Winter’s around the corner, and you’ve done everything you can to weatherize your home. You’ve weather-stripped and reinforced your windows, blocked extra air gaps around electrical sockets, and even put some extra shrink-wrap reinforcement over some draft areas in the house. But if you have a leaky, uninsulated attic, you might not be as ready for the cold months are you think. Attics are one of the primary causes of drafts and leaks in older houses, leading to a drastic decrease in energy efficiency despite homeowners’ best attempts at keeping airflow out. That’s why it’s so important to not only insulate your attic but to do it the right way. If you’re thinking about prepping your home for winter, here are some things to know about attic insulation.
Insulation Doesn’t Necessary Block Drafts
When homeowners think about attic and crawl space insulation, they might imagine that a layer of fiberglass is enough to keep all the drafts out and increase heat stability. Sadly, that’s not the entire truth. Don’t make the mistake of assuming that insulating your attic cuts off all drafts instantly. Like any other part of the home, you’ll have to go through and check for leaks first. Insulation creates a buffer between empty, airy pockets of space in your walls and the inside of the home. This buffer is able to keep heat inside a space for longer. However, it doesn’t actually stop air from freely moving in and out of the space. That means that insulation without the proper weatherstripping simply isn’t energy efficient. If you’re going to insulate your attic, you’re going to need to start by making sure every hole is sealed up tight before you end up doing a whole lot of work for nothing.
You’re Going to Have to Seal Everything First
Think of your attic as a smaller version of the rest of your home. You wouldn’t go around just insulating windows and not weatherstripping them. The same goes for your attic space. Use silicone caulking to seal everything off before installing insulation material. That way, your insulation will actually be able to do its job by slowing down heat transfer inside of a fully sealed-off, energy efficient space. It also helps to seal off other drafty areas of your home, such as your basement, in order to have more control over your home’s airflow in general.
You Might Need a Vapor Barrier
Insulation isn’t just about keeping cold or warm air out of your home, though that’s certainly a benefit. It’s also about protecting your home from unwanted moisture buildup that could create serious long-term damage if left untended. For especially leaky attics, a vapor barrier is sometimes necessary in order to keep moisture from building up inside the attic walls. This is a liner material, usually plastic or rubber that diffuses water vapor and keeps your attic dry. If your home doesn’t already have these installed, you’ll have your work cut out for you. However, if you live in a warmer, drier climate, a vapor barrier might not be necessary. Ask a professional at a hardware store before shelling out the extra expense just to make sure.
There are a Ton of Materials to Choose From
Different insulation materials work better in different climates, and what you choose is totally up to you. However, to make the best possible decision, you should know what’s on offer. From used denim to fiberglass to wood to cellulose, there are tons of ways you can create a more energy-efficient attic ceiling. Older homes generally tend to be insulated with materials like wood, which, in addition to being highly flammable, carry a relatively low-efficiency value. For modern homes, fiberglass and cellulose are generally considered the best bet. These options both use recycled materials to line the walls of the attic with a dense material that won’t move within the structure and create unwanted air pockets. They also offer the highest R-value, making them the most energy-efficient options.
Choose a High R-Value for Greater Efficiency
The R-value of your insulation material will give you a sense of how energy efficient your choice of insulation is. The recommended R-value for attic insulation ranges from about R-38 to R-60, with the higher value being the most efficient. However, certain higher R-value materials, such as fiberglass, require more layers than thicker materials like foam. If you’re trying to find the most efficient choice for the best cost, try to factor in the price of each layer of material, along with the estimated yearly energy bill savings.