Ask the Carpenter: Is it better to insulate the walls or the attic?

Ask the Expert Home Improvement
Globe file

Q. I live on the second floor of a 1914 stucco two-family. I had an energy audit, and they recommended blowing insulation into the walls. Because the house is stucco, they said it would have to be blown in from the inside to avoid problems with moisture being trapped inside the walls. My downstairs neighbors said they were told that you cannot blow insulation into a stucco house at all, from inside or out, because of moisture issues. I can’t find any information online about this. What are your thoughts? Also, how important is blowing insulation into the walls vs. things like insulating the attic? Is it worth my doing it for the second floor if my downstairs neighbors don’t want to do it for the first? Are there any downsides to blowing in insulation? Is there one type of insulation that is better than another?


A. I reached out to my friend Frank Aron at for advice on this answer. According to Frank, typically there is sheathing with building paper between the studs and stucco to deflect any moisture. If the stucco is not maintained well and has leaks, moisture could be an issue. We have done a few of them with densely packed cellulose. As for attic vs. wall insulation, always go for the attic. The largest pay back will be seen here. You would stop heat loss from natural convection and block solar gain (an increase in heat) in the attic, which can result in energy savings of 30 to 50 percent. You won’t see as big of a return on investment by insulating walls. Spray-foam insulation is the best, but it’s not always feasible to use in hard-to-access structures.


Q. I recently had a bathtub reglazed, and it began peeling the very next day. Not only was the work pricey, but now I can’t get in touch with the company to make the necessary repairs. Is this something I can fix myself? Thanks.

TOM O’HARE, Peterborough, N.H.

A. You can’t get in touch with the company? After the second phone call, I’d be knocking on their front door. I’m assuming you followed the directions and did not use this tub for the recommended number of hours afterward. This may have been a surface-preparation problem. I wouldn’t do the work myself; the do-it-yourself materials are terrible compared with the professional grade.

When you are hiring people to work on your home, please make sure to vet them properly. Start the process on the phone. Ask:

■ What experience do you have on similar projects?

■ How many jobs will you be working on at the same time as mine?

■ Will you provide a list of previous clients and their contact information? (Ask for at least five references that reflect the scope of the project you’re proposing.)

■ Will you be subcontracting out the work? If so, how long have you worked with the subcontractor who will do this job?

■ Are you licensed and insured? (If the answer is no, don’t hire that company. If it’s yes, ask for proof and keep copies for yourself.)

Contact the former clients and ask about work ethic, integrity, punctuality, and jobsite cleanliness. Ask whether there were any discrepancies between what was promised and what was delivered. If possible, request to see the work firsthand.

The next step is in-person meetings. The person you hire and his or her crew will be in your home. When things come up unexpectedly, you need to feel comfortable and have a clear line of communication.

Rob Robillard is a general contractor, carpenter, editor of, and principal of a carpentry and renovation business. Send your questions to or tweet them to @robertrobillard. Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter at