News & FAQ

Importance of a Properly Insulated Attic

Nic Wanderscheid Home Performance Manager

A properly insulated attic is a key portion of maintaining energy efficiency in your home, regardless of whether it’s cold or hot outside. A properly insulated home helps reduce climate control costs and the attic is no small part of that. Improperly insulated attics are a major source of heat loss during the winter and will cause your home to overheat during the summer.

If you’re looking to improve the efficiency of your furnace during the winter, you really can’t go wrong with checking to make sure your attic is properly insulated. It costs nothing to check and it reduces your fuel and electrical costs.

Poor Ceiling Insulation

Your attic is insulated on all sides that meet the conditioned areas of your home. The floor (your ceiling), Cathedral ceilings and even some interior walls that may be part of your roof system are all insulated. Your attic should be hot in the summer and cold in the winter. Ideally, the attic temperature is the same as the outdoor temperature year-round. You want as little heat energy as possible escaping into your attic. This means that any recessed lights, pipes and bathroom vents need to be sealed as well, or they need to be designed to work with the surrounding insulation. If you have ductwork or heating and cooling systems in your attic, your ventilation system needs to be leak-proof so it isn’t heating or cooling your attic.

Proper sealing and insulation do two things for you in the winter. First, it decreases the amount of energy you need to heat your home since it isn’t trying to warm up extra space that isn’t being lived in. Second, it prevents ice dams from forming.

Ice dams are solid runs of ice along the edge of your roof. Rather than hanging off the edge like icicles, ice dams build as a solid chunk on top of your roof. Ice dams form when heat from your attic melts the snow from your roof and allows it to slide down to the edge where it begins to refreeze. As it freezes, an ice dam forms, creating a blockage that traps even more water on the edge of your roof. These dams are can be very dangerous if they suddenly break loose. Ice Dams are one of the main reasons for roof damage every year as well.

Damage From Ice Dams

  • Water seepage into attic
  • Roof shingle & tile damage
  • Bodily harm from falling ice
  • Mold growth from moisture leaking into the attic area
  • Reduced insulation value from compacted insulation

If your attic is unnaturally warm during the winter, or you see ice dams forming along the edges of your roof, then it’s time to make sure that your attic is properly insulated and sealed off from your home. While the Department of Energy website has a good guide to attic insulation and how much is needed for your home, there’s a simple rule of thumb you can follow for a quick check: If you can see light from the room below, or the ceiling joists (the ribbed beams running along the floor of your attic) are more than an inch higher than the insulation level, it’s time for new insulation.

If you’re interested in installing new insulation yourself, DIY Network has a great guide to get you started on installing new insulation. But if your insulation is fine, you might have a leak in your ductwork or air moving from your home into the attic from somewhere. It’s best to call a licensed technician to find the leak and repair it. You’ll be certain it was done properly and you’ll benefit from the increased efficiency of your system!

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