There are plenty of traditional ways to make your home's exterior more energy efficient. According to Energy Star, you can save up to 20 percent on your heating and cooling bills by sealing openings and using good insulation. "Cool roofs" and "smart roofs," meanwhile, use reflective pigments and coatings to help with loss of cool air and heat emission. Storm windows and doors, for their part, also cut down on leaks in a home's exterior.
While the above are certainly helpful, there are other, new products available for improving a home's exterior efficiency.
Insulating paint, sometimes referred to as radiant barrier paint, is a newer product on the market today. It's still under discussion and debate, but worth exploring. Insulating paint uses traditional paint with an additive that's supposed to reduce heat build-up. Businesses already use these types of products to coat ducts and pipework. In fact, Purina Feeds uses this type of paint on its outdoor silos to preserve its feed products, and the poultry industry applies it on their hatcheries to regulate temperatures [source: NASA Spinoff].
The development of insulating paint has roots in the space program, going back to the 1980s. The heat generated during shuttle launches was damaging the rocket booster casings -- essential pieces equipment for a launch. So, the Marshall Space Flight Center worked with a United Technologies division to develop a spray process that would insulate the critical pieces of the rocket. Unfortunately, this first product didn't hold up very well and was costly and intricate. Additionally, it was an environmental nightmare, as most of the ingredients were unsafe [source: NASA Spinoff]. Over the next several years, they improved the product, making a version that worked well on shuttle flights
Then, businessman David Page, owner of Tech Traders, approached NASA about helping him develop reflecting coatings for his company. The result was "Insuladd," now marketed by Tech Traders. (Other well-known brands include Hy-Tech and Therma-Guard.) Whereas the product may have originally been used in commercial buildings, the reach has expanded to residential homes.
Let's examine how insulating paint works. While each manufacturer differs and touts different attributes, a common denominator seems to be hollow ceramic particles in the additive that gets mixed with the paint. In some instances, the particles are spheres while one product has "popcorn-shaped" elements. Regardless of the shape, these microscopic components all group together when the paint is drying to form an insulating layer. This results in paint that reflects heat.
Tech Traders says Insuladd works with any type of paint -- in cold or hot climates, on any type of surface. So why aren't all homeowners using paint mixed with Insuladd or another insulating additive?
The jury is still out, and you've got some very credible sources in the debate. In 2009, the EPA said it didn't feel that enough studies had validated the performance of insulating paint. Alex Wilson from the BuildingGreen.com website told Scientific American there was a lot of build-up, but just not enough big savings, especially in average climates. Wilson thought the NASA name helped the paint's reputation, building up the hype. Costs are also a consideration, as insulating paint is more expensive than traditional paints. According to EnergyIdeas Clearinghouse -- an independent alliance between Washington State University and the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance -- you'd pay an additional $45 to add the insulating additive to 5 gallons of paint. When doing the whole exterior of a home, those 5 extra gallons would add up quickly.
However, proponents like Tech Traders claim paint mixed with Insuladd reduces the amount of heat that seeps into your home by about 20 percent, reducing your cooling costs. EnergyIdeas supported this, not just for Tech Traders products but about insulating paint in general, although the organization did raise the caveat that the paint worked best on surfaces in direct sunlight. This helps the argument for insulating paint, but also gives opponents another angle of argument: Given than no surface is exposed to direct sunlight all day long, is the product necessary? Whereas summertime savings gave insulating paint a positive check mark, EnergyIdeas found the opposite in the winter: more heat escaped. Additionally, they asserted that insulating paint required more maintenance than traditional paint because the product's reflexivity would fade over time; homeowners would need to reapply insulating paint more frequently than traditional paints.
Heavyweight NASA, meanwhile, argued in favor of insulating paint, saying the product helps generated heat and air conditioning remain inside, reducing a home's overall energy output. This not only helps the homeowner but also helps the environment.
There are legitimate arguments for each side of the debate. One area where both advocates and adversaries seem to agree is that insulating paint should not be used in place of regular insulation. Rather, home owners who use it should combine it with traditional efficiency practices to achieve the optimal results.
Commercial home composting unit (Photo courtesy Karim Nice)
To make your home's exterior more energy efficient, make sure to check that all spaces around windows, doors, clothes dryer vents - anywhere that air can get through - are sealed. That's already a savings of up to $100 per year [source: USGBC]. By replacing your regular windows with Energy Star-rated windows, you can conserve energy and reduce your utility costs. If you already have double-glazed windows, that's a savings of about $70 a year [source: Myers].
Improving your insulation is another wise step. Even a simple do-it-yourself job of installing R-30 fiberglass batt insulation can save you hundreds of dollars on a 1,800-square-foot (167.2-square-meter) property.
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