Here are some pictures of the house I am in the process of buying. Notice the vintage wood paneling with the wildlife scenes - you can't find that material anymore! And yes, that is a built in mini fridge. This room will be known as "Richard's Lounge" after the previous owner, who built this home for his wife 34 years ago. I am keeping that wood paneling and will shop for vintage furnishings here. DYNOMITE!
The ground level has no insulation. The attic has about 2 inches of insulation (fiberglass). I have no idea what the main floor's walls have. I have been reading and reading about insulation: fiberglass, cellulose, rigid foam, wool bats, spray in, recycled blue jeans..... most articles list advantages and disadvantages, but don't clearly state what is best for any particular installation.
I have pieced together that blown in cellulose insulation in the attic is probably the best place to start. I hear that Home Depot and Lowes will lend buyers the blower if they buy enough material.
To break down all the info I read:
The new fancy insulation is great - high R rating per inch, groovy technology, but it is EXPENSIVE! The cost recovery time is long and much of it would require that I rip out the drywall to expose the studs.
The two options that are cheapest and have the fastest cost recovery are Fiberglass and Blown in Cellulose. Green contractors call fiberglass "filter-glass" because it needs a solid surface behind it to block drafts - otherwise it just filters cold air. Some fiberglass comes in rolls with paper backing specifically for this purpose. Fiberglass makes you itchy when installed and there are conflicting reports about wheather it causes lasting respatory issues or not.
Blown in Cellulose is made up of recycled newspapers. It is treated with chemicals to make it flame resistant. As a result of the treatment, it also deters mice and insects. This house has evidence of mice, and since I don't like the idea of poisoning or snapping them to death, a mouse repellent sounds great! There isn't any conclusive evidence one way or another if it off-gasses and if the fumes pose a health hazard. Cellulose can compact, losing it's R rating, and it has to be blown in pretty thick to provide a high R rating, but it is cheap. It is great for attic space that is useless for other purposes (my attic has a low ceiling and just a small scuttle that I can barely fit through for access).
So I will squeeze my butt and a cellulose blower up in there and get to it! I won't forget eye protection and a resporator!
There is a state sponsored program administered from the local electricity utility to do a home energy audits for free. They offer grants that may pay up to $3,000 of energy efficiency improvements if the home owner ponies up $1,000. I plan to apply for the audit after I beef up the attic insulation (all the articles I read say to hit the attic first, which makes sense - heat rises).