Start a Business
Installing Insulation

(Last updated: June 5, 2017)

This page shows how to start a business installing insulation in homes. Insulation increases the comfort level inside a home and reduces the cost of heating and cooling it.

Use this information together with the Business Plan for Simple Services page.

You are assumed to have the skills and equipment needed to perform this service. You may have performed this or similar types of activities in the past. Thus, you may have learned the skills and accumulated most of the required equipment from those prior tasks.

The methods and procedures described on this page can be used to help satisfy your needs, and the needs of likely customers.

Here are the topics:

Introduction to idea
Estimated startup costs
Putting idea to work
Main procedures
Do's and don'ts; tricks of the trade
Background information

Other useful information

The Vital Guidelines for Novices page helps beginners who want to start a business. This page provides focused advice and insights.


IMPORTANT

Before using this information to start a business be sure to read the following notice: Disclaimer

Introduction to idea

This topic provides an overview of the business idea so you can decide if it suits you.

Basic idea

The business idea is to help people save on their energy bills by installing or upgrading insulation and vapor barriers in their homes. Related activities include air sealing, moisture control, and ventilation.

A rule of thumb for starting a business is to find a need and fill it. Because of the rising cost of energy, people need some way to reduce the expense of heating and cooling their homes.

You can use this idea on a trial basis by doing small jobs at first. If the results are satisfactory, continue with the idea.

Getting these jobs usually is just a question of making yourself known to potential customers, being qualified to do the work, and quoting the right price for the job.

This activity is performed by the job. Once one job is finished you will have to find another job. However, if you do a good job for a large property owner, you may be called back when other units need these services.

This is an indoors and outdoors activity that can be performed year round (roads and weather permitting).

Suitability of idea

This idea is best suited for people who are physically fit and enjoy working with their hands.

Skills and equipment required

Primary skills -- You must have construction or handyman skills that allow you to do a good job installing insulation and vapor barriers. You must also be able to perform any related activities you undertake.

Other skills -- You must have driving skills and a valid driver's license.

Equipment owned -- This business idea assumes that you own the following equipment:

Pickup truck or van -- You will use this vehicle to travel to job locations and haul any equipment, materials, supplies, and protective gear needed to perform the work. Also, you may have to haul trash away from the job site.

Job equipment -- See the typical equipment for installing insulation and related activities.

Protective gear -- Approved dust mask or respirator; Approved safety glasses or goggles; Hard hat or cap; Long pants; Long-sleeved shirt; Work gloves; and Work shoes.

Other items -- You need to own or purchase other items, such as office equipment and job supplies. These items are listed under the startup costs on the next topic.

Also, you will need to purchase some or all of the materials needed for each job. The customer will repay you for these materials when you finish the job.

Profitability of idea

In order to show a profit, you will have to sell enough of your services to cover the startup costs, job costs, and operating expenses. The more income you collect over a certain time period the larger your profits. Therefore, you want to have substantial sales, along with low costs and expenses.

The fees you charge pay for your labor, job materials and supplies, services, use of your equipment, and your ability to perform the work in a professional manner. You might charge an hourly rate for your services, or a lump sum for a particular job. Your fee also should include any miscellaneous out-of-pocket expenses you have, such as dump fees or equipment rental.

How much should you charge for your services? This depends on how well off the customer is and how anxious both you and the customer are to make a deal. The economic conditions of the local area might also influence these negotiations.

See the Setting the Sales Price page in another section for more detailed information.

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Estimated startup costs

This topic discusses the estimated startup costs for this business idea. Startup costs are what you need to pay in order to be ready to begin business operations. The amount of these costs also helps you decide if the idea suits you.

List of items in startup costs

Note: I am only showing one month for certain expenses. You should be able to get your first job or two in a month. Then these items become operating expenses, not startup costs.

The assumed startup costs for this business idea, using a frugal style of business operations, consist of the following items:

Advertising and promotion (1 month) -- Small classified advertisements or flyers delivered to likely neighborhoods.

Business insurance (1 month) -- Business liability insurance. (Talk to a local insurance agent to see if you need this coverage.)

Governmental requirements -- Local fees and business license. (Note: You might also be subject to state and federal deposits and registration fees, but these will vary. So I have not included them in these startup costs.)

Job supplies -- Marking pen or pencil and trash bags.

Office equipment -- Business telephone; desk accessories (stapler, paper clips, pen and pencils, etc.); and listing adding machine.

Office supplies -- Check blanks for business checking account, file folders or large manila envelopes (for filing papers), lined writing tablets, pads of accounting journals and ledger, and pads of standard job bid forms.

Other operating expenses (1 month) -- Business telephone expense.

Reference book -- Bookkeeping for Dummies (Paperback) available from Amazon.com or other online bookstores. (Note: The "for Dummies" series of books are easy to read manuals for normal people, not dummies.)

Dollar amount of startup costs

Here are the dollar amounts for a frugal business operation:

 

Estimated Startup Costs

  Advertising and promotion (1 month) $ 75
  Business insurance (1 month)   50
  Governmental requirements (local fees and business license)   50
  Job supplies   15
  Office equipment   120
  Office supplies   100
  Other operating expenses (1 month)   50
  Reference book   15
     
       Total estimated startup costs $ 475

Note: See the Planning costs and expenses subtopic in the Business Plan on another page for ways to reduce these startup costs.

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Putting idea to work

This topic satisfies the Starting business operations subtopic in the Business Plan page.

Preparing for business operations

Completing the startup requirements -- This is the last step needed just before you start business operations. See the Listing the startup requirements subtopic in the Business Plan for the items remaining to be completed.

As a minimum, you should have discussed the business idea with your family, set up your business entity, and satisfied all governmental and insurance requirements.

Local information needed -- You need the location of local dumpsites, fees charged for dumping, restrictions on materials allowed to be dumped, and rules for hauling trash.

You also need to see if a building permit and/or contractor's license is needed before you start working on a job in your local area.

You need to know which types of insulation are appropriate for new and existing homes in your location. Also, which types are most cost-effective. You can consult the local building inspector or building supplies store for this information.

Operating the business

Soliciting customers -- Place classified advertisements in your local newspaper and/or the newsletter of the local property owners association. You also might want to deliver flyers to likely neighborhoods (where rich people live). Use a simple, honest description of your services. Once you become well known in the community, you should benefit from word of mouth advertising from satisfied customers.

For additional ideas on soliciting customers, see the Sales Methods page in another section.

Getting jobs -- Hopefully, some of the people who read your advertisements and/or flyers will inquire about your services. During this initial telephone conversation, you should determine if you are willing and able to provide the desired services. If so, you may want to discuss the tentative cost of the job. However, in most cases you probably want to inspect the job site before quoting a price.

I recommend that you meet with customers in their homes or offices, or at the job site. Your neighbors may object to having a stream of strangers arriving at your home. Also, meeting with customers in your home may violate the zoning rules in your town or city.

See the preceding Profitability of idea subtopic for my thoughts about setting your fee.

Before taking on any dangerous jobs, you should have adequate experience and workmen's compensation coverage.

Job procedures

Preliminary job activities -- After greeting the customer at the job site, you should do a walk through to see the areas that need insulation. Then you can agree on what the customer needs.

You also should determine if you would need any helpers. Then you can arrange to bring them with you to the job.

The customer may be in a hurry and want you to work on a holiday or weekend to get the job done soon.

You can use your job bid forms to estimate the costs of installing the insulation and any related services. The cost of materials (insulation, vapor barrier, etc.) can be estimated, subject to actual retail cost. This bid should include the fees for any extra services to be performed, such as working on weekends or at night, and hauling away any trash. The bid probably should include a completion date, subject to availability of materials. If the customer accepts your bid, you both can sign the bid form.

Obtain any needed building permit or contractor's licenses before doing any work.

If doing the work later on, you need to set the time and date, and arrange for access to the property. You also may want the customer to pay you for part or all of the estimated costs of materials before starting the job.

Main job activities -- See the "Main procedures" topic below.

Final job activities -- Inspect the premises to verify you have finished all required tasks. Remove all your equipment and supplies. Gather up all the trash you have accumulated.

Collect your agreed upon fee from the customer. Haul the trash away, if part of your agreed upon services.

Other information

Job equipment -- Aluminum step ladder; Broom and dust pan; Caulking gun; Claw hammer; Dry wall blades/trowels; Dry wall mixing pans; Electric drill (heavy duty, 3/8 inch or 1/2 inch); Electrical extension cords; Hole saw (adjustable); Lightweight, squeeze-type staple gun; Pliers (regular and side cutting); Portable work light; Putty knife; Reciprocating saw; Steel yard rake; Straight edge (such as a steel square or straight board); Stud finder; Tape measure; Utility knife; Wall board hand saw; Water containers (for drinking and dry wall compound); and Wide board or piece of plywood (used as backing when cutting materials, or as support over ceiling joists).

In some cases, you might need special equipment to install the insulation. For example, you install blown-in insulation by using a blower tank and flexible hose. You may be able to borrow or rent this equipment from the supplier of the insulation.

The dry wall, wall board, and related equipment is needed if you cut holes in walls to install insulation in exterior wall cavities.

Job materials -- Assorted nails; Door and window weather-stripping; Dry wall patching compound; Duct tape; Expanding foam sealer; Metal staples (1/2 or 3/8 inch long); Support rods and/or rolls of wire (for supporting insulation installed under floor in crawl space); and Tubes of exterior caulking compound.

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Main procedures

Installing insulation

The actual work of installing insulation is a skill that almost anyone can learn. It is mainly just hard work.

If you lack these skills, you might want to work for a homebuilder or insulation contractor for a while. You could also study manuals on installing insulation. You can find these manuals at Lowe's, Home Depot, or perhaps some other home supplies store.

Following are the instructions for installing the types of insulation most commonly used for new and existing houses in the United States.

Batts and rolls -- You can use these to insulate exterior walls, attic floors or ceilings, and floors over any crawl space in a building. The blankets contain either fiberglass or mineral wool insulation.

They fit between wall studs or floor joists either 16 inches or 24 inches on center. Each blanket has flanges along both sides. These flanges are used to staple the batts or rolls to the wood wall studs or floor joists. When used to insulate a floor over a crawl space, the blankets can be supported by rods or wire attached to the lower portion of floor joists.

Foam boards -- These rigid boards can be adhered to concrete walls and foundations.

Foaming insulation -- You spray this insulation into wall cavities, where it hardens. In new construction, you scrape the foam off flush with interior surface of wall studs. In old construction, you apply the foam through holes, similar to loose-fill insulation.

Loose-fill -- You can pour or blow this insulation into walls, ceilings, and attic floors. It is a lightweight, granular material such as cellulose fiber, fiberglass, or mineral wool.

When blowing insulation into an exterior wall, you have to cut a hole near the top of each wall cavity to be filled. This hole can be either on the exterior or interior side of the wall. It must be large enough to allow the insulation to flow easily into the wall cavity. After filling the wall cavity with insulation, you have to cover the hole and repaint or refinish where the hole was.

Reflective insulation -- This insulation uses reflective material, such as aluminum foil. It prevents the transfer of radiant heat. However, it is seldom used anymore.

Related activities

The following subtopics discuss related activities that you may wish to include with the insulation installation jobs you perform for homeowners.

Vapor barriers -- You should usually install a vapor barrier along with insulation. The backing for batt and roll insulation often is a vapor barrier.

Where a separate vapor barrier is needed, you can use plastic sheeting or special paint.

Air sealing -- Air leakage, or infiltration, through cracks or openings between the outside and the home interior can be another source of unwanted heat transfer. You can remedy this problem by caulking cracks in and around exterior walls, and installing weather-stripping around doors and windows.

Moisture control and ventilation -- The unprotected crawl space under a house usually gives off moisture, which can rot the floor joists and subfloor. You can prevent this problem by venting the crawl space and/or covering the bare earth with sturdy plastic sheeting.

The unheated attic in a house should be vented to avoid heat build up in the summer. You can use air vents in eves or gable ends. For extreme cases, you can install one or more thermostat-controlled electric exhaust fans through the roof.

Bathrooms and kitchens can be another source of excessive moisture. A common solution is to install an electric exhaust fan vented to the outside air.

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Do's and don'ts; tricks of the trade

The following subtopics provides many useful do's and don'ts, and tricks of the trade. In addition to using these helpful hints, it is always wise to do some advance planning before tackling a new or difficult job.

Access to attic

When installing insulation in the attic, you need to have access to the attic space. In some cases, this may require you to prepare an access hole where none already exists. You should discuss this procedure with the homeowner before estimating the price for the job.

When installing insulation in the attic always leave yourself adequate working space and an escape route, until the job is finished. Start at the eves and work toward the access hole.

Air sealing

The purpose of air sealing is to prevent the unwanted flow of air from a heated area to as cooler area. You should perform any required air sealing when installing insulation. Direct heat transfer due to lack of air sealing can greatly lessen the efficiency of insulation.

Avoiding heat sources

Keep insulation three inches away from recessed lighting fixtures, chimneys, heating exhaust flues, and other heat sources. This precaution will prevent fires.

Avoiding nails

When working in areas with protruding ends of nails, wear heavy work gloves and a hard hat to avoid being jabbed.

Batt and roll insulation

When installing batts or rolls of insulation in wall or floor cavities, measure the length needed and cut the batt or roll to fit snugly. If two or more short pieces of insulation are used to fill a space, you need to butt the ends snugly together.

When installing batts or rolls of insulation between studs or joists, there may be some members spaced closer than normal. In this case, you will have to decrease the width of the insulation blanket to fit the smaller space. Leave the backing of the insulation blanket on the cut side wide enough to provide a flange for stapling.

When insulating attic floor joists with batts or rolls, if the floor cavity is already filled with insulation, then lay any additional insulation batts or rolls at right angles to the floor joists.

Blown-in insulation

Installing blown-in insulation requires at least one person to dump bags of insulation into the blower tank and at least one other person to hold the end of the blower hose and direct the insulation where needed. (Both persons should be wearing an approved dust mask/respirator and approved goggles.)

Clean up

The mark of a professional job is that all of the dirt and mess created by the installation process is cleaned up before you or your workers leave the job site. Likewise, any paint touch-up work you have agreed on should be finished.

Most of the work you do is hidden from view. Don't leave any visible evidence of carelessness or incompetence. You don't want the homeowner to wonder if any other work was done improperly.

Fitting around obstructions

When there are obstructions in the wall cavity, such as electrical cables, fit the insulation closely around them. It may be necessary to split the insulation to accomplish this. However, you may have to scoop out the insulation somewhat to avoid compressing it. (Compressed insulation loses its effectiveness.)

You sometimes can use loose-fill insulation to avoid having to cut insulation to fit around electrical cables or other obstructions.

Loose-fill insulation

When installing loose-fill insulation in exterior walls, you have to decide whether to cut the access hole on the exterior or interior of the wall. This is usually determined by which side of the wall will be the easiest to repair. If the homeowner was planning to paint one side of the wall anyway, that would decide the matter.

Maintaining ventilation

When installing insulation don't cover up ventilation pathways, such as eave vents. Use some strong, thin material to hold back the insulation.

Plumbing pipes

When plumbing pipes are in exterior wall cavities, you should place the insulation between the plumbing pipes and the exterior wall. This will help prevent the plumbing pipes from freezing in the winter. However, you may have to scoop out the insulation somewhat to avoid compressing it. (Compressed insulation loses its effectiveness.)

Vapor barrier

If the insulation does not include an integral vapor barrier, you can use plastic sheeting or special paint for any required vapor barrier.

Any rips or tears in the vapor barrier should be covered with duct tape.

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Background information

The following topics provide background information to help you decide whether this business idea is suitable for you.

Please note that this background information does not provide a complete guide to selecting and installing insulation.

Before engaging in this business, you should seek out information that is more detailed.

Insulation and vapor barriers usually are installed together to reduce both unwanted heat flow and unwanted moisture infiltration.

How insulation works

Heat moves from a warmer to a cooler space. In the summer, heat tends to move from the outside air to the home interior. In the winter, heat tends to move from heated spaces inside a house to any unheated spaces and the outside air. The purpose of insulation is to resist this unwanted flow of heat.

Heat can be transferred in three ways. These ways are conduction, convection, and radiation.

In conduction, the heat travels through whatever materials separate warm areas from cooler areas. In convection, the flow of warm air to cooler air transfers heat. In radiation, infrared energy travels through air or empty space until some other material absorbs it and thereby releases its energy as heat.

The R-value of insulation is a measure of its resistance to heat flow. Usually the thicker the insulation layer the higher its R-value.

The amount of insulation needed for a particular portion of a home depends on its potential heat flow. Since heat tends to rise, ceiling insulation usually needs a higher R-value than wall insulation. Colder regions of the country generally need insulation with a higher R-value than warmer regions.

How a vapor barrier works

The purpose of the vapor barrier is to prevent the warm, moist air from the heated portion of the building from getting inside the wall stud cavity or floor joist cavity, where it could condense into water. This water would lower the effectiveness of the insulation, and could even start to rot the wood studs or joists. Thus, you should install the vapor barrier between the insulation and the heated portion of the building.

In warm, humid climates it may be preferable to install any vapor barrier between the insulation and the exterior wall. This keeps the outside moisture from invading any insulation and the home interior. If in doubt, check the building code for your area.

Vapor barriers may be the backing on batts or rolls of insulation. This backing may be treated Kraft paper or foil. If the insulation lacks an integral vapor barrier, plastic sheeting or special paint can be used.

Insulation needs for various climates

The type of insulation needed for a particular building depends on the local climate and the needs and desires of the customer.

Generally, you should use insulation with a higher R-value for colder climates.

You may want to inquire about the suitable types of insulation for your location. You can do this research by inspecting the local building code or talking to local building supplies stores, such as Home Depot or Lowes.

You can visit this website to determine the recommended R-value of insulation for a house in the United States. This value depends on the climate, whether the house is new or existing, and type of heating and cooling system.

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