Ready for winter? Check your attic.

As the cold weather approaches, it is time to make sure you are ready for the change. I have not been able to do energy-audits this year due to my lack of availability and well, understanding science and respecting the severe nature of COVID-19. So I thought it might be useful to write a few blog posts to highlight some of the common places I find issues in homes here in the Valley.

The easiest place to make improvements in most homes is the attic.

attic insulation

If you have a pull down stairs or a scuttle access, take a peak into the attic. If you can see the ceiling joists you do not have enough insulation. (Note: if the attic has a plywood floor for storage, you will not be able to add insulation easily).

attic energy solutions

If your attic is vented (it should be if you have insulation on the floor of the attic), then you want to make sure the soffit vents are not covered up. This home has a rigid baffle to keep the insulation in place and the air from the soffit moving up into the attic. This is not the most effective way to design an attic, but that is another blog topic.

So how much insulation should you have in your attic if seeing the ceiling joists indicate that you don’t have enough? It depends on the type of insulation you have, but generally if it is fiberglass or cellulose you need a minimum of 12″ and it would be nice to have twice that amount. It should be even across the surface of the attic and should be clear of debris and moisture. The attic should be well ventilated including baffles to allow soffit vents to work and have a ridge vent to allow warm moist air to rise and leave the attic space. You should not be able to see the back of drywall, like in the photo above and it is best to have all ductwork and mechanical systems on the warm side (in the winter) of your insulated envelope.

If you want to make your energy bills as low as possible and your home as comfortable as possible, there are better solutions and more considerations. I wrote about what I did at my house here.

attic insulation

If you have questions about your specific conditions at your home that don’t fit this solutions (vaulted ceiling, no attic, mechanical system in unconditioned space, not sure what kind of insulation you have, no soffit vents, no ridge vent, black stuff on the surface in the attic) give me a call and we can talk. A video chat will go a long way to identify the solution your home needs. Seriously, give me a call, I love to talk about building science and the call is free to you. I want you to live in a comfortable home and reduce your energy usage – no strings attached.

Make your home comfortable this winter

Do you want to make your home comfortable this winter? I purchased an older home, built in 1975, a few months ago. The location is perfect and the layout is functional for what we need as a family right now. However, the house was not energy-efficient at all when we moved in. It was also not comfortable. The first step was to replace the heating and cooling system. This was needed as the existing unit was at the end of life. The new unit is very efficient and is able to keep up with demand. I did let the HVAC company, Excel Heating and Cooling, know that I would properly insulate the attic and basement so the unit is sized appropriately to avoid short cycling. The first couple of warm months in the house were not a problem with the heating and cooling system keeping the upstairs comfortable and the downstairs is naturally cool. As cooler days set in the downstairs was not maintaining temperature as we had not corrected the insulation issues.

attic insulationattic insulation

So, near the end of October the insulation truck from Elite Insulation showed up. The first step was to remove the existing blown in insulation from the attic. They essentially vacuumed out the dirt and fiberglass. The insulation was black in places showing how much air was moving through the insulation. You see insulation does not work with air moving through it. You need an air tight envelope to and solid insulation to provide a comfortable space.

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Once the existing insulation – or rather dirt collection system – was removed, the spray foam truck showed up.

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This insulation method, open-cell spray foam, creates an air barrier while insulating. It corrects the problems of the old insulation and properly insulates the attic floor.

attic insulationattic insulation

Once the attic problems were solved, Elite Insulation turned their attention to the basement level. This space is tricky to fix. There is a lot of concrete which absorbs heat and makes the space feel cooler than the air temperature. This space also has finished space in it which complicates fixing insulation problems economically.

basement insulation

The first step in this space was to remove the black fiberglass insulation. Talk about air movement! The rim board (the space where the floor joists meet the exterior wall) is a huge air leak in most every house I visit to do an energy audit. This old house was no different. This is also a space where critters gain access into the house. The process of removing the fiberglass is dirty and I am glad I hired Elite Insulation to take care of it. They then filled the gaps with open-cell spray foam.

basement insulation

This insulation not only closes off access for critters and stops air leaks – it properly insulates this 10″ tall space around the perimeter of the house. So far the solutions we have added to the house has improved comfort and cut the electric bills off of the previous owners average. I also changed all the lights to LED so that helps reduce the monthly bills. So as we move into the colder months we will see how much money is saved, but the comfort level has certainly improved thanks to Excel and Elite Insulation.

Is your home comfortable? Energy Audit Follow up

An energy-audit is a great “tune-up” for your existing home. I have been offering energy-audits for free for people in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County now for about four years. My goal is to help people reduce their monthly bills by identifying easy to correct issues in their homes. I usually don’t hear back from them on the progress they have made, but I did on a recent audit which made my day.

attic insulation

From the home owner via email: After the first night with increased insulation in our attic, we want to say “THANK YOU” again for your insight and time during our home energy audit. Elite Insulation was over yesterday and the improvement to the warmth is noticeable. It’s the first time we didn’t have to use a space heater during the winter!

air leaks

In this particular audit I did not find any BIG issues that should be fixed right away. I did notice that the attic insulation needed some attention and gave the home owner some other easy to fix items that would improve comfort. I like to also leave a list of companies that I trust to get the work done right if they are called. Elite Insulation is always the name I give for improving the thermal envelope of a home or business. They do good work for a fair price – what more could you ask for from your insulator?

I emailed Ken at Elite Insulation to find out what they did at the house to solve the comfort issue. He tells me that they added R-30 insulation over the existing 10″ that was already there. Old insulation has layers of dirt and does not perform as well as new insulation so my guess is the attic now has around an R35 – R40 blanket on top holding in the conditioned temperatures. While they were there they also added baffles to keep the soffits functioning as designed. This will allow air to flow above the insulation without moving the insulation around. This is not Ken’s work pictured below, but shows the soffit vent in action.

attic insulation

I am thrilled to hear from the home owner that she felt immediate results from the work that was done. Offering free energy-audits is rewarding in that I know I am empowering people with information they can use to cut costs and improve comfort. Hearing back from someone who has done improvements really makes it worthwhile.

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 dryers or bathrooms that vent into the space. You want to keep your 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 the entire attic area insulated. 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:

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

Get an Energy Audit to Verify Your House Doesn’t Have Unwanted Guests

Energy auditI went 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 homeowners 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.

Energy audit

Dryer vent problems

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

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.

Energy audit

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.

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 identified roof leaks and squatters. It also hopefully prevented a fire that looked like it was ready to happen. If you want an energy audit, give me a call.

Energy audit

Attic nest