Tips to Make Your Attic Usable
Energy prices fluctuate, especially during the wintertime. Homeowners can increase their home’s efficiency throughout these fluctuations by lowering their reliance on heating oil or natural gas. Of course, improving energy efficiency can provide cost-saving benefits year-round, including the summertime. Improving your home’s attic insulation is one of the best ways to increase overall efficiency. As much as 85 percent of the heat lost in a house passes through the attic.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that boosting attic insulation can lower heating costs by 10 to 50 percent (depending on the current level of insulation). Things like venting, roof condition, air sealing, and exposed ductwork in the attic can significantly affect the overall heating and cooling system performance as well.
Here are seven tips that every homeowner should consider to make their attic as efficient as possible.
- Ensure Sufficient Insulation is Installed
Insulation remains the single best way to improve attic efficiency. There are a few quick tests that can help homeowners decide if they need more insulation. Perform a touch test on the ceilings. In cold weather, areas without proper insulation will be cooler to the touch. Another clue is the formation of ice dams on the roof in the winter. These are caused by warm air escaping from the house and melting snow. The snow is then refrozen, forming ice on the roof. A quick visual test can also help: if the level of insulation is below the attic floor joists, then additional insulation may be needed. Insulation is measured by a figure called “R-value,” which changes depending on the climate. The higher the R-value, the better the insulation.
- Use Air Sealing
Where should homeowners check for air leaks? Common culprits include the spaces around recessed lighting fixtures, gaps around ducts or pipes that run through the attic, and cracks in the ceiling. Air sealing is an important improvement that can enhance the benefits of new insulation. Air sealing can also help improve indoor air quality. In fact, one of the main symptoms of an improperly sealed ceiling is dust and particles from the attic permeating the living areas.
- Insulate and Seal the Attic Entryway
Homeowners often overlook the attic entryway. In some homes, this may be a small space large enough for one person to go through; for others, it is a larger opening – perhaps with pull-down stairs. In either case, the opening is commonly under-insulated and prone to air leaks. Weather-stripping, such as the material used around doors, can help control leakage, while a batt of insulation or a specialized attic door cover can provide the required level of insulation.
- Make Sure Vents Are Working Properly
If the attic is insulated properly, then the air from the living spaces should not be entering the attic, and the cold air from the attic should not overly affect the temperature in the living spaces. Proper ventilation is necessary to prevent moisture and mildew while keeping the air fresh and free from any toxins that might form in an enclosed space. Proper venting, is important for an efficient attic, but before venting, the home must be properly insulated and air sealed.
- Install Attic Fans
Attic fans can help cool attics during the summertime. They are especially useful in warm and moist climates. These fans draw hot air out of the attic and bring cooler air inside by placing the fans near soffits. Fans can provide benefits, but they can also be detrimental if the attic is not well insulated. Moreover, if there are air leaks between the attic and living spaces, the fans will actually draw conditioned air out of the home.
- Insulate Attic Ductwork
Attic ductwork is a problem if the ducts are not properly insulated. This does not mean simply placing the ducts in the existing attic insulation. It means installing special insulation that wraps around the ducts, creating a full temperature barrier.
- Add a Reflective Roof
Solar gain can heat the attic via the roof, and this heat can pass through under-insulated attics and into the living space. If this is a major problem for your home, one option could be to install a reflective roof. A reflective roof can help insulation perform better in hot climates by repelling solar heat and provide a shading effect for the house. These roofs also keep the attic cooler than the outside temperature and, in turn, lower the need for air conditioning in the living spaces.