Insulation is an essential part of home or farm office heating and cooling systems. It adds to the comfort level and reduces fuel costs. A well-insulated home or office has lower fuel bills for heating and air conditioning than a similar home without insulation. Bills may be as much as 50 percent less.

Determining the proper amount of insulation is basically an economic decision. Fuel savings are balanced against the cost of insulation to determine optimum levels.

The R value is a measure of a material's ability to resist the flow of heat. The higher the R value, the better the insulation qualities of the material. R is an additive quality. Two inches of a given material will have approximately twice the R value of 1 inch. Also, the individual R values for all materials in a section of a structure can be added together to get a total R value.

Today, many different insulation materials are on the market, and each has its own characteristics. The only fair way to compare their insulation abilities is to compare R values. University of Missouri Guide Sheet G-1721, Insulation for Your Home, contains a list of the more-common insulating and building materials with their respective R values. These R values are for the material only. Some manufacturers quote R values on an installed basis, which allows them to include assumed value for other components of the ceiling, wall or floor section. When shopping for insulation, consider material insulating value (R) per dollar cost of the installed insulation.

Heat flows from warm to cold areas. Insulation should be placed where you are trying to slow the heat flow. Obvious places are in all exterior walls and the ceiling immediately below the attic area. Insulate walls between heated and unheated rooms such as a garage, basement, or storage room.

When energy costs were low and supplies were plentiful, floor insulation generally was not recommended because heat loss through the floor helped keep the basement area warm and comfortable. This is still a good idea if the basement is used frequently. If it is used only occasionally, you save fuel dollars by heating it only when you use it.

Care should be taken to insulate concrete slab-on-grade floors and walkout basement floors to lower fuel bills and have warmer floors. The earth under the floor achieves some temperature between earth temperature (about 55 degrees F) and air temperature in the home. Therefore, not much is lost through the floor. Most of the floor heat loss is to the outside air through the foundation wall or to the cold ground just outside the foundation wall. Slab-on-grade floors usually are insulated around the perimeter rather than under the floor. You should also insulate under a door, often an area of significant heat loss.

Insulating concrete or masonry basement walls is important if you plan to heat and cool the basement. If the insulation is installed on the outside of the basement wall, the thermal mass of the concrete or masonry wall will help maintain a more stable temperature in the basement. If the insulation is installed inside the concrete or masonry wall, the finish of the wall can be varied to match esthetic considerations.

Several areas are often neglected when a home is insulated. Some common ones are:

- Keeping a garage warm is nearly impossible because of air leakage around the garage door, but insulating the wall between house and garage reduces heat flow from the warm house to the cold garage.

- Walls and ceiling of basement garages for the same reason as above.

- Walls and ceiling of dormers. These exterior walls frequently are overlooked during the insulation process.

- Sloping ceiling areas in upstairs rooms where the ceiling has been "clipped" to accommodate the roof rafters.

- Narrow cracks around window and door framing. This represents a relatively small area of total exterior surface of a home; however, careful filling with insulation will reduce air leakage into the home.

- Between closely spaced studs at corners of exterior walls or at junctions of exterior and interior walls.

- The ceiling near the exterior walls.

Seal cracks around doors and windows because heat required to warm cold outside air that leaks into a home may represent up to half your annual fuel bill.

Two major problems associated with insulation in the home are poor workmanship during installation and moisture condensation. Failure to properly cut and fit insulation into all areas where you want to reduce heat flow will decrease its effectiveness. You pay for this decreased effectiveness every time you purchase fuel for as long as you own the home.

Moisture condensation is a frequent problem, but it can be prevented. All air contains moisture. Warm air can hold more moisture than cold air. During winter months, air inside the house is warmer than outside air, and moisture is added continually to air in the home by normal household activities such as washing and cooking, and purposely with humidifiers.

Water vapor moves from areas of high concentration (inside the house) to areas of low concentration (outside). If it encounters a cold surface during this migration, it condenses from a vapor to a liquid. When condensation occurs inside an insulated wall, insulation becomes wet, building materials start to decay, and paint peels off the outside of the building. This can be prevented by using a vapor barrier material to stop water vapor from entering the wall or ceiling and condensing on cold surfaces.

Any insulation board on the outside of a wall that acts as a vapor barrier can trap moisture in the wall if it is a better barrier to moisture than the inside vapor barrier. Foamed plastic or metal-foil-covered boards can cause this problem if they are installed so tightly that vapor penetrating the inside barrier cannot escape. Make sure the exterior insulation as installed is a poorer vapor barrier than the inside vapor barrier.

The well-insulated homes of today are often blamed for moisture problems when poor-quality construction and building materials are the real causes.

Older homes with poor-fitting windows and doors have so much air leakage that moisture never has a chance to build up inside the home. This is fine from the standpoint of moisture problems, but is expensive in terms of fuel costs. Don't overlook the fact that the interest paid on a home improvement loan may be tax-deductible, but the fuel cost is not. In the instance of a farm office, the insulation may also be a depreciable item.

AGRICULTURE SECRETARY Dan Glickman is reminding farmers of pending application deadlines for emergency assistance programs available through the Department of Agriculture.

"There are many USDA programs available to farmers this year to help them through difficult times," said Glickman. "I urge farmers to call or visit their local USDA offices to insure that they know about all the help they may be eligible for and to sign up before the deadline."

Application deadlines for programs announced this year are:

- 2000 Oilseeds Program: $500 million in payments is available to the more than 600,000 producers of the 2000 crops of certain oilseeds. Eligible oilseeds include soybeans, canola, crambe, flaxseed, mustard, rapeseed, safflower, sesame, and sunflowers. Application deadline is Jan. 12, 2001.

- Flood Compensation Program: $24 million is available to producers to help offset losses due to land inundated with flood waters. Application deadline is Jan. 19, 2001.

Local USDA Farm Service Agency offices also will begin accepting applications soon for the following programs:

- 2000 Crop Disaster Program: Funds will be made available to producers who have been affected by crop disaster. The signup period will begin Jan. 18, 2001 (see story on front cover of this issue of Delta Farm Press).

- 2000 Livestock Assistance Program: An estimated $438 million is available to producers for grazing losses due to weather-related disasters. The signup period will begin Jan. 18, 2001.

- 2000 Livestock Indemnity Program: Up to $10 million will be available to producers who lost livestock due to natural disaster, fire and anthrax. The signup period will begin Jan. 18, 2001.

- Extension of the 1999 Livestock Indemnity Program/Contract Growers: Program coverage of last year's CG-LIP will be extended through Feb. 7, 2000. The signup period will begin Jan. 18, 2001.

Additional details are available at the USDA website: www.usda.gov.