Q: I have been approached lately by several companies selling radiant attic barriers, telling me that we can dramatically reduce our heating and cooling costs by installing such a barrier. Do they work? Will they cut my heating and cooling costs? —Annie, a Smart Choices reader
Mr. Tight Watt’s Answer: The short answer is no—not in our climate.
Radiant barriers are often used in homes—most commonly in attics—as a way to reduce summer heat gain and winter heat loss. They’re usually made from aluminum and come in a variety of forms, including foil, paint coatings, metal roof shingles, laminated roof sheathing, and even chips.
Radiant barriers may sound like an easy way to save, but according to the U.S. Department of Energy, they’re more effective in hot parts of the nation than they are in cooler areas. Studies show that radiant barriers can lower cooling costs between 5%–10% when used in a warm, sunny climate—but in cool climates, it's usually more cost effective to install more than the minimum recommended level of insulation.
Norm Abrams on the This Old House’s website agrees, adding that a radiant barrier isn’t necessary in areas where the weather requires the heat to be on for more months than the air conditioning.
The bottom line: Don’t waste time and money on a radiant barrier for your Iowa home. But if your house needs insulation, check out the Department of Energy’s web guide and invest in that—because unlike a radiant barrier, insulation really can make a significant difference in your heating and cooling costs.
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