The Effects of Insulating With Swiss Cheese

Being a California native, one of the things I take personal pride in is; finding better ways to use technology and save energy.  Putting the two together just feels like the right thing to do.  A few years ago,  I bought a home at a foreclosure sale.  The previous owner built the house at a time when there was no code enforcement for energy systems.  The A/C system was in really bad shape when we bought the place.  58 Can lights had 120W incandescent bulbs.  Finally, the outside lighting system was all high voltage halogen lights.

Our first major repair was the HVAC system.  Our electric bill went from $1200 to $500.  Yes it was that bad.  $6000, invested, $700 return very first month, I like an 8 month Return on Investment.  Next was the lights.  While I was out changing some in the garage area, I noticed my electric meter had been replaced.  I called the electric company and they said “the large shift in your usage indicates a possible bad meter”.  Electric Company speak for “We think you jumped the meter and are stealing power”.

After upgrading to CFL lights in 50 of the 58 cans, and taking out 3000W of outdoor halogen and replacing them with 800W of fluorescent and low voltage halogens in more strategic locations, the meter was swapped again.  This time our bill only fell to $370 and half of that I attribute to the cooler fall weather at the time.  I started photographing the meter to make sure I wasn’t getting ripped.  Our next bill was $600 and came with a letter that until our meter issues were solved we would be paying the “average” from the previous year.  We didn’t own the house then so we weren’t allowed to see the bills to understand the “average”.

About the same time, we did clean up some insulation, fix a couple of windows and replace two very leaky doors.  Our gas bill also dropped noticeably.  The culprit here though was the spa heater failed.  It took four months for parts, so the bill went from $350 to $50.  Gas is very high in Texas as it is a largely unregulated utility.  To me $50 for two water heaters for two people seemed very high.  We upgraded to the Maytag Neptune low water usage front loader machines and got two new low flow shower heads.  Next Bill $1048.00.  The note said we were being billed a $1000 charge while they review our sudden change in usage.

The gas company decided in our favor but refused to return the money.  We haven’t had to pay a bill since and have a $300 credit balance as of this month.  The spa heater broke again, 3 days after it was fixed, and now I am saving for a new one.

This week I was in our dining room replacing the bulbs and it felt like the AC was on.  As my hand got closer to the opening I could feel the rush of the cold attic air pouring right into the house.  The heater cranking away as I stood there in the cool breeze.

There are 26 cans lights in our house that have open attic above them.  As I crawled the attics, I found that all the cans said “no insulation contact”.  There was a good 6 inches of un-insulated space around each can.  At the local Alspaughs True Value Home Center, I learned there are “IC” or insulation contact cans and “Non-IC” or non insulation contact cans.  The major difference is the heat.  The Non-IC can burn the insulation.  I also found there is a better quality IC can called an “IC Air Tight”.  These cans have a gasket around them and can have insulation blown right on top of them.  Recently Cooper introduced the HALO LED light. Super low wattage LED lighting.
The most energy effecient can light you can buy on the market today.

Basically my ceiling is like Swiss Cheese, holes every where.  Why they even bother to insulate is what I can’t figure.  26 holes to freely exchange air with the attic.  This also explains our wasp problem.  We had wondered where the wasps came from.  I am pretty sure they just used the Swiss Cheese entrance and walked right in.

Swapping out the lights is a quick and easy technology upgrade for the house.  Each new can light was under $20.  We also found a much nicer antique style trim ring for the ceiling side so we didn’t have the shotgun ceiling look.  It takes me a couple of hours to replace a room, and well worth it.  With the insulation covering the air-tight lights, the rooms are quieter and warmer.  I hope that means cooler in the summer too.

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