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Radiant barriers: not a cost-effective energy-saving tool in Minnesota

The Minnesota Department of Commerce, Division of Energy Resources wants consumers to know that radiant barrier products in attics are not a cost-effective way to reduce heating or cooling loads in Minnesota homes. The department recently issued a consumer alert after it received several reports of salespeople pitching radiant barriers in flyers and at free dinners throughout the state.

Radiant barriers consist of a reflective film, usually aluminum, laid over the top of attic insulation in existing homes. They are sold as an energy-saving product, with claims of significant reductions in both heating and cooling costs. However, their potential benefit is primarily in reducing air-conditioning cooling loads in warm or hot climates and in buildings with little or no insulation.

A Radiant Barrier Fact Sheet compiled by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy shows that the benefits of radiant barriers decrease significantly as one travels north. In southern cities like Miami, Fla., or Austin, Texas, radiant barriers could reduce one’s utility bill by as much as $150 per year. But by the time you reach colder climate states such as Minnesota, where air-conditioning loads are considerably less, savings drop to only $10 to $40 a year. If there are no ducts or air handlers in the attic, the savings are much less.

“We strongly urge all consumers to be cautious, conduct due diligence, and explore other proven means to make their homes and businesses more energy efficient,” said Mike Rothman, Commerce commissioner. “Don’t be misled by ‘deals’ or ‘pilot programs’ available for a limited time only. Get input and bids from at least three contractors, and make sure those contractors are reputable.”

The U.S. Department of Energy and Minnesota Department of Commerce agree that, in Minnesota, implementing air sealing and adding conventional attic insulation would be considerably cheaper and much more effective for saving energy than installing a radiant barrier. Getting a home energy assessment through your gas or electric utility is encouraged as a first step to identifying cost-effective energy improvements.

For more information on insulation and other energy-efficient measures to improve homes, contact the Division of Energy Resources at 800-657-3710 or 651-539-1882 or visit The website offers free downloadable home energy guides, including the “Home Envelope” (.pdf) consumer guide that includes information on energy efficiency and choosing a contractor.