The following article was guest written by Cynthia Freeney
For some, the attic is just an unused (and unusable) portion of the building. For others, an attic is just a place where ducts, wires and vents can be found. For many, an attic represents valuable storage space and there are even those who convert unused attics into additional living space.
For people who use part or their entire attic, having an attic that overheats in the summer and freezes during winter can be a huge hassle. They are deeply impacted by these temperature changes, and they can feel it.
On the other hand, if you are not using the attic for storage or as a living area, you are still suffering the effects of these dramatic temperature shifts in your attic. You just don’t know it. You might have missed the signs of a problematic attic.
You probably think your energy bills are supposed to be that high, and that the icicles are supposed to be dangling down the edge of your roof because the snow is melting. Aren’t they pretty?
What you do not know is that these are all symptoms of an energy-wasting attic.
During the summer, every time your attic overheats, your house gets hotter, making your air conditioning system work much harder, especially if you have ducts running through the attic.
Likewise, ice damming and icicles are signs of energy waste. This means that heated air that was supposed to keep the living area warm is leaking into the attic, warming the roof and making your furnace work much harder.
Even if you don’t use your attic for storage or as a living area, controlling temperature and moisture in the attic by following these four steps will help you protect your home and save you a lot of money in energy bills.
1 - Air Sealing
The first thing you want to do is to take every necessary step to keep the air that you are paying to cool and heat where it belongs: in the living areas of your home.
Due to a physics phenomena called the “stack effect”, the warmest air in your home tends to rise and leak into the attic and then to the outside.
As it does, new, a similar volume of unconditioned air is sucked in from the outside, through leaks in the lower levels of the building.
Considering that 40% of what you pay in energy bills every month goes toward cooling and heating, can you imagine how much money you could be saving if you could only control or slow down that process?
That being said, the first step to an energy efficient attic is sealing air leaks between the living space and the attic.
2 - Proper Ventilation
After sealing the air leaks, the next step is to make sure your attic is properly vented.
Good attic ventilation is essential not just for energy efficiency, but for moisture control as well.
Due to differences of temperature between the attic and the conditioned area of your house, any moisture present in the air that enters the attic tends to condense all over attic surfaces. The insulation in the attic will then become useless, because damp insulation loses its R-Value. To make matters worse, condensation on wood and gypsum board can cause mold to develop.
Attic ventilation usually consists of a combination of soffit and ridge vents, but additional vents can also be installed in gable ends.
3 - Beef up the Insulation
Many homes in the US, especially in the North and Northeast, including newly built ones, suffer from the same problem: inadequate attic insulation.
The U.S. Department of Energy recommended insulation R-Value for homes in these areas is between 49 and 60, yet many homes have only about 1/3 of that R-Value.
The choice of insulation materials will also have an impact on how well it performs in the attic.
4 – A Silver Lining
You might think that a radiant barrier in the attic makes more sense for homes built in warmer climates than it would in colder areas.
However, don’t rule it out for your home just yet.
A radiant barrier improves cooling efficiency in the summer by reflecting the sun’s heat back to the outside.
It also improves heating efficiency in the winter by reflecting the heat back into the attic and living space.
That is especially desirable if you have ducts or heating and cooling equipment running in the attic. Or if you plan to use your attic for storage.
The most common type of radiant barrier is a thin sheet with reflective finish on both sides. There is also a “bubble-wrap” looking type of radiant barrier and a spray on coating for hard-to-reach surfaces.
An energy efficient attic is one of the main components of a green, energy efficient home, but is also only the first step to achieving the best performance and savings.
A building is a system, much like your body, comprised of smaller systems that work together. A better performing attic will definitely impact positively all of the other systems in your house.
Cynthia Freeney is a social media manager for many companies in the home improvement industry and currently works for Dr. Energy Saver, (http://www.drenergysaver.com) a nationwide franchise of contractors specialized in providing home energy-saving services such as home insulation, installing and upgrading furnaces and water heaters, replacing windows and doors, home energy evaluations (http://www.drenergysaver.com/contact-form.html) and more.