I Spent $3,500 on Shredded Newspapers to Insulate My Home

In four out of five of my previous New York City apartments, the first hiss of the radiator meant the windows would stay wide open until winter passed. Otherwise, it was a Wet ‘n’ Sweaty Party up in there.

Oh, how I miss those carefree, overheated days. I’m now perched in upstate New York in my very own house and paying my very own heating costs for the first time in my life. I freaked out the first time I had my heating oil tank filled for almost $900. I thought it would be, what, a hundred bucks? Two hundred? I had no frame of reference. Big surprise: Oil’s expensive.

Built in 1950 on a tiny lake, the house is a cottage construction, built as a second home for a middle class New York City family to escape to over the summer. With no insulation in the exterior walls, it wasn’t intended for full-time use. The fiberglass insulation in the attic’s low-ceiling is probably 20 to 30 years old, flattened and saturated with mouse shit, and well below modern standards.

My dad had been telling me to get the attic insulated ever since he first visited the house. He’s a home inspector, and I knew he knew what he was talking about, but I just didn’t want to commit to a project that big—until I filled the oil tank again for $878.51. Okay, I thought. Something has to give. Still feeling the financial pinch from the house purchase 10 months earlier, I had to make my first capital improvement: attic insulation. Exciting, huh? It wasn’t exactly a homeowner’s dream project.

I was quoted $3,500 by a local family-owned business to remove the shit-filled fiberglass insulation, air seal the attic, and insulate it with a 14-inch layer of blown-in cellulose, which is made of specially treated recycled newspapers. It would bring my attic’s insulation value from a paltry R-11 to an Energy Star recommended R-49. Fancy! (According to Energy Star: “The R-Value is a measure of insulation’s ability to resist heat traveling through it. The higher the R-Value the better the thermal performance of the insulation.”)

A crew of three gentlemen came to do the job. They worked steadily for 10 hours. There was a huge mess at first, but it all got cleaned up. The workers were friendly, professional, and overall awesome. The nagging voice that had been chanting things I’d rather buy for $3,500 (kayaks, hot tub, lifetime Netflix subscription?) finally ceased and I wrote them a check.

Was it worth the money? Based on some numbers from the U.S. Department of Energy, I could have expected to spend $6,347 a year on heating costs prior to my new insulation. Post-insulation, it’ll be more like $5,580 a year. With annual savings of around $767, I’ll recoup my $3,500 investment in less than five years, and will continue to save for years after that. Not too bad.

I was pumped to apply for the energy efficiency federal tax credit, too, but it turns out that expired on Dec. 31, 2013. Curses! I want my $350 refund! But I’ve been told it’s likely to get retroactively renewed (here’s hoping).

Beyond money, there’s a quality of life upgrade I can already feel. The thermostat still vacillates between 65 and 67 during the day like it did before, but I don’t feel the need to concoct a five-layer outfit and cocoon myself in a quilt—all thanks to my 14-inch blanket of newspapery goodness.


Bizzy Coy is a writer in the wilderness of upstate New York. Photo: Wikimedia Commons


8 Comments / Post A Comment

tomatillo (#5,794)

We’ve dropped 9K on tightening our 1920 Vermont house up. It has cut our oil usage in half from an average 3K to 1,500 a year. Good call on starting with the attic first…we did not do that ( because our attic was sheet rocked over and the contractor didn’t want to deal with it so he told us the attic was “good enough”) that next winter we had horrendous ice damming on our roof because of it. Did you get a “blower test” done? That will help you assess total heat loss. And there may be state rebates to cover that.

Bizzy Coy. (#5,796)

Tomatillo, glad to hear your investment was worth it. If I can cut my oil usage in half like you did, I’ll be beyond thrilled.

No, I didn’t get the blower test done, although I probably should have (and I still might). The next step will probably be insulating the hollow walls.

Sorry to hear about your ice damming…there was evidence of previous ice damming on my roof and that’s part of the reason I wanted to insulate the attic before anything else. At some point the roof will have to be replaced, too.

Old house work is never done, is it?

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

Yup, totally lived in all those apartments with all those radiators. One year in a new apartment I came back from work to find the radiator was on and all my plants were dead.

I used to do “experiments,” turning the handle all the way to the left and waiting one hour, then turning to the right and repeating… the only way to control the temperature was to open the windows.

Bizzy Coy. (#5,796)

@HelloTheFuture – your poor plants! In addition to the extreme heat, I once had a radiator that hissed so loudly I literally couldn’t sleep. Radiators: The Not So Silent Plant Killer.

So, legit question from someone currently living in a vermin-infested apartment: wouldn’t cellulose insulation just get eaten/nested in by the roaches/mice/whatever else was ruining the fiberglass?

Bizzy Coy. (#5,796)

@bowtiesarecool, that’s a fantastic question and one that I also asked when deciding what kind of insulation to get. Unlike fiberglass insulation, cellulose insulation is treated with borates that repel insects/rodents. Borates also prevent mold and provide fire protection. I’ll let you know if I spot any critters.

@Bizzy Coy. Oooh. Good to know. I don’t own a place, but I am VERY interested in the things people do to keep critters out. It sounds like that stuff is not only more financially sustainable, but probably better for a whole variety of reasons! I hope it works out for you (and gosh, with the weather we’ve been having, this was the year to get better insulation).

Bizzy Coy. (#5,796)

@bowtiesarecool Another part of my critter prevention strategy is an exterminating service that stops by once a month. So many joys of homeownership :) Good luck with your vermin!

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