attic insulation

Insulation in your attic can determine your comfort in your living room

Insulation in your attic can determine your comfort in your living room

It is important to have the right amount of insulation in your attic. The minimum amount of insulation you should have in your attic ranges from 8 – 12″ depending on your insulation type. Spray foam could need less. Adding insulation over what you already have is an easy solution to cut your monthly energy use and increase your comfort in your living room.

attic insulation

Other things to look at while in your attic

There are some other things to look at in the attic while you are there. Make sure there are no vents from dryer or bathrooms that vent into the space. You want to keep you attic as dry as possible. Adding moist warm air into that space only leads to problems. Also, check for any critters that have decided your attic is a nice warm place to hang out. On a recent energy audit I found what looked like multiple nests. This is not uncommon as your attic is a much nicer place on a cold winter night to sleep. Check to make sure you have complete coverage in the space. You want insulation over the entire attic area. You also want to make sure the attic is as air tight as possible from your conditioned home.

insulate attic access

Last check before leaving the attic

Last, as you are leaving the attic, make sure your attic access is covered with insulation.

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attic insulation

Get an energy-audit to verify your house does not have uninvited guests

Get an energy-audit to verify your house does not have uninvited guests

I headed out to do an energy-audit at Massanutten yesterday. The home was clearly well maintained. It was 30+ years old, was not showing signs of neglect, and the heat was ON. It was very warm inside just like the home owners like it. We took a moment to talk about their concerns and I learned they just wanted to make sure the home was in good shape as it pertains to energy efficiency. They told me about adding insulation in various places around the home. They talked about keeping the thermostat higher than normal because they like it warm. The talked about appliances that were a little old and had concerns they might have to replace them.

They did not mention high electric bills – so I asked. They have average electric bills. So overall – the house was performing really well, keeping them warm, and the electric bills were not killing them. So I found the normal leaks – around electrical outlets, doors, windows, cabinets, and attic access. The framing intersection at the top of basement wall glowed from all the energy leaking through. The light bulbs could all be changed to LED to cut energy usage. The doors needed a little weather-stripping attention. 

 

attic insulation

So it was a normal energy audit. They could probably cut their energy usage by 30% with a few minor changes and I gave them names of people who could help with fixing it. So was it worth my trip out. YES. I found two major issues for them that neither of us expected.

dryer vent problems

The two major issues we found doing an energy-audit.

  1. Their dryer vent was long, had multiple dips in it, and from a brief test, appeared to be mostly clogged in one place and had considerable lint build up in several other places. This can easily lead to a fire. So I asked them to have that looked at immediately. Hopefully they will take care of it before it becomes a story on the news.
  2. The second major issue was multiple, more than 6, places in the attic that appeared to either be roof leaks or nests. A more fit energy-auditor – like Building Knowledge – would have gotten up in the attic to verify the issue. However, if you call for a free audit from the overweight architect, I will simply give you a name of someone who can climb through the attic scuttle and determine the problem. Either way, they were losing energy through their attic insulation that had been moved away or gotten wet. Fixing this issue and adding a layer of insulation (while plugging the holes causing the problem) will certainly make their home more comfortable and eliminate any uninvited guests from living in their attic.

attic insulation

So, my 1 hour free energy-audit gave them a list of things to fix in their home that could lead to a 30% reduction in energy usage, but it also either identified a roof leak or squatters. It also hopefully prevented a fire that looked like it was ready to happen. If you want an audit, give me a call.

attic nest

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harrisonburg spray foam

How much insulation should you have in your attic?

How much insulation should you have in your attic?

There are three main types of attic insulation, fiberglass, cellulose, and foam. In new construction we almost always specify open-cell spray foam insulation. It creates an air-tight envelope for the top of your home. So how much should you install? Since it is air tight, R-38 performs really well to achieve a high performance home. According to Ken Wells from Elite Insulation “R-38 is the code required minimum, but in certain circumstances less open cell foam can still be very effective.”

harrisonburg spray foam

Cellulose insulation is another option.

The advantage is cellulose offers thermal mass that absorbs heat in the day and releases heat back out at night. Some might see this as a disadvantage in hot months as the house will not cool down overnight as much. However, the insulation does not air seal the attic from the conditioned space. Everywhere you have a “hole” in the drywall (recessed can lights, attic access, electrical wires…) there is a high potential for air leaks. With cellulose you will want more insulation than you would use with foam – R-49 which is the code minimum in most states across the country.

cellulose insulation

Fiberglass insulation is the last option on the list.

This insulation does not offer the advantages of thermal mass and it is not air-tight. When used in the attic, there should not be any duct work above the insulation. I would recommend R-72 to provide adequate insulation value in the attic. When it is used, you have to make sure to have complete coverage of the attic space.

attic insulation

So when possible, use spray foam insulation. When you have to settle for another type of insulation look at cellulose. 

My attic is killing my monthly electric bills – what problems do you see?

In a mixed humid climate (Central Virginia) the attic is probably the most important element when trying to achieve a healthy, energy-efficient, and durable solution. There are a lot of problems in this one – what do you see? I will post my thoughts tomorrow.
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