The Real Monster in Your House Skulks in Your Attic

What’s scarier than a monster in the house? How about shivering in your living room while your heat escapes through the attic?

If you’re too cold in winter and too hot in summer, you may be thinking about replacing your heating and air conditioning system. But the true culprit could be something completely different: a vampire in the attic that sucks the heat out of your house and leaves your blood cold.

Depending on your climate and your home’s construction, you could be losing 30 percent to 40 percent of the heat from your home through the attic. Another chilly fact: Your air conditioning is impacted the same way by summer’s heat.

And you thought bats in the attic were scary? Not only do you waste energy with an unconditioned and improperly insulated attic, you’re also wasting your money. The EPA estimates that you can save an average of 15% on your heating and cooling bills if you insulate your attic. If your attic entirely lacks insulation, you could save as much as 50% on your heating and cooling bills by making some upgrades.

The steps you can take to fight off the monster in your attic depend on your location and the architecture of your home.

What’s In Your Attic?

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To combat the vampire stealing your home’s energy, you need to know whether your attic has unconditioned or conditioned air. You’ll know immediately that you have an unconditioned attic if you step into the space on a summer day and it feels like the fires of hell–or if you venture there in winter and it feels like the abominable snowman’s dungeon.

Not only do extreme temperatures let you know the space doesn’t have heat or air conditioning, but they could also mean you don’t have enough insulation in the space to help moderate your air.

“Signs that your home is under-insulated include the formation of ice dams along your roofline in the winter, trouble heating or cooling the second floor of a two-story home or increasingly expensive electricity bills to heat or cool your home,” says Bailey Carson, a home care expert at Angi , a home services platform.

Upgrading your insulation is one part of the process to improve your home’s efficiency, your indoor air quality and the safety of your family and home.

No Bats In the Attic – Just Insulation

To determine the right amount of insulation for your home, Carson suggests doing an energy audit to determine whether your home is as energy efficient as possible or if it could use extra insulation to improve its ability to regulate the indoor temperature.

The type of insulation you choose depends on your climate and whether you live in an area prone to wildfires or close to other homes where fire could easily spread from one structure to the next. In communities where fire is a risk, you can look into fireproof insulation from Rockwool . Rockwool’s stone wool insulation is non-combustible and can resist temperatures up to 1,800 degrees, which means it can help contain a fire and prevent it from spreading.

In addition to choosing insulation material, you need to determine the appropriate R-value, which refers to how well the insulation prevents heat from flowing into or out of your home. A higher R-value indicates a greater level of insulation.

Interested in more content like this? Click here to subscribe to the myPlace enewsletter!The Department of Energy divides the United States into climate zones to make recommendations for minimum insulation requirements, says Eran Drori, founder of Insulation Labs in Van Nuys, Calif.

“Building codes between cities, states and local jurisdictions may dictate something else other than the DOE's recommendations,” says Drori. “Traditionally, the local planning, building and safety departments will require higher R-values. My suggestion is to always go with the next tier above what the local authority requires. For example, if the minimum requirement is R-30, install R-38.”

That Ghostly Sound Could Be the Air Whistling Through Your Attic

While it may seem smart to insulate your attic completely and keep your heat and air conditioning inside, every house also needs good air flow for healthier indoor air quality and to protect your property. In cold climates, the heated air in your home will rise to the attic level and get trapped there. Warm air in winter can melt snow on the roof that refreezes at night and lead to ice dams, leaks and roof damage. In the summer, warm humid air can also get trapped in the attic which may increase your cooling costs and damage your roof shingles.

To avoid creating an attic hospitable to creepy crawly things, you need ventilation.

Ultimately, the right combination of roof vents will depend on a few factors including your climate as well as the style and material of your roof,” says Carson. “Solar fans and box roof vents, for example, are more commonly used for lower pitched roofs, while roof ridge vents are often a better fit for steeper pitched roofs.”

You’ll also want to consider the cost and effectiveness of ridge vents and turbines, which Carson says are both common choices for attic ventilation.

“Ridge vents provide better passive venting than other roof vents and blend in with the rest of the roof,” says Carson. “Turbines, on the other hand, actively use wind energy to move warm air up and out of the attic space. They’re not so easy to disguise, but two or three turbines will provide better attic ventilation, especially if you’re in an area with sufficient wind to power them. Adding a few turbines will also likely be less expensive than installing a ridge vent, since the latter spans the full length of the roof.”

More isn’t always better, though, when it comes to ventilation systems for your attic. Carson says it’s counterproductive to combine ridge vents and turbines.

Having both will disrupt your attic’s airflow,” Carson says. “If you opt for a ridge vent, you should plan to seal up any existing gable vents to avoid the same issue. However, combining ridge vents with multiple small soffit vents can be extremely effective for moving warm air up and out of your attic.”

Natural ventilation occurs when the intake or eave vents on the lower part of the roof allow lower temperature air to enter the attic and vents on the top of the roof allow hot air to exit the space, explains Drori.

“To increase the circulation of air in the attic, and therefore lower the attic temperature faster and more efficiently, it’s recommended to install a mechanical attic fan to draw higher temperature air from within the attic and push it outside,” says Drori. “Doing so will force lower temperature air to flow into the attic and lower the overall temperature inside the attic.”

Stopping Fire Embers Before They Jump Into Your Attic

One more thing to think about when it comes to attic insulation and ventilation: reducing fire risks. Whether they come from wildfire or from a house fire on a neighboring property, embers can quickly spark a fire unless steps are taken to lower the chances that they get into your attic. Installing fire-resistant insulation such as Rockwool’s stone wool insulation can also reduce the chances of a fire spreading.

“To decrease the chances of embers flying into the attic, it’s recommended to install 1/8-inch or 1/16-inch corrosion-resistant noncombustible wire mesh on any roof vent opening and other roof penetrations into the attic,” says Drori. “The standard 1/4-inch wire mesh installed on most roof and eave vents is ineffective in stopping embers.”

Drori says that the combination of the small-sized wire mesh on the roof openings and a power gable vent that pushes air out instead of drawing it into the attic provide attic ventilation and fire prevention benefits.

While you may have a tougher time conquering your fears of monsters and vampires, tackling your attic insulation and ventilation project can bring you some peace of mind.


Publisher’s Note: This content is made possible by our Today’s Home Buyer Campaign Sponsors: Panasonic, Whirlpool, Rockwool, and Lee Industries. These companies take sustainability seriously, in both their products and their operations. Learn more about building and buying homes that are more affordable and less resource-intensive on Today's Home Buyer.

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