Insulation, Weatherizing, & Energy Audits

Related Page: PG&E Bills

Parent Q&A

Experiences with Energy Audit? Jan 21, 2020 (1 responses below)
Insulating a house with a flat roof? Dec 3, 2019 (3 responses below)
Insulation Installation Recommendations? Aug 27, 2018 (1 responses below)
  • Experiences with Energy Audit?

    (1 reply)

    We moved into a house a couple of years ago and it feels like some areas of our house can never get warm! We're thinking about getting an energy audit to figure out the most effective ways to spend money on energy upgrades. I was wondering if anyone had had recent experiences with an energy audit, and whether you thought it was worth it? Do you have any good companies to recommend for this? Thanks!

    RE: Experiences with Energy Audit? ()

    Yes, and you can get a rebate from BayRen. Hassler Heating and other HVAC outfits will do them (and try to sell you solutions) and submit the rebate on your behalf. 

  • Insulating a house with a flat roof?

    (3 replies)

    TL;DR: Does anyone have any experience with or advice about insulating the outside walls and roof of a house (especially one with a flat roof)?

    We moved into our house in 2016 and after being super cold our first winter, we upgraded our HVAC to a ductless electric heat pump system.  The new system works great but we have to run it more or less constantly to keep the house warm, which is astronomically expensive.  The house has a stucco exterior and a flat roof, and we've been told that there's no insulation anywhere.  I want to put in solar but it seems clear to me that the first step should be to insulate the house, which will likely involve replacing the roof.

    As a first-time homeowner, I'm leery of charging into this kind of major project and not sure of how to proceed.  Has anyone done this kind of thing before?  Did you use a general contractor or hire individual contractors?  (It seems like a GC would make sense, considering there are likely to be roofers, insulation pros, and eventually solar pros in the mix.)  Should we be thinking about the solar as part of the roofing operation, or is the insulation project totally separate?  Any recommendations or stories about projects like this that went right or wrong would be very welcome.  Thanks!

    Well, you have identified the problem with old California houses, one I have lived with for decades in the restoration and rehabilitation of my old Berkeley house. first, let me direct you to some knowledgeable resources: Old House Journal on-line forums - many old house owners from all over the country, including cold New England, offer their projects, successes, and failures. Second - Next Door- there is a recent request much like yours.  Third - Retrofit Right - the sequeal to Rehab Right- published by the City of Oakland.  A caution- Be very leery of just hiring a contractor and giving the contractor carte blanche to insultate.

    Insulating my old wooden Craftwman house has been on my list every years for a decade, and I have yet to find a feasible solution that does not involve either stripping the old plaster or drilling holes in the walls from the outside.

    Good Luck

    No experience with this personally, but just making sure you are aware that there are MANY utility incentive programs to help assess, plan, and pay for energy efficiency upgrades including weatherization. Also there are solar programs. Assuming you are a PG&E customer, there's a lot that is available to you. Energy Upgrade CA helps you find a contractor too.

    I work for the agency that regulates PG&E so that's why i'm aware of this, not a homeowner yet myself!

    I can offer some ideas as an architect:

    You have a few options for insulating a flat roof. If you are going to replace your roofing anyway due to its age or adding solar panels, adding polyiso rigid foam insulation on top of the roof makes a lot of sense and is very energy efficient. If you don't want to touch the roofing, you could spray closed-cell spray foam insulation from the underside if there is access. Closed-cell spray foam has the added benefit of sealing up most of the air leaks. 

    Insulating walls is more difficult. You'll need to cut holes into each of the stud cavities in order to spray in insulation. Blocking, pipes, and other items in the wall can make it difficult to get good coverage. Before insulating walls, I would first check that leaky doors and windows are well sealed and that any old single-pane windows are upgraded to modern dual-pane windows. If you want to have some fun with this, rent a Flir Infrared camera from Home Depot or a tool lending library so you can "see" where you are loosing heat through the walls.

    If just insulating the roof, you could work directly with a good roofing contractor. If also insulating the walls, replacing windows, etc., then hiring a GC will make the project much easier on you.

    Good luck!

  • Insulation Installation Recommendations?

    (1 reply)

    Does anyone have recommendations for insulation insulation (both cellulose injection as well as fiberglass batting)?   We're looking to have it installed in our ~1920 craftsman.  We know we need to have an electrical inspection, given the old knob and tube wiring, does anyone have any other guidance on preparing for this?  Thanks!

    We had a full energy efficiency upgrade to our home including insulation, a new furnace and some windows replaced by All Things Good. They were truly awesome to work with--they explained things thoroughly, didn't try to sell me stuff I didn't need, had excellent communication throughout the project and did top quality work. I would recommend them highly. You can reach them at: 

    Phone number(510) 778-7001

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Blowing insulation into old walls

Nov 2014

We are thinking of having cellulose insulation blown into the walls of our house in Berkeley, built in 1950, and have two questions:

1. Is there a problem with doing this? We have no vapor barrier (to our knowledge), and we have heard that with even very slight water intrusion into the walls, the insulation could settle in a soggy mess leaving the house effectively un-insulated and an attractive target for termites to boot.

2. One of the bids is from a company that has suggested blowing insulation into the walls from outside the house by drilling holes through the siding, rather than removing the siding, drilling holes in the material behind that, and then replacing the siding. Should we be concerned about this damage to the siding?

The company says they will seal each hole, and prime, and that what is needed later is just a touch-up paint job on the siding.

If anyone has had anything like this done to a house without a vapor barrier, we would be very grateful to hear the pros and cons. Cold, but a worrier

My parents have a 1950s house did the cellulose insulation route several years ago. If you have a nice house, don't do it.

When they drill the holes the plugs they use will always be visible even after the priming and painting. Over time the plugs with loosen and now you have a hole to fill.

Cellulose insulation is shredded newspaper. You were told correctly if it gets wet it will get soggy and compress leaving you with no insulation and cause mold. Not sure about the termites, but it makes sense as they need water.

The thing the company doesn't tell you is they can't get the insulation even distributed throughout the walls due to the fire blocking. (They can't see what's inside, they drill and blindly blow the cellulose into the wall. They have no idea where it's settling. What my parents found was warm and cool spots as you run your hand across the wall meaning when the insulation was blown-in areas were missed.

In the years after the house was insulated the difference on the heating bill was minimal and the rooms were still cold.

I have since learned the money would have been much better spent installing thick drapes over the windows. Thick drapes act like a blanket keeping the cold out and the heat in.

Thick drapes over the windows are far more cost effective then replacing single pane windows with double pane windows. ANON

Hello, We also have a 1950s house (in Orinda) and had the same kind of insulation blown into our walls about a year and a half ago.

In talking to the contractor they suggested blowing it from Outside (instead of inside) as the texture can be harder to match and it is much messier to do it inside (drywall dust and debris in every room you do it). Homes of our era are pretty simply built - framing with drywall on the inside and siding on the outside - not much in between. We opted for the holes drilled on the outside (as opposed to inside). The contractor patched them and got them all ready to paint. The whole process took less than a day.

It made a NIGHT and DAY difference in our house temperature, especially in the heat of the summer. Our house was often cooler than homes with AC, even on the hottest of days - you just need to limit your in and out - the cold will stay in if you do!

We used McHale's Insulation and could not have been happier with them. Well Insulated

Blow in insulation is the way to go. Regarding your first question, you should not have to worry about any of those issues. We live in a 110yo Vic here in Berkeley. About 20 years ago I had a company blow in shredded newspaper. It is treated with borate, which makes it insect non friendly, non toxic, fire retardant, and mildew proof. The construction of my wall is redwood siding, joist space, lathe and plaster. I did the leg work to figure out that the insulation could be blown into the wall cavities from the attic, the house construction is referred to Balloon framing (I believe) so the joist spaces are open floor to ceiling, mostly. Where there was a block, we had the contractor drill form the inside. Our walls are smooth finish plaster. Unless your walls surfaces have a difficult texture to match, I think this is better as it does not 'alter' the water proof integrity of your siding.Depending on your siding, I would not try to remove and replace. One issue I've heard about having it blown into the walls from the inside is mess. I would think if the workers are careful that should not be an issue, I don't remember it being messy. Lastly, about 5 years after we added the insulation, I remodeled, and when I removed the siding, the insulation was there tightly packed into the wall cavities. Last benefit, supposedly it makes your house more fire resistant, in that it slows down the rate at which the fire spreads. Good luck, Tim

Need recommendation for insulation installer

May 2014

Need a recommendation for a good company to install insulation in our attic space.I am just at the homework stage. Any information about best current materials and whether rebates from energy company still available for such work, along with recommendation for reliable company to do the job would be most welcome. 1941 home hot in summer, cold in winter

We just had Advanced Home Energy install insulation in our house, and I would recommend them highly. They were very professional, prompt in scheduling a sit visit, scheduled the work per our timeframe, and processed the rebate. Do be prepared to consider more than attic insulation. We brought them in for wall insulation, and ended up also replacing our aging furnace, ductwork and hot water heater. kawa

Advanced home energy is a great local company. They will also assist with navigating through rebate options. Tell them Hya sent you, I work in construction and have worked with them before. Owner's name is Ori.

The next time you have to replace your roof, consider replacing the sheathing with osb foilback. It's a little extra money up front but the efficiency benefits will outweigh the initial cost. hya

Recommendation for Attic Insulation?

May 2014

Does anyone have a recommendation for a contractor to blow in insulation into the attic? We currently don't have any insulation and it's not energy efficient as well as too cold in the winter and too warm in the summer. If you have any other specific recommendations (R -rating, etc, I'd love to hear that, too). We are located in North Oakland. goldilocks

Has your house knob and tube wiring? If so you DO NOT want 'blown in' insulation. 1) Have you insulation in the walls? 2) Single pane windows? If 1 is no and 2 is yes, attic insulation will help very little - as we found out. When cold we use space heaters, for hot weather consider an attic fan. Andrew

Wall Insulation Worth It?

Feb 2014

We are considering having insulation blown in to the walls of our two-story un-insulated home. Temperatures vary widely in the house in the winter, and the house doesn't seem to retain heat. Attic insulation has been checked and is sufficient, windows are double pane, so we're looking to the walls. I'm interested in hearing from people who have had this done - the process seems very invasive - moving everything off the walls, having to repaint, dust, etc. - and I'm wondering if it's worth it. Did you see an improvement? Was it worth the disruption? kawa

It was so worth it. We had blown in insulation with air sealing and it has been great. They say we would not make our money back. But is has cut our heating in half and our dog barks less because he cannot hear evey little noise. You will have holes in your walls which we have not painted over in all rooms but we would do it again even though we did not like the company we picked. Best of luck. Wish we did it sooner.

Recommendation for house (crawlspace) insulation

Dec 2013

We are looking for a recommendation for a good company to come and insulate our crawlspace in our 100+ year old Berkeley home. The floors are freezing in the winter. We are in the process of contacting Advanced Home Energy, based on previous BPN recommendations, but is there another company or contractor that others have used to insulate their house and would recommend? Please let us know. Thanks!

We had Ernesto Mora (E. Mora Construction) seal our crawlspace and place a vapor/moisture barrier down over the dirt. If you do that, I don't think you need to insulate the crawlspace. We also had some other insulation done by McHale's (in Concord). Both were great to work with and are two of the few companies I would recommend to friends. We have an old house so it's not perfect, but the improvements in comfort (and our gas bill) were noticeable. warm(er)

2009 - 2012 Recommendations

Old house question - Should we insulate?

Oct 2012

We just bought our 1st house and we're working on prioritizing our list of upgrades. The house has ZERO insulation and we're debating whether to shell out the $$ to either partially or fully insulate. In addition, we replaced the furnace/ducting before we moved in and are pursuing the PG Energy Upgrade California rebate. So we have limited time to make our decision on insulation IF we want to receive a rebate for the insulation as part of this program (which yes, of course we do).

I am convinced that this is an essential upgrade but my partner is balking on the costs. So I would like to hear opinions from people who have insulated their homes: was it worth it? Also, our contractor is recommending eco-friendly cellulose insulation which is pricier. Is that important or should we go with fiber glass? We have a toddler so health is a major concern but I can't find any information online saying fiber glass is a health risk. First time (old) home owner

To insulate your house fully would be costly, as you'd have to either open up the walls or go through the attic and pump in foam insulation. The foam is probably your best bet, but if money is particularly tight just insulate your attic! You'll get the best value from this. You can do this yourself pretty easily - make sure to get the proper rating, which I think is R30. If you use fiber glass wear protective clothing and shower well afterward. But it's simply a matter of getting the insulation up into the attic and rolling it out, not too hard. I would advise though, if you have any wiring running through your attic, ensure it's up-to- date before doing this. Been there

Yes, you should definitely insulate your house. It makes such a huge difference in the temperature in the house. It will keep your heating bills down and more comfortable to be in the house overall. There is a noticeable difference in having insulation.

We don't have insulation in our attic because it's being used for storage and it gets either really cold or really hot up there depending on the season.

If you break it down the cost of how much up front investment to the return of how long the insulation will be in the walls, spending a little more on eco-friendly insulation is in my opinion worth it if you can afford it. anon

Hi. I am an architect and also live in an old house. Not all insulation is of equal value, especially in our relatively mild climate. You will get the most bang for your buck with attic insulation - which is usually pretty easy to do. Before I would insulate the walls (more of a hassle as holes are drilled, insulation blown in, then holes patched and painted - plus you don't know how well wall cavity was filled) I would weatherstrip all of the windows. This will cut down on cold air leaking in around the windows. Then I would plan to, over the coming years and possibly as you do other work, replace existing single glazed windows with dual glazed and as walls are opened up for other projects or as you can afford it, add insulation to the walls. If you have a fireplace, make sure there is a working damper so you can keep warm air from escaping out of the chimney. Good luck ~ Shivering too!

In a word, do it! If you afford the outlay, it's so worth it in terms of comfort and lower PGE bills. We bought our first house four years ago and it also had zero insulation anywhere and very old heating systems. Winters were cold and damp and I hated being stuck inside the home during the day. Summers were blazing hot.

We got spray-in ceiling (attic) insulation, had cupboards and other 'leaky' areas spray-sealed, added a 'whole house fan,' and got partial basement-to-floorboards sealing (also spray) under the house. The whole house fan was a great addition. We don't use airconditioning and are able to have a nice cool house on hot summer nights. Our PGE bill averages $90 winters and $65 summers for a 1200 ft2 one-story house. That's everything -- gas, including heating, and electricity. I believe it's about half what it was. (We replaced the old water heater with a tankless water heater too.)

We used a local company that was one of the first to do this and they were perfectly fine. They keep changing their name and I have no idea what they're called now, but there are now also plenty more vendors in this space so you should shop around anyway. The initial outlay had a bit of a 'gulp' factor but we are so happy now and consider it just part of the price of the house. Insulation fan

My wife and I have been doing a major fix-up on a 1920's uninsulated stucco house for the last three years. We lifted the house to make the low basement into conditioned space. The new framing was 2x6. We insulated these walls and the ceiling joists with a combination of shredded denim (where we wanted to optimize acoustic deadening) and fiberglass batts. The cotton costs about 2X the glass. We did the work ourselves, so the cost was just the materials. The downstairs is now very tight.

The upstairs, on the other hand, was drafty and the walls offered little resistance to radiated heat. (The attic is uninsulated, but we are deferring doing what would normally be the first step until all the old wiring is upgraded.) Wherever the old plaster and lath walls had to come down because they were beyond repair, I stuffed in fiberglass and drywalled. Of course, I repaired all of the loose windows and doors.

Last fall we had the remaining stud cavities filled with shredded cellulose that was pumped in ('drill & fill'). Where we were still patching interior walls, we had the holes made from the inside, though the plaster & lath, and it was a cinch to hide them after they were patched. Where we had already finished the inside walls, the insulation guys drilled through the stucco. After patching & painting, they are 90% invisible.

We noticed that the house was warmer immediately. (And when the warm weather came, the house stayed cooler.) I haven't tried to compute the cost or energy savings, but for us it was well worth the comfort! BTW, we installed radiant heat and despite the cost, we are quite happy with its comfort, quiet and cleanliness.

The drill & fill work was done by McHales, who I would recommend with one caveat: the line of holes in the exterior wall wandered a lot -- but then I am a stickler for details. The cost was about $900 after the $500 PG rebate, which McHales processed for us. Neal

Attic insulation

Aug 2012

How can I have insulation blown into our attic? The house is only 1000 square feet and I think its too difficult to get up there and roll it out. Is there a company that does that sort of thing? Or a handyman that wouldn't mind going into that small attic space to roll insulation out? What kind of cost would this be? Any suggestions on who to contact for either project would be appreciated. Thanks!

We used McHale's for a couple of insulation projects and were very happy with the customer service and price (we had mutiple bids). They are in Concord. anon

Attic insulation is a very worthwhile investment. Blown in insulation works much better than the roll-out, as the latter leaks. Before you blow in insulation you must have an electrician sign off that it is safe to do so (with respect to knob and tube wiring) even if you know you don't have knob and tube up there. You can do it yourself (Home depot rents the machine), but it is not easy or fun. There are multiple companies that do this work. Find them online under 'insulation'. Get multiple bids. It will probably cost around $1,500. Make sure they will install baffles, measuring stick, insulation on and around the attic hatch. You can use different materials, so look that up online to decide which you want before you get the bids. Also, decide to what R value you want (how much insulation). PG gives small rebates. The City of Berkeley sometimes does, too. Been there, done that

We used Advanced Home Energy to insulate our attic and they did a great job -- thorough cleaning first (we had rat poop), really nice crew and the whole job was done in 2 days! Their number is, 510-540-4860. Happy homeowner

Foam vs. Denim insulation for crawlspace

April 2011

We are planning to insulate our crawlspace and trying to decide between spray foam and denim ('ultratouch'). Spray foam is twice as expensive but is supposed to be better. I am concerned about off-gasing with the foam even with the types that are not supposed to off-gas significantly. Has anyone used ultratouch in their crawlspace? Do you notice a significant difference in the temperature of your floor/home? If you have used spray foam, do you notice any odor? Are you happy with the decision to insulate your crawlspace or do you have regrets? Any advice would be appreciated. anon

We put ultratouch in our attic, and noticed a significant difference. It wasn't ultimately in our budget, but when we looked into insulating we also asked about the crawlspace and were told that it was a little more complicated because of moisture issues. I don't know if your crawlspace is vented or not, but that makes a difference, as well as what kind of moisture barrier you put down. I'd ask about moisture issues and how foam and denim might perform differently. We used McHales Insulation, and were very happy. They were very knowledgeable and tried to help keep the costs of our job down instead of pushing expensive work/materials on us. jl

We insulated our crawlspace last fall, and honestly, I was disappointed that it didn't make the floor feel much warmer. Although I do notice a difference in the one place that couldn't be insulated (around the hatch to the crawlspace--it DOES feel colder on the feet to stand there). But all in all, I had been hoping for MUCH more improvement. Sad. We just used the 'eco' fiberglass stuff (not treated with formaldehyde), so I don't know about denim vs. foam. Hope this helps, though. Anon in El Cerrito

Get the foam -- much tighter seal. Eric

We had insulation put in our Orinda attic last year. We originally wanted the foam, but went went with the denim due to the higher cost of the foam. We love it! Even on the hottest summer days (and it gets hot here), our house feels cool - it made a night and day difference.

First of all you should not use Spray Foam unless you have to (like in an unvented area such as a vaulted ceiling). Spray polyurethane foam and other foam plastics (SFP) release highly hazardous isocyanates and I would not recommend its use, and it is also highly flammable.. Ultratouch is made out of recycle material but it is not an ultra-low VOC product and should not be used in a damp area such as crawl space. I would recommend using Johns Manville fiberglass batts. It is made with 30% post consumer recycled material and emit ultra-low amounts of VOC. I would also install a vapor barrier (plastic) on the dirt. For more information you should contact Guillaume

Non-Profit that provides free energy audits

May 2009


My name is Christina C. and I am with an environmental non-profit based in Berkeley, Rising Sun Energy Center . We run a summer program called California Youth Energy Services. It's a free service which provides homeowners and renters all around the bay area with a free energy efficiency audit and free energy saving equipments (such as CFLs, clotheslines, and efficient flow showerheads, etc.)

We can do all of this for free because we also hire and train local youth for the summer to become energy specialists and perform this audits. We are funded as a workforce development program for youth.

I am writing because we were hoping to get the support of the Berkeley Parents Network. Hopefully some of you have heard of us or have taken advantage of our services before. If not, we encourage you to come by our office on 2033 Center Street to check out our operation and sign up for a summer appointment!

We also have a new program that we are launching called Smart Solar, which is funded by the city of Berkeley to be an unbiased informational resource for residents who are interested in adopting solar for their homes. I could send you some information on this program as well if you think community members are interested.

Christina C.

2005 - 2008 Recommendations

Insulation for crawl space?

Oct 2008

Looking for ideas on how to handle the crawl space in the roof in our small, 1940s rancher. There is some really old insulation material, and there have been rats...yes. What I'd love to do is have the whole space cleaned out and re-insulated, not just against the weather. Does anyone have a recommendation for this job?

It seems like there are a few similar postings, but again, I would say check out Advanced Home Energy: (510)-540-4860. We also had droppings in our attic and old fiber glass insulation, all nasty stuff. They cleaned it all out and insulated our attic properly, so that our utility bills went way down and our house is finally comfortable. Satisfied AHE customer

Someone to ''air seal'' my home

Sept 2008

I live in a 2-story 1920's vintage house with hardwood floors, original single-paned windows (floor to ceiling) and a very drafty fireplace. I cannot face another winter of freezing while also paying $500 a month to PGE!

In reading through old posts, I got some great ideas, but I think I need a contractor to ''air seal'' my home. However, I can't seem to find any and one that was recommended a while back doesn't seem to be in business anymore.

Has anyone else done this? Need someone competent to seal cracks in door frames, windows, fireplaces - we have cracks big enough that daylight is visible on multiple sides of our front/back doors and many windows. Tried to weather strip last year but it really didn't do the trick.

Appreciate any advice or recs!! Best- Jessica

I recommend checking out Advanced Home Energy: (510)-540-4860. We have a house in the Berkeley hills that was very drafty and during the winter we had to run the furnace all the time to keep the house warm. Advanced Home Energy came in last year and used a tool called a blower door to pressurize our house and identify where all the leaks were. Originally we thought the leakage was coming from our windows and doors, but it turns out that the majority was coming from our recessed lights and attic space. They also had an infrared camera that could see the air escaping! I was impressed and am very happy with the results. They weatherstripped our doors, sealed all the cracks and leaks in the attic and insulated our attic. Our utility bills went way down during the winter and our house is finally comfortable. Satisfied AHE customer

We worked with Sustainable Spaces out of San Francisco. Their staff was very helpful and really seemed to care about my needs having to do with scheduling, etc. They can come and do a home energy audit and figure out exactly what you need. Beth

Need attic insulation

Sept 2008

We're thinking about getting some attic insulation blown in to our house. We were told it was thin. (We currently have a little insulation (R-11 or so) and know we should get more (R- 30 or so)). If you have had added insulation on top of existing, was it worth it in terms of comfort for you? In other words, besides costs savings, did you actually notice a difference? Home improver

Yes, it made a difference. We used Advanced Home Energy and they came and blew in more of the cellulose insulation on top of what we'd already had. They did this about 4 weeks ago now and we've already noticed a difference on the really hot days. Before we upped our insulation the upstairs would cook on the hot days. Now it just gets a bit hotter than downstairs but is much better.

We also insulated our crawl space and that made a HUGE difference - more than the attic insulation did. We did that ourselves about a month before we had the attic insulation done. contact me if you want info on what we did.

The temperature deviation in our house used to follow the outside temp pretty closely (we have a thermometer that shows both inside and outside temperature). Now our house stays between 68 and 72 day and night regardless of how hot or cold it is outside. Cameron

I don't know about added insulation, but we did have our attic cleaned out and re- insulated by Advanced Home Energy: (510)-540- 4860. We have a house in the Berkeley hills that was very drafty and the old insulation was insufficient (or whoever first put it in missed some major spots). Advanced Home Energy came in and sealed all the cracks and leaks in the attic and insulated it. Our utility bills went way down during the winter and our house is finally comfortable. I would highly recommend them. Satisfied AHE customer

I had my house insulated by Advanced Home Energy and highly recommend them. They are prompt and professional and competetively priced (i did my homework). I loved that they hire youth from the community and felt like they are just good people. They also are very tidy and cleaned up thoroughly afterwards. Did I say that i highly recommend them? Not to mention that i could feel the difference in my house temperature immediately and saved a bundle on my PG bill. Ingrid

Contractor for installing attic insulation

August 2008

Can anyone recommend a good company or contractor for installing attic insulation? We're not sure if we're going to go with blown in or other. Open to green options. It may be complicated by the fact that we have some old knob and tube wiring up there. Many thanks. Maggie

Hi, We had our attic insulation done just a few months ago by All Seasons Insulation, and were very pleased. Mark came out and did the estimate, and the job was scheduled for a few weeks later. The guys that came out to do the job were neat and professional. The material they use is green--mostly recycled newspaper I think. We didn't have the tube and knob thing but I would think they know how to deal with that. Anyway, I just wanted to have a recent post for them because we thought they did a great job for a reasonable price. And we got our PG rebate! Tracy

i highly recommend ADVANTAGE HOME ENERGY 510 540 4860. licensed and experienced. they also do complete home energy audits with the most reliable equipment available to pinpoint your insulation needs and/or problems. they are also licensed by PG to work with their energy savings rebate program that saves you, the home owner, a LOT of money. i'm a certified green builder and home improvement specialist and i recommend them to my clients all the time. idan

Central air vs. insulation?

July 2008

Everything I read is about increasing temperatures. I have many fans in my home, including 2 ceiling fans. Nonetheless, after hours of trying to air out the house, it was still around 90 last night at 2:00 AM. I have a small home (1050 sq ft) built in 1939. I have a central heating system so I have the duct work in place. I am not sure about insulation but I don't think the house is insulated. What have been people's experiences with insulation vs. central air? I want to get the best bang for my buck. If insulation can keep the house to a reasonable temperature (and will also be useful in the winter) that's great. But my baby and I can't sleep in 90 degrees. Suggestions for HVAC and/or insulation companies also welcome. Thanks! alice

I would start with a solar-powered attic fan. We put one in our home a few years ago and it made a huge difference on those very hot days- and you get a lot of bang for the buck since there's no ongoing cost to run it. Lisa

you should absolutely go with insulating your home first. as long as your house is not insulated properly you are throwing money down the drain by paying for energy, either for heating or cooling, that is wasted. your mechanical temp control ( central heat now, possible central ac in future ) works longer to reach the desired temp setting on the thermostat and stays off less time when the temp changes faster do to the lack of proper insulation. in a properly insulated house with properly installed HVAC, the mechanical temp control would get turned on, reach the desired temp relatively fast and turn off and stay off for the rest of the day/night period. i highly recommend ADVANCED HOME ENERGY tel: 510 5404860. they can do a complete home energy audit (they seal your house, blow in clean, heated air and do thermal, infra red scanning to determine where energy is being lost) to recommend your insulation needs which they can then perform. they are certified and qualified by PG to provide up to an 80% rebate through a special energy conservation program set up by PG that makes insulating your home properly not only the right thing to do but also very affordable. i am a certified green builder and home improvement specialist and have worked with them on many projects to my full satisfaction and to the full satisfaction of our shared clients. Idan

Want to insulate my attic

March 2008

Does anyone have recommendations for a reliable, efficient contractor who can insulate my attic? We don't want blow-in insulation; we need the kind of insulation that you can roll out and then cover it with plywood. Thanks! schafer

I'd recommend that you consider the ecological choice of recycled blue jean insulation. It is called Ultra Touch and comes in R-19 and R-13. The R-19 rolls fit in a 5.5'' bay. R-13 fits a 3.5''bay. It is not itchy at all, non-toxic with no fumes, and uses recycled materials. It is treated with borax for fire resistance and pest resistance. It is fine to put plywood over to regain your attic space. I've got it in my own house.

(The best R value for attics is R-30 and that is the current code requirement. But some insulation is better than none.)

Regardless of your insulation type, I've got a reference for installation. I'm a licensed building contractor (Berkeley Craftsmen Builders, 510 815 0125) and we've had pretty good service from these companies as subcontractors-- McHale's Environmental Insulation Co. 800 427 9780 and we've used All Season's Insulation, 800 905 7965. Mark

Our house is freezing

Feb 2008

Our PG bill was over $700 in December, yet our 2400 sq ft house is still freezing. I would like to find an insulation company that could assess the quality of our existing insulation to see whether the insulation is part of the problem. Our home has 12-ft vaulted ceilings (but no attic), and I speculate that that is why it's so cold. Might it be possible to have the ceilings lowered to create room for additional insulation? I would like to hear about your experiences with improving insulation and any companies or techniques you might recommend. We are wearing 4 layers of shirts plus long underwear, sleeping under layers of down comforters, and using a programmable thermostat to drop the heat significantly at night. - freezing in Montclair

To the person with the $700 pge bill who is still cold..I was moving into a an old drafty house that I knew to have high bills and still be cold (my father had lived there). I was determined to make the the house more energy efficient and comfortable. I looked around for a long time before I found a place called Sustainable Spaces is San Francisco (google them) that for $600 or so will come to your house and spend several hours doing a complete energy audit to determine where all your leaks are and then give you a full and detailed report including a prescription of how to fix it and how to get the most bang for your buck. I thought they would say replace the windows...but they didn't. I insulated my vaulted ceiling and ceiled up the ''building envelope'' and did weather stripping everywhere. They also do the work and refund half the cost of the audit if you do. They were extremely pleasant to work with and now even on these cold days, my bills are reasonable and my house doesn't have breezes going through it. Laura

As a former CHEERS (California Home Energy Efficiency Rating System) rater and building contractor emphasizing energy efficiency, I could identify the energy waste in your home as well as the sources of heat loss, energy waste and thermal discomfort. Your uninsulated vaulted ceiling is certainly an energy hole in your house. If your roof above it is old and near it's end, you might consider rigid foam insulation on top of the roof. George

I just had a great experience with Advanced Home Energy. They were reasonably priced, did great work (I can already feel a difference in the warmth of my home),cleaned up after themselves, were polite, and honest and upfront with all costs. They told me what I needed (and what I didn't! Just as important, I think), and stuck to their estimate even when the work took three days (their original time estimate was 1 1/2 days). A really good company with some really fine employees. Their phone number is (510) 540-4860. Melanie

Insulation over knob and tube wiring?

Dec 2007

My old house in Oakland has knob-and-tube wiring in the attic with a small amount of old blow-in cellulose insulation. I know I'm losing tons of heat through the attic and would like to improve my insulation situation but have been told that the wiring prevents me from insulating up there. Does anyone know if there is an affordable way to insulate if you've got this old wiring? If not, what to do? New windows, insulate the floor??? Cold and wasting energy

We have the same issue in our attic. I had done a lot of research and what we plan to do is place batt insulation not flat on the floor of the attic, but up in the rafters (parallel to the roof structure) using friction (or stapling paper/foil face) to hold in place. This is more work, but it may be your best option. Todd

Need an energy audit

Nov 2007

I'm looking for a company that will come to my home to access it for energy efficiency. Why is my daughters room cold and my sons room is not? Do we have enough insulation? What can I do to save money this winter on heating bills... Stuff like that. I called PG and they don't do this anymore. Any thoughts out there? Thanks. Carole

Contact Rising Sun Energy Center, 510.665.1501, They insulated my attic last year with 100% cotton insulation for $300; they're subsidized by PG and you don't have to be low-income to qualify. Although I didn't need them for an audit or wrapping my water heater, they also do these things. Good luck. Terry

I know of at least two companies that do energy audits and the recommended contract work. One company is RENU ( 415 462 0245 the contact is Kevin Beck or Robert Mitchell. The other company is Sustainable Spaces 415 294 5380 x 24 and the contact's name is Adam Winter. I recommend using a company that knows what they are doing. Sometimes by simply adding insulation without considering other aspects of your home like sufficient combustion air for your gas appliances or other moisture issues could result in unintended consequences. That's great that your considering a greener house, we all need to go that way. Jay

I had my home evaluated by Sustainable Spaces about 18 mo. ago and was very impressed. Their evaluation goes beyond energy efficiency - but addresses those concerns that you listed. Of particular interest to you would be 'balancing' your heating system (they adjust how much air goes to each heating vent). They charge a set fee for the evaluation - but if you use them for remediation repairs (some they do themselves and some they subcontract) the fee goes toward that work. In general the following link gets you to a directory of green building professionals - check under the category of HVAC/Building Performance: Jessica

Advanced Home Energy or Rising Sun Energy?

Nov 2007

We are considering Advanced Home Energy located in Rising Sun Energy Center for home insulation, etc. Anyone had recent experience with them? Jeanne

I had a good experience with AHE when they insulated my attic last year to comply with RECO; the service was good and price was unbeatable. My only complaint was that there was something of a mess to clean up afterwards. My recollection is that their newer equipment (which apparently isn't so messy) was out of commission that day. Good luck.

Hav you used Rising Sun Energy Center?

Oct 2007

Has anyone used the subsidized insulation program through Rising Sun Energy Center? Everything I've read about insulation stresses that proper installation is vital to effectiveness, so I'd like to make sure they'll do a reasonably good job before going with them. N.

Rising Sun insulated my attic last year and did a good enough job for me to pass the City of Berkeley's RECO inspection. They made enough of a mess, however, that even my contractor complained (!), and I found little bits of the blown-in material all over for some time. Dvir is a sweetheart, however, so you can talk with him about this before/during/after; I wasn't there when they finished... Good luck!

Our 1920's house has no insulation

March 2007

we have a 1920's house with no insulation and it gets pretty cold during the winter... we are thinking of having foam insulation be inserted in our bedroom only (3 walls). We're wondering if this is expensive and if foam insulation is a smart idea (vs. ripping out the walls which i think is plaster, and putting in regular insulation and then putting new gyp. board back up....). any thoughts? recommendations? thanks. Laura

Foam insulation -- depends on the type of foam, and whether it will off gas, or emit highly-toxic fumes in a housefire (which of course we all hope won't happen.)

Another simple alternative is to have cellulose insulation blown in, above and below the fire blocking in the walls. Make sure they also blow it in above and below windows, and above exterior doors. Cellulose insulation is made from ground up newspapers that have been treated with borates to resist insects and mold, and is fire-resistant.

It can be installed from inside or outside. While installing it through the inside walls is a bit messier, it eliminates the chance that your home's moisture barrier will be penetrated and allow rain into your walls.

After you insulate the walls, you will need to repaint (the contractor will plug up the holes, but won't necessarily repaint unless you add it to your contract. There are additives you can add to your paint that will act as a radiant barrier, and reflect longwave heat energy back into your room. (If painted on the outside, it will prevent excessive heat gain from the sun.) Do a Google-search using ''ceramic radiant barrier'' and you will get a couple of companies. This stuff was developed by NASA, and is used to stop heat gain on the space shuttles during re-entry. I have taken some infra-red images of it working, viewable at

Feel free to contact me with any other questions.

-- Alice La Pierre, Energy Analyst, City of Berkeley

Good experience with Rising Sun Energy Center

Nov 2006

I just had a wonderful experience insulating the attic in my house. The previous ownerms insulation contractor had done a sub-standard job applying blown-in insulation. The upstairs bedroom had virtually no insulation; it was very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. Since I wanted to get the job right this time, I was determined to find a capable contractor. I consulted BPN postings on insulation contractors. Several contractors, including one recommended on the site, came to give estimates. I also did Internet searches on insulation types. During the latter process, I found an excellent article,, on quality control (or the lack thereof) in blown insulation jobs. I asked all the contractors who had provided estimates about their quality control for blown insulation; none of them had any.

By calling the City of Berkeley and speaking with a very helpful person, named Alice La Pierre, I learned about a subsidized program for attic insulation through Rising Sun Energy Center and its contractor Advanced Home Energy. I couldn't speak more highly of the AHE contractor, Dvir Brakha (510-260-5375), who routinely includes quality control of his jobs. Part of my attic had an access problem that none of the other insulation contractors were equipped to tackle. Dvir not only took the time to competently address this problem, but went beyond what the other contractors proposed to do in insulating the space. He was also a pleasure to deal with. Add to that that Rising Sun has a rebate program, so that a job that normally would have cost $1,100, cost me only $400 and you've got a winner. I am astonished by the impact of effective insulation on the comfort of my house. I knew it would make a difference, but this is like moving into a new house! Joan

Is it worth it to insulate?

Oct 2005

I'm planning to have our home insulated within the next 2 months - both batts and blown in cellulose. For anyone that's had it done - was it worth while? I have a 1 1/2 story cape cod that's just too hot in the winter and too cold in the winter. I have quotes from a couple contractors and I'm leaning towards McHale Insulation. Has anyone used McHale Insulation? If so would you recommend them?

Any other East Bay insulation contractors people can recomend would be appreciated too. Kimby

We just had it done today, in fact and the company who did it was wonderful! We had done one of our rooms with cellulose (ourselves--never again...) and it dampened sound while making the room warmer. We didn't do bales in the walls (we have no vapor barrier at present), but I notice a difference. The company is Envirotherm in San Rafael, and the main guy is Daniel.

The guys who did the work covered everything, did the work, patched the holes (we'll have to put some mud on in three days, and touch up with paint, but that's ok by us), and cleaned up wonderfully. They were very nice and very thoughtful in their attitudes and their work. They did between 600 and 800 sq. ft. of work and charged $1500 all total (inc. tax, materials, clean-up). I came home to a house in great shape and that was worth every penny.

I will warn you that it is peak season for installing heaters, insulation and the like, so you might have to call them a few times for an estimate visit, but they're worth it, IMHO. Avrille

Jan 2005

I checked the archives and didn't see anything current for my situation. I'm looking to have my 1500 sq ft, 2 story home insulated and am interested in recomendations for insulation contractors. The house was built in '54 and a bedroom was added to the 2nd floor in the 60's. I want to have insulation blown into the exterior walls and have the attic space/walls on the second floor brought up to R-30. I would also like to have the floor insulated via the crawl space. Has anyone done something similar? Any ballpark estimates regarding cost? Any success or sob stories? Would love any/all feedback...thanks! Kim

We had insulation blown into our walls (1950's rancher) and we used All Seasons Insulation. The owner is Mark Clark and he can be reached at 925 935-7965. He is incredibly nice, and will do the estimate himself. For us, he turned out to be approx. $1.09/sq foot of insulated wall, which was the cheapest quote I received. I also got a PG rebate at the time which took 20% off the total cost. A.S.I. also does attics. They were professional, fast and cheap! Very satisfied and now warmer
editor note: phone updated 1/12/2006

We wanted to insulate our attic with blown-in insulation. We used McHale Insulation Co from Concord 925-825-9780 (they came to Albany, no problem). I found them to be very professional. In addition, the insulation work qualified for a rebate from PGE, and at the completion of the job, they had the rebate form all ready to go, including the stamp. I would think they do all kinds of insulation work like your requesting. Anon

2004 & Earlier

July 2004

Could someone recommend a good and reasonable contractor or company for wall blow in insulation? Thanks

May I suggest you really research whether blown-in insulation would help your situation or not. After we got cellulose blown into our walls and attic, we had a huge increase in condensation and mildew on the walls and windows. I don't know why this happened, but it was not an improvement. We used McHale. Hope this helps.

Installing insulation over old wiring

Oct 2000

Can anyone recommend someone to install insulation in our 2ft high attic. There is none there now , but I have concerns about the old style wiring that is up there. Thanks Lynn

We are struggling with decisions as to whether we should rewire our 1942 house so we can blow in insulation or install batting instead. Does anyone have experience with this? A few people said that re-wiring could easily run into five figures because it would involve breaking into the walls, and replastering. Can we safely install batting around the knob and tubes in the ceiling? Any advice would be appreciated. Darcy

Our house is pre-40's and it has rolled fiberglass insulation. (Is that what you mean by batten?) The ceiling of our subarea is exposed so you can see the old wiring if you move the fiberglass aside. We've lived in the house for over 10 years without problems, and I can't see how the house would pass RECO inspection at its sale without insulation in various places like a subarea. But one place you could check would be the RECO people. (I'm not sure what department of the city bureaucracy they're in, but you could try something like Codes and Inspections.) P.S. RECO stands for something like Residential Energy Conservation Ordinance. Fran

I am not an expert but... I just talked with an insulation company about this. They said that the city of Berkeley requires that they create channeling aroung the knob and tube wiring before they blow in the other insulation. This creates a buffer of space so the insulation does not directly touch the knob and tube. You will have to have an electrician first inspect the wiring to make sure it is stillin good shape. They said that all other cities just require the inspection and if it is okayed they can insulate with the channels, but Berkeley requires the channels even after the inspection. I spoke with Save Energy Company and got a free estimate 848-8944. Lynn

Just done it... If you have knob-and-tube wiring you must box them in (separate them from insulation), before you lay down insulation, whether it is in batts or you blow it in. This is a code requirement. Since we had a maze of wires running in our attic,we found much easier, rather than individually separate each wire, to lay thin plywood(1/4) on top of the joist and than lay the insulation on top of it. Just be careful to leave at least 3 of free space around all electrical boxes and to leave vents clear. Sylvia

Installing attic insulation

June 2001

We need someone to install fiberglass insulation in our attic. We have lots of head room, but poor access and old knob and tube wiring. We don't know if it is necessary to hire an expert, or whether a handyperson would be sufficient. Any opinions or recommendations?

July 2001

We have been trying to get insulation installed in our attic, and only one contractor has called back to give an estimate. He was promoting blown-in cellulose insulation vs fiberglass, and the cellulose is half the cost so it is appealing. We live in Oakland and have old knob and tube wiring. The Oakland code allows the insulating material to rest on the wiring once the wiring has been tested, but Berkeley code does not. So what does Berkeley know than Oakland doesn't that we should worry about, and does anyone have advice on cellulose vs fiberglass?

We just received the keys for our new house in Rockridge and we want to do some minor work before it becomes too cluttered. Can someone recommend help with insulation and weather-proofing? It's a big old house and I don't want to regret its purchase when the winter PG bill arrives. Erica

Oct 2001

My home is in need of insulation, wall, floor, and ceiling. I'm looking for recommendations of reputable people who can do this, especially with minimal damage to my walls. I'm also looking for experience/advice on installing the wall insulation from the interior or exterior. I have a stucco house and worry about drilling the holes on the outside and being able to patch them effectively. Thanks. Amy

We are looking for an insulation company to possibly insulate an unfinished attic space.

Insulation: We used American Synergy. They were somewhat inconsistent, but far more knowledgable than the competition. -Elizabeth

Nov 2001

I'm looking for a reliable and affordable person to install insulation--either traditional batting or blow-in--in our attic. any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. thanks, pamela

I call Shel Harris in Berkeley, 549-3290. He does almost all the energy conservation inspections in Berkeley to comply with the local ordinance, and also can do the work. -Tim

Do-it-yourself Insulation

Nov 1999

Does anyone know about installing insulation? What kind to get, where you get it, anything to worry about/watch out for? I was thinking of the kind that comes in a huge roll. Is this something easy to do for a novice? We are thinking of putting insulation between the cross beams on the ceiling of our unfinished basement. The idea is that this will help keep the living & dining room (which are directly above the basement) warmer. Thanks very much!

Installing insulation is one of the easiest jobs you can do yourself. Wear gloves and a dust mask when you do the work. Buy it anywhere, but pay attention to the R-rating (that's how warm/thick it is) and whether you need a vapor barrier. The labeling on the roll should tell you what the correct rating and vapor barrier need is for basements. (The idea is to put the vapor barrier on the side closest to where moist/warm air comes from, so that it doesn't get into the insulation and rot as it moves through the wall. You probably don't need one in a basement.)

You need to get something to hold the insulation up into the space between the joists, or it will fall out. They sell special metal bars for this, but you could also use chicken wire, if you didn't mind the work of cutting it. Insulation is not expensive as a one-time investment in your comfort (about $200-300 depending on the size of your house, plus the metal bars). On the other hand, in our climate it may not make that big a difference--heat loss through the roof is quite a bit greater than heat loss through the floor, particularly with a basement underneath.

Installing insulation can easily be done by a novice. It's not difficult, just very unpleasant. As the insulation is made up of fiberglass fibers, be sure to wear a long sleeved shirt and pants, gloves (you can get inexpensive cotton gloves that allow for ease of movement while protecting your hands), a hat if you are working underneath it, and a dust mask. The fibers are very small but are irritating to the skin.

Basically you roll out the insulation, measure the length you need, cut with a utility blade and staple to the sides of the studs. The insulation goes against the wall and the paper should be facing you. Some insulation is sold in precut lengths. It can be purchased in quantity at Home Depot, among other places. It's rated by an R-value--the higher the number, the more it insulates. I think R-19 is the basic that fits comfortably in a 2X4 stud cavity. If you are placing it between larger studs you can increase the R value. You might want to check and see what's recommended either by code or by PGE. Good luck.