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Ensure Adequate Attic Insulation and Watch Energy Efficiency Soar

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Because the attic and roof of your home have constant exposure to the outdoors, adequate attic insulation plays a major role in protecting your home against wide temperature swings, regardless of the season. Heat continually moves toward colder temperatures and it rises, which makes the attic the most vulnerable place in your home for energy inefficiency.

Benefits of Attic Insulation

Insulating products slow the process of heat transfer. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recommends that homes in our region have at least 16 inches in the attic. If yours is less, adding more will immediately keep more heat in your home during the winter and slow the movement of heat into your home during the summer.

The DOE also reports that heating and cooling your home accounts for about half of energy bills, and by adding more, you’ll cut those costs. Attic insulation is the best place to invest your home improvement dollars for energy savings, since it’s affordable, durable and starts working immediately.

Insulation also muffles sound, and if you live in a noisy neighborhood or a high traffic area, adding more attic insulation will arrest some of the noise entering your home from the ceilings.

Types of Attic Insulation

The most common types of insulation products used in attics are fiberglass batts or blown-in products, like cellulose or loose fiberglass. However, when there isn’t adequate space in the attic, foam insulating products offer better protection against thermal transfer.

All insulation products carry an R-value. The “R” stands for resistance and each number behind the R indicates the number of hours the insulation resists heat transfer. Fiberglass and cellulose have an R-value of 3 for each inch of material. Foam products have higher R-values per inch. Rigid foam sheets have an R-value ranging from R-4 to R-6.5. Sprayed closed cell insulation tops out at R-6.2.

Assessing the Attic

Head to the attic with a tape measure and flashlight to evaluate the condition of your home’s attic insulation. Check its depth in several places to see that it’s been evenly applied. You should also look for places where there’s dust or mold. Dust indicates air leaks that either come from cracks or crevices in the roof or siding that should be sealed, or ductwork leaks for the HVAC system. Moldy insulation should be replaced, since it won’t do its job as well and will eventually deteriorate.

It’s also a good time to decide whether you can do the job yourself or hire a contractor. When space is limited and spray foam is your best choice, you’ll need a professional who has the specialized equipment to install it.

Installation and Barriers

Once you’ve evaluated the attic insulation, you’ll have the information you need to decide on which product to use. It’s fine to use batts or blown-in insulation over existing insulation, as long as it’s in good condition. Be sure you read the installation instructions carefully and wear protective clothing, eyewear and a dust mask. Fiberglass particles and cellulose will irritate eyes, skin and the respiratory system.

When using batts, roll them perpendicular to the existing batts for better protection. Some fiberglass batts have paper on one side; unless you’re going to cover them with sheetrock, choose unfaced batts. The paper backing is flammable and building codes require the paper side to be covered with fire-resistant materials.

Avoid the temptation to pack fiberglass batts tightly. Part of insulation’s effectiveness lies in the air spaces between the fibers or particles. Compressing it reduces its R-value.

If you run into any recessed lighting fixtures that enter the attic and aren’t IC rated, create metal barriers around them. You can shape wire mesh or sheet metal cages to keep the insulation off the fixtures. If you use blown-in insulation, use wire mesh that’s fine enough to keep the cellulose particles away from the lighting fixtures.

Of course, you can always rely on the expertise of an qualified HVAC professional to tackle additional attic insulation needs as well.

For more information about the role of attic insulation and saving energy, contact the experts at HVAC Unlimited Heating & Air Conditioning. We provide top-notch HVAC services for homeowners in Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties.

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