A comfortable, energy efficient home starts at the top. Those hot spots and cold rooms may relate to problems in your attic. Beyond adding insulation, what's a homeowner to do?
Proper attic maintenance is crucial to keeping your home comfortable and dry, and with a few upgrades, it can even help slash your energy bills.
Maintaining your attic involves three components: air sealing, insulation and ventilation. When they operate as the three should, they combine to create a comfortable, energy-efficient and long-lasting living space.
In most cases, evaluating and upgrading the attic is a one-time deal, followed by the occasional visual inspection to ensure the air seal isn't compromised, insulation isn't damaged and the ventilation system is working properly.
1. Air sealing
No matter what climate you live in, sealing gaps in your attic is important. In the winter, warm air inside the home will be drawn to the cooler air outside, so you'll pay more to heat your home as the heating system compensates for continuous heat loss in the attic.
In the summer, air leaks let warm, humid air into the attic. This can lead to moisture problems, damaged insulation and higher cooling costs.
Work with a professional when sealing the unused space. Using caulk and a caulking gun, close up cracks and gaps around the windows, chimney flashing and any other utility components that extend into the area. Also seal behind attic insulation (dirty insulation often indicates a leak).
A well-insulated attic promotes energy efficiency and comfort. Uninsulated walls or ceilings let heat move through building materials. Heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer reduce your comfort. They also cause the heating and air conditioning to run longer, using more energy.
If the space is uninsulated or underinsulated, or it's been awhile since you've upgraded it, enlist the help of an insulation contractor. These professionals will evaluate the condition and efficiency of existing insulation, then make recommendations for improving it and bringing the insulation up to current code standards if needed.
While homes in warm, cold, dry or humid climates must be insulated and sealed well, the guidelines for attic and roof ventilation aren’t quite as cut-and-dried. In general, proper attic ventilation helps promote a durable, healthy space, limiting moisture troubles and discouraging problems such as ice dams.
In general, homeowners should get expert help to address attic ventilation concerns. Many aspects of the roof and attic can affect a home’s ventilation needs, including having ductwork running through the space or newer roofing materials.
Most experts advise homeowners in warm climates to use ventilation to combat high levels of moisture outside and the extreme summer heat. Ventilation expels heat and moisture, limits mold problems and keeps the temperature in the space from soaring.
In colder climates, experts most often recommend ridge and soffit vents to promote the flow of air from the roof deck to the roof peak. This lets the temperature in the space stay relatively close to the outdoor temperature, which is key to preventing ice dams and condensation problems.
The bottom line
Ensuring the proper balance of air sealing, insulation and ventilation will help your attic last a long time. It also will promote energy efficiency and let you and your family feel more comfortable in your home year-round.