectiveness of insulation is measured in R-value. The more insulation used, the higher the R-value. One important thing to note when looking to improve your insulation, is some older homes can have dangerous types of insulation used. Vermiculite insulation and Urea-formaldehyde were commonly used. Vermiculite insulation is not always dangerous, however many times asbestos is found mixed with it. For more information on vermiculite insulation you can visit our blog Is Vermiculite Insulation Dangerous? Additionally, for more information on asbestos, visit our blog post Do I Have Asbestos in My Home?

Urea-formaldehyde (a combination of resin, hardener, and compressed air) was used until 1980s. Today we have a better understanding of the product and that the amount of vapors produced is finite. After the initial curing the material will not off-gas, unless it comes in contact with water or moisture, then it can break down and begin off-gassing once again. You can have your home tested for these vapors by an environmental company in your area.


When insulating an attics the most common type of insulation used ins blown-in (loose-fill). Blown-in is usually less expensive to install than batt insulation, and provides better coverage when installed properly. To find out if you have enough attic insulation, measure the thickness of the insulation. If it is less than an equivalent of R-30 (about 10 to 13 inches), you could probably benefit by adding more. Before insulating, seal any air leaks and make roof and other necessary repairs. 

Air Ducts

If the ducts in your home are in unconditioned space, seal and insulate them. If you’re building a new house, place ducts in the conditioned space to avoid the energy losses associated with most duct systems.

Exterior Walls

When a house is built bat insulation is usually used to insulate the exterior walls. If your attic has enough insulation and proper air sealing, and your home still feels drafty and cold in the winter or too warm in the summer, chances are you need to add insulation to the exterior walls. This is more expensive and usually requires a contractor, but it may be worth the cost.

There are a couple different ways to increase the R-value of your exterior walls. One way is blow-in insulation, which, when installed with the dense pack technique, will provide a higher R-value. It can be added to exterior walls without much disturbance to finished areas of your home. If you’re remodeling and your wall cavities will be open, look into two-part spray foam or wet spray cellulose insulation. On the other hand, if your wall cavities are not going to be open, you could consider injectable spray foam insulation. If you’ll be doing the work yourself, blanket (batt and roll) insulation, while not capable of providing an air seal as and two-part spray foam will, may be an affordable option.

Another option is to install a rigid foam insulation to the exterior of your house if you have siding and plan to replace it. While this will not increase the R-value significantly, it does help to seal up any areas cold air would enter from.

Floors Above Unheated Rooms

Many homes have rooms above their garage. Most of the time a garage does not have insulation or heat. If the ceiling of the garage (floor of the room) is not properly insulated, then the room above will be cold. Ensuring proper insulation in the floor will drastically increase the temperate of the room and decrease heat loss. This in turn lowers heating cost.


The type of insulation in a basement will depend on whether the basement currently has insulation or not. In new buildings, insulation will reduce thermal bridging, reduce heat loss, provide protection against moisture and reduce the condensation problems associated with poorly insulated areas.

In conclusion, ensuring your home have proper insulation is very important. Not only does it save you money on your monthly heating/cooling costs, it also helps prevent other repair expenses.

The Beth & Ryan team is always happy to answer any questions you may have. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them!

RELATED: This post is part of a series of 16 things you should consider when buying an old house. Click here to read the full series.