In many homes, the attic is just a storage spot that is rarely entered. However, even if you never use your attic, it is still important to pay attention to its insulation. The right attic insulation can make your home more comfortable and reduce energy costs. At Beltway Heating and Air Conditioning, we want you to make informed decisions about your attic insulation. You can learn about the different types of insulation and get some helpful installation tips right here in this guide.
Benefits of Attic Insulation
Your attic plays a very important role in balancing temperatures inside your home. It is very easy for cool and warm air to pass through all the tiny holes and cracks around a roof. When your attic is uninsulated, your HVAC-treated air leaks out of the attic. Insufficient insulation leads to a home that is hot in summer and cold in winter. Attic insulation is especially important in the winter. Since heat rises, you can end up with almost all of your heat heading up to the attic. In fact, 85 percent of the heat lost in a home leaves through the attic.
Adding insulation to your attic does more than just improve overall comfort. It also saves you a lot of money on your heating and cooling bills. Increasing attic insulation can lower your heating costs by roughly 10% to 50%. Furthermore, attic insulation improves air quality since dust and pollen from outside won’t be able to leak in as easily. It also helps to protect your roof by preventing ice dams and moisture buildup that can lead to torn and missing shingles.
How to Tell If Your Attic Needs More Insulation
Of course, the simplest way to tell if your attic needs insulation is just looking at it. If your insulation is so flattened that your floor joists are sticking out over the top of the insulation, you definitely need more. Another easy way of checking to see if you should add more insulation is by looking at your roof in the winter. If you are getting ice dams, you need more insulation. These happen when heat escapes from your attic and melts the snow on your roof.
An uninsulated attic also tends to cause higher energy bills, so try comparing your home’s energy bills to the average bills for a similar-sized home. If they are abnormally high, it can mean your uninsulated attic is causing your HVAC system to run too much. A final way of checking your insulation is by measuring it and calculating the R-value. As long as you can take the time to do some research and measurements, this can tell you exactly how well your attic is being insulated.
Understanding Insulation R Values
When you are assessing your current insulation or shopping for new insulation, R values frequently come up. An R-value is essentially a measurement of how well a material resists heat flows. Generally speaking, the higher the R-value, the better the insulating properties of a material.
For attics, the U.S. Department of Energy recommends an R-value of at least 30, with an R-value of 60 being preferable. Keep in mind that an insulation’s stated R-value only applies to the insulation when it is brand new and uncompressed. Things like moisture and material degradation can reduce R-value with age. Some types of insulation lose R-value when stacked because compression can reduce R-values.
How to Choose the Best Insulation Type for Your Home
Fiberglass batts are one of the most common types of insulation because they are very easy to install. Made up of thin fibers of glass rolled into sheet sand backed with a vapor barrier, fiberglass batts are budget-friendly and moisture resistant. Per inch, they have an R-value of around 3. Due to their bulkiness, installing them in very low clearance attics or attics with small corners can be tricky.
Cellulose is recycled insulation made from a blend of paper. Typically, it is installed by spraying down a layer with a blower, so even small areas are easily coated. It also comes in loose-fill bags that you can dump into small areas as needed. This insulation usually has an R-value of about 3.5 per inch. Cellulose is both cheaper and more insulating than fiberglass. However, it can easily be destroyed by moisture, rodents, and insects.
Loose-fill fiberglass is another type of blown insulation, but it is made out of fiberglass instead of paper. Loose-fill fiberglass tends to have an insulation R-value of 2.5 per inch. Like blown-in cellulose, it easily gets in all the tiny nooks and crannies of an attic. Keep in mind that it has some unique safety concerns due to being loose fiberglass. It may cause lung problems if it is left uncovered and you enter the attic without proper protection.
Spray foam has an extra high R-value of 3.5 to 6.5 per square inch. This insulation is sprayed on as a liquid, and then it expands and hardens rapidly into a foam. Closed-cell foam is more insulating than open-cell foam, but both are very effective. However, the higher effectiveness comes with a higher price tag.
In addition to the four most common types of insulation, there are also some less common options like rigid foam panels, mineral wool, and recycled denim insulation. These can have benefits like extra sustainability or fire resistance. However, you may have to spend more time shopping around to find these options and get someone who can install them.
The Insulation Installation Process
The installation process typically involves spraying insulation or laying down pre-made batts of insulation on the floor of your attic. Whether or not you can do insulation as a DIY project will depend on the type you choose. Common types of insulation for DIY projects include:
- Fiberglass batts
- Mineral wool
- Loose-fill cellulose
- Cotton/denim batts
When working with spray foam, you will probably want to leave the installation to the professionals. It is hard to apply the foam evenly unless you have proper tools and experience. Blown insulation, like fiberglass or cellulose, is also best left to the professionals. Though technically it is possible to do it yourself, managing to get an even layer with the heavy machinery can be tricky.
Whatever the type of insulation you select, be sure to fix roof leaks and seal around any exhaust fans, chimneys, or flues beforehand. Make sure that all vents are venting to the exterior. If there are any light fixtures on the ceiling below your attic floor, create a safety barrier around them to prevent fire hazards. Most types of insulation can benefit from a vapor barrier near the warmest side of the insulation to keep condensation from damaging your insulation.
When you want to improve energy efficiency, call Beltway Air Conditioning & Heating. Our technicians help residents of Hanover and Annapolis stop air leaks and install energy-efficient HVAC systems. We can also help with any heating or cooling repairs or maintenance checks. Schedule your appointment now.