What came first — cheap and abundant fuel to heat homes, or cheap and efficient ways of insulating walls?
If you guessed “fuel”, you’re right. Portland was founded around the timber industry! When homes were first being built here, nobody thought much of insulating walls. In fact, the first fiberglass insulation product wasn’t on the market until 1938, after many of Portland’s original homes were already built. Before that time, uninsulated walls were the standard, but some resourceful builders used old newspapers, cotton and sawdust — the original up-cyclers of Portland!
In 1900, living in an uninsulated home in the Portland winter wasn’t so bad because there was plenty of wood to burn in the fireplace. Today, however, Portland has become more energy conscious. Meanwhile, there are many great insulation products on the market.
Unfortunately, energy conversation was a little slow to catch on over the course of the 20th century. Up until the 1980s, there was no building requirement to insulate standard 2×6 walls on residential homes in Portland — which is why one of the top improvements to boost Home Energy Scores is adding or upgrading wall insulation.
The best way to know if your home already has insulation in the walls is to do a physical inspection. If your home was built after 1980, building codes require that it was constructed with at least R-11 insulation in the walls, but that is still not a guarantee!
Checking one or two walls in your home is relatively simple. Sometimes it’s possible to look inside the wall simply by removing an electrical outlet (turn off the electricity first!). Otherwise, you may need to make a small hole in the sheetrock, preferably somewhere hidden. Try removing a baseboard, making your hole there, and replacing the baseboard when you’re done. Another suggestion is to make a hole in the wall above your kitchen cabinets. Either way, be sure to locate the studs before you make your hole.
If your inspection doesn’t turn up any wall insulation, you have an opportunity to improve your home’s energy efficiency and Home Energy Score when you put it on the market. Adding wall insulation is a job best left to the professionals, and can run anywhere from $1.25 – $4.00 per square foot of wall space. While it’s difficult to estimate exactly how much HES improvement you’ll get by adding wall insulation to a house in Portland, we can say that it’s the most commonly suggested improvement that our assessors put on the Home Energy Reports they produce for our clients.
As with any home improvement, we suggest getting three bids from professional contractors with experience adding wall insulation before you commit to one. Our assessors recommend using the Energy Trust Trade Allies database. These contractors are licensed and insured, and third-party verified by Energy Trust of Oregon. There are a lot of scams out there — to be doubly sure of who you’re hiring, check your contractor’s license status at the Oregon CCB website.