Gaines Group Architects
attic insulation

Was your house cold this morning? If so, learn how to fix it here.

Was your house cold this morning? If so, learn how to fix it here.

The cold weather is coming! Is your house ready? Do you have to add a blanket on your bed this time of year because your house is always uncomfortable? Are you dreading the winter heating bills?


Making your home energy-efficient also improves comfort on these cold mornings. Your home is the most complicated machine you own. So where do you start? How do you fix it? As you can imagine, this is a topic I have written about a lot over the years. I found some blog posts in particular that touch on making your home more comfortable in the cool months and listed them below.

North Fork Middle School

The summary is call me for a free energy audit. There are no strings attached. I come and test your home for air leakage and give you a list of things you can fix yourself and some names of people who you can call to help you fix them. I don’t get paid to do this service – I just want you to have the most energy-efficient and comfortable home as possible. If all architects and builders would design homes with building science in mind, this would not be a needed service, but they don’t. My payment for this service is showing you the value of building science knowledge and you telling your friends that need something designed about it. Consider it a marketing expense. I save you money and build my brand. Call to schedule your audit if you want to be more comfortable this winter. Read the blog posts below for more ideas on how to fix your home.

attic insulation

Typical home energy problems

8 steps to an energy-efficient home

Vented Attic Space

How much insulation do you need in your attic?

Add attic insulation to make your home more comfortable and energy-efficient

Proper insulation provides comfort and energy-efficiency in your basement renovation

Should you use spray foam insulation?

harrisonburg spray foam

Find the air leaks by looking at the fiberglass insulation

Comfort issues caused by poor insulation

Thinking of building a custom energy-efficient home, where do you start?

Why does building science matter and why is if left out so often?


attic insulation

Attic Insulation Will Make Your Home More Comfortable and Energy Efficient

It certainly has gotten cold here. As I write this, it is 17 degrees outside and the high for tomorrow is in the 30s. This sudden change in weather has certainly hit me hard. I hope you are staying warm. Speaking of staying warm, is your house comfortable? Do you have enough of the right kind of attic insulation in the right places?

Over the years I have been in a LOT of attics and most of them do not have the right kind of insulation and certainly not enough of it. Even worse, there is often duct work running in the space on the wrong side of the attic insulation, the cold side, with very little insulation around the ducts. Code says you need R-38 insulation in the attic as a minimum. I would say that is about half what you should have for your attic in our climate if you are using fiberglass insulation or cellulose. Think of it as adding a second blanket to your entire house.

attic insulation

In areas where duct work penetrates the conditioned space at the supply points, there is no insulation. Having the duct work inside the thermal envelope would fix this problem. So if you have the chance, insulation on the underside of the roof sheathing, open cell spray foam, is certainly a better solution than fiberglass or cellulose on the floor of the attic (when duct work is in the space). Spray foam is air tight and when installed in the appropriate places will make your home both comfortable and energy-efficient.

attic insulationOther holes that exist in the insulation envelope can be can lights and eave ventilation that does not have baffles. These holes and air leaks from improper sealing of the thermal envelope all combine to diminish the effectiveness of your installed insulation. Finding ways to stop air leakage and installing the proper amount of attic insulation will help on these cold days.


attic insulationIf you have fiberglass insulation, add more to achieve R-72. If you have cellulose, add more to achieve R-72. However, if you want to get it right insulate with an air tight solution, open cell spray foam is the easiest method to create a home that will be comfortable and energy-efficient for many years.

Your attic can tell you if your home is energy efficient

Your attic can tell you if your home is energy efficient. As we start to transition into the cold weather, take a moment and look at what is going on in your attic space. If you have fiberglass insulation – I can almost guarantee that your home is leaking conditioned air into the attic. This costs you money on your monthly electric bills and comfort in your daily life.

Harrisonburg Architect

Look for fiberglass insulation that is black. This is air movement coming to or from the attic. Stop the leak and reduce the energy wasted. Stopping the leaks also improves your home comfort. If you have cellulose insulation it is much harder to see the air leaks. You may need to schedule an energy audit to locate the path of air movement. It will most likely still be there, but harder to find. If you have open cell spray foam installed correctly, your attic is most likely performing very well so your energy challenges will be in other locations.


If you can see the metal of your duct work and it is in an unconditioned space, you are creating a warm moist habitat for mice. I have seen this in so many attics and there is always traces of mice around these thermal bridges. Get your ducts into a conditioned space or at the very least insulate the duct.

attic insulation

If your attic access is not sealed like a door – weather stripping and fixed insulation – you are wasting money.

wet crawl space attic

If there are any pipes venting into the attic, black growth on surfaces, or excessive dirt, your attic is not performing the way it should and you are paying for it monthly.


Need a little more space? Finish your basement.

Need a little more space? Finish your basement, but have a solid plan in place first. Here are 10 things to consider:

  1. Figure out the code requirements that might impact your home. You have to meet egress, ventilation, heating and cooling, electrical, and permit requirements. DSC08432
  2. One of the biggest mistakes people make when finishing a basement is not taking measures to keep it dry. If your basement walls have any signs of moisture at all (and even if they dont) you should leave an air cavity behind the finished walls. This will allow space for the wall to dry out if water gets into the wall system.
  3. When building a wall in the basement you need to install a seal sealer under the pressure treated wood plate in order to reduce the chance of mold growth or water issues.
  4. The rim board is a huge air leak in most homes. Seal it with open cell spray foam. You should also insulate the walls to R-19 in the basement. This will make the space more comfortable and probably cut your energy usage
  5. Pick your ceiling type with thoughts of future renovations. If you will need to get to plumbing that is above head, leave an access. If there are a lot of access point, perhaps you want to consider an acoustic ceiling (I really don’t like this option).
  6. A basement can be a dark spot in the house without proper lighting. Spend the money to get the appropriate number of lights installed with a nice color spectrum. After all you want to use the space don’t you. If at all possible, get natural light into the space through windows or if it is a walk out basement doors. If there is a bedroom, this is a code requirement.  Mt Crawford Basement Renovation
  7. If your house was not originally designed to have a finished basement, you need to get a qualified HVAC technician to look at your system. It is important to make sure the system can handle the additional finished space, remove unwanted humidity, and provide the appropriate amount of ventilation.
  8. Test materials that might contain asbestos or lead. Removing these items can have serious health consequences to your family. You need to take specific cautions when working with these materials.
  9. There is nothing worse than finishing a basement for your home theater space / sports hangout / man cave / gym to find out you cannot turn the television or music up after 9pm because it is below your kid’s bedroom. Make sure you add sound insulation measures into the design to create the kind of space you want and don’t create problems with the existing spaces in your homeUntitled_HDR2
  10. If you are adding a bathroom in the basement – first make sure your septic system will allow for it (gravity and size), next make sure you can provide the needed ventilation, and then figure out how to connect it to the existing plumbing system. It is not complicated to get it right, but it does take some planning.

Does My Attic Have Enough Insulation?

This time of year we always add a blanket to our bed to stay warm at night. It is cold! In order to have a more comfortable home and improve your energy-efficiency, you should add a blanket to your home as well. The code minimum insulation allowed in new construction is R-38. As you can see in the next picture, the bottom of the truss is exposed (3 1/2″ of insulation) minimum installed in this home. This is fairly typical. It means this home has R-19 max, but probably R-13 insulation. Certainly another blanket would help with comfort issues in this house.

attic insulation

attic insulation

In the below picture you can see additional insulation has been added in some places. Perhaps they are adding as they have time and money – not sure. The duct work that is located above the insulation could also hurt comfort and energy-efficiency. This duct work is sending conditioned air through a duct is in an unconditioned space. There is a minimum amount of insulation around the ducts. These two combined issues could lead to moisture in the duct, perhaps contributing to mold in addition to the comfort and energy issues a typical home experiences. Further there is an attic fan in the eave. Using an attic fan sucks air out of the attic pushing it outside. This is done in the summer to cool the attic, but where does the make-up air come from to replace what is being sucked out? Usually through the gaps and cracks in the home’s thermal envelope further hurting comfort and energy-efficiency. It sucks conditioned air out of your home and sends it outside, only cooling the attic a few degrees on a good day.

attic insulation

A properly insulated attic has all the ducts inside the thermal envelope. It also stops air movement from conditioned spaces to unconditioned spaces. R-38 is the minimum level of insulation, R-72 is much better. As you can see in the below picture the insulation has been moved to the underside of the roof sheathing and the ducts are inside the thermal envelope. This is the best possible solution.


Proper insulation provides comfort and energy efficiency in your basement renovation.

It is very common to find insulation in the floor joists above your head in an unfinished basement or crawl space. Unfortunately, for homes in our area, this is not where you need insulation. I will go as far to say “it is a complete waste of money.”

Basement Insulation


As a general rule the entire envelope of your home should be insulated. If your basement, attic, or crawl space has duct work in it, then it is part of your home’s thermal envelope. Insulating the walls of the basement or crawl will increase the overall efficiency and comfort of your entire home.

encapsulated crawl

Insulation, specifically fiberglass insulation, is often used in the floor joists in a basement or crawl space. If it is not in contact with the floor surface above, then it does not perform as intended. If you push the fiberglass in place then you smash the R-value out of the insulation so it does not work. If you want to insulate between floor joists, I recommend using spray foam insulation, but again, just insulate the walls.


Get to know “Elite Insulation” Friday Featured Local Business

Give a brief summary of what your company does and who you are as a company.

Elite Insulation & PolyPro LLC is a locally owned and operated family business established by Bob, Ken and Chris Wells. Being involved in the traditional fiberglass insulation for many years, we have witnessed changes in the insulation industry. Namely, the increasing cost of energy, consumer driven environmental awareness and a demand for more efficient homes.


Traditional insulation has its limits and in order to meet consumer needs, Elite Insulation & PolyPro set out to provide a range of insulation systems that would significantly improve the way homes and buildings are insulated. Spray Polyurethane foams (SPF) and their associated hybrid methods are those systems. We are the Valley’s leading full-service spray polyurethane foam insulation company.

Our many years of industry experience ensure that we provide valuable insight and offer solutions that keep projects on track and within budget. Customer satisfaction is our priority and we take pride in our commitment to quality and service. Our sales and operations staff are spray foam experts that have been properly educated in the building science concepts, with over 80 years combined industry experience. Polypro applicators are thoroughly trained professionals that specialize in installing SPF correctly and rapidly and have the benefit of using the newest and most up to date equipment.

Give us some background on your company. What do you do and why do you do it?  

I (and my brother Chris) have literally grown up in the insulation industry.  My Dad, Bob Wells, managed an insulation contracting branch while we were in school and we would work installing insulation in the summers.  He seemed to really like giving us the jobs that his installers would refuse, such as the really tight, dirty, crawl spaces.  At 22 years old I was made a branch manager for a that same large corporation in the Shenandoah Valley, and held that position for 6 years until myself and my family decided to branch out and start our own business.

Do you have an ideal client? If so, what do they look like?

An ideal client for me is just someone who will trust in our expertise and allow us to help them get the best possible job while remaining within their budget.  Good communication always helps too.

What is your favorite success story in the past few years?

I think for a contractor or anyone in the construction related industry these days, staying in business is the biggest success story.  Other than that, winning back to back (2011& 2012) SPFA National Excellence awards, as well as being a finalist this year for the same award (third place), speaks volumes about our company and has certainly been exciting for us.


What do you like to do for fun? Favorite restaurant? Favorite place to spend a Saturday afternoon?  

Anything that I can do with my kids or family, I consider fun.  Recently, with my kids becoming more involved with sports, I find myself really enjoying watching them play.  We also really enjoy tailgating at JMU football games, and “primative” family camping.  My favorite restaurant is any place that can prepare an excellent “Pittsburgh Rare” steak.  Hands down, my favorite place to spend a Saturday would be surf/pier fishing somewhere in the Outer Banks, while “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” plays in my head.

What is on your (iPod, radio, phone) while you work?

I usually don’t listen to music while I work, but in the gym you can find just about everything on my phone, from Pink Floyd to Hard Rock and Rap.  Classic Rock, Rock, and Country would be at the top of the list with Pink Floyd being my all-time favorite band.

What is your favorite book?

It has been a while since I have fully finished a book other than “The Cat in The Hat”, but as I remember, “The Sphere”, by Michael Criton was one of my favorites.  I am a big science and science fiction fan.  One thing that I do read cover to cover is Discover Magazine.

What is your favorite app for your phone or iPod?

All of my favorites have navigation in common.  Telenav is my general navigation app that has never failed me.  SageQuest is the app I use to locate our fleet trucks in real time, and RunKeeper is my personal trainer and record keeper for my exercise routines.

Where is your favorite place to vacation? 

I think that would be a toss-up, as I have extremely fond childhood memories of vacationing in Nags Head, but just recently was fortunate enough to go on a Disney Cruise (my wife is a travel agent) with my wife and kids.  One of the stops was Cozumel, and as a biology major in college, I could snorkel and look at ocean wildlife in crystal clear water for days on end.  Also, when I did get out of the water, I had the most wonderful Mexican food to snack on.  For me, snorkeling and good Mexican food is a tough combo to beat!

What historical figure would you most like to have dinner with and why?

I would thoroughly enjoy sitting and eating with one of the great Egyptian Pharaohs (take your pick).  There are so many unanswered questions from this time period, maybe we could learn a thing or two.