Insulation and attic fans: Energy-efficient upgrades start in the attic for Atlanta homeowners

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Are you looking for ways to make your home energy-efficient? Most homeowners can benefit from some simple...

Are you looking for ways to make your home energy-efficient? Most homeowners can benefit from some simple energy-efficient upgrades. One of the easiest places to start is often one of the least visited places in a home: the attic.

Why the attic?

Hot air rises, and its escape route is through your roof. Your first line of defense is in the attic. Proper insulation and air flow not only stop the warm air from escaping your home in the cooler months, but they also prevent the cool air from escaping in the warmer months. So, you can expect to save in utility bills year round with an attic makeover.

Before going into the attic

Not all attics are created equal. Some attics have plywood flooring, some have joists with walking boards and others just joists. If you just have joists, take care not to walk anywhere but on the joists; or else, you will fall through the ceiling!

Air sealing the attic

The first step in your attic revamp is ensuring that you have a proper air seal in the attic, so that air isn't literally leaking out of your roof. A poor air seal not only causes air flow issues, but it can also cause unwanted moisture problems too. You can always count on good old gravity to direct water through even the tiniest of gaps. In the attic, some key areas to look for air leaks are the exhaust fan ducts, chimney and framing seals and the interior walls. Also, don't forget to check for and seal any gaps between the living space and attic, as well as, the attic access. Depending on the area you are looking to seal, you may need to use weather-stripping, expanding foam or caulk.

Attic insulation types

What type do you have currently? You will need to find this out before an install.

Fiberglass Batts: This is a roll-on type insulation that comes in widths of 15 or 23 inches. If batts have backing, the backing side goes against the heated part of the house to prevent moisture buildup.

Fiberglass Blankets: These are wider than batts and need cutting for proper width.

Loose-fill insulation: This is best applied by a skilled professional and requires a machine to install it. This is also typically made of recycled materials, is a lower cost option to batts and fills even hard to reach places. Loose-fill comes in cellulose, fiberglass and rock wool.

Polyurethane spray foam: This type is best for finished attics. In a finished attic, you don't have insulation on the floor; instead, you insulate the underside of the roof. This gets applied to the rafters.

Vermiculite and perlite: This is a small pellet-like kind of insulation that is not really used anymore. It was typically used in homes built before 1950, and there are some concerns about asbestos with it. So, if you have this in your attic, do not touch the insulation. You should contact a professional and leave the handling to them.

Tip: Keep in mind, you can add loose fill on any existing insulation. However, if you add batting or blankets over loose fill, you will need to remove any backing.

R-values

Insulation is also graded by an R-value that accounts for its resistance to heat flow. There are different R-value recommendations based on different geographic climates zones, with the higher values reserved for colder climates. Georgia has three different climate zones:

  • Climate Zone 2 - South Georgia
  • Climate Zone 3 - Atlanta and Central Georgia
  • Climate Zone 4 - North Georgia

To conform to Georgia residential energy code, residents in Climate Zones 2 and 3 need to have an R-value of R-30 for attic insulation, while Climate Zone 4 needs R-38.

Do you have enough insulation?

How thick is your current insulation? For floor installations, a good rule of thumb is that you cannot easily see your floor joists. This is roughly between 10 and 14 inches in thickness. If you already have that much, you will not benefit from this type of upgrade unless your home has insulation that has become compressed or the wrong R-value installed.

Important things to remember when installing

  • Before handling insulation, you should wear protective clothing. Insulation is irritating to the skin, eyes and lungs. So, wear a long-sleeved shirt, pants, gloves, hair protection, safety glasses and a respirator.
  • Avoid a fire hazard; do not put insulation on anything that can radiate heat. This includes the chimney, lighting, degraded wiring, overloaded wiring or knob and tube wiring.
  • Do not block off attic ventilation vents as this will cause overheating and moisture issues.
  • Avoid any gaps in the insulation because it causes air to escape.
  • Do not compress insulation, because it will ruin its effectiveness; this means don't walk on it or store anything on it.

Attic fans

Interested in other energy-efficient upgrades? You might want to consider installing an attic fan. Attic fans are great for the warmer months. They work by basically drawing in cooler air from the attic vents and expelling the hotter air out. However, this will only be beneficial if you have good air seals and unblocked attic vents. An ideal attic fan will have a thermostat attachment that will cut the fan off during cooler weather, so you don't have to worry about using a manual switch. Solar attic fans are even more energy-efficient as they are self-powering. Installation will vary depending on whether you buy a solar attic fan or traditional model and the tools you have available. The difficulty will vary depending on your skill level.

When to call a professional

Often, it is best to leave the work to the professionals. Call a remodeling expert if you have concerns about your ability to do a proper attic fan or insulation install (particularly if you have wiring issues, vermiculite or Perlite insulation, or want to do a loose-fill insulation installation).

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