Anyone who knows me, knows that I get cold very easily, but when I realized I needed a parka to work in our home office I knew there was a real problem. Pat climbed into our attic to have a look, and sure enough there was no insulation right above that room. It had been moved around, torn up, and eaten buy squirrels over the sixty years since the home was built. After some research, we realized this was a issue, not only from a comfort perspective but also from a cost and health perspective too.
Heating and cooling are the biggest chunk of an average home’s energy costs (think 50-70%). Insulation helps to keep costs down by creating a thermal barrier between the temperature outside and the temperature you want it to be inside. It is measured in R-value, which is the measurement of thermal resistance. The higher the R-value, the more resistant the insulation is to the conduction of heat. We chose to get enough to reach an R-value of 38 for our attic, which was the recommended amount.
Adding Insulation vs. Removing and Replacing
We weighed the options of adding to our existing insulation versus removing and replacing it. Asbestos can be found in the paper backing of old batt insulation (comes in rolls), so for piece of mind we enlisted the services of an abatement professional to come test ours. While he was up there he also looked for Vermiculite, a lightweight insulating material that looks like small rocks with shiny flecks. It’s a common form of asbestos that was used in pre-1990’s homes. Luckily, we did not have any form of asbestos in our attic.
However, there were other important factors to consider. In the previous months we did some repairs for rodent infiltration and water damage in our gutters and soffits, which made us leery about the safety of the existing insulation. We were worried about mold growth and rodent feces. We came to the conclusion that our insulation was in poor condition, and it would be the safest bet to remove it and start from scratch.
DIY or Find a Pro?
There were several reasons we decided not to tackle this project ourselves…
- This would be a messy job. Judging from a cursory glance at our dusty attic and knowledge of our prior squirrel issue, we could only imagine what delights awaited us should we have waded knee-deep into sixty year old insulation.
- The get-up is uncomfortable. It’s recommended that you suit-up, head to toe, with long sleeves and pants, protective eye covering and face mask to take on this task due to the handling of materials containing fiberglass. This isn’t a project to take on in the middle of summer. However, even in the dead of winter, the idea of hunching over all day in the confines of our attic while trying to avoid falling through the ceiling isn’t the most appealing activity.
- We love free money! By choosing a particiapting professional we could take advantage of Georgia Power’s Home Energy Rebate program. The program consists of the contractor measuring the before and after R-value of insulation. They filled out the form and it submitted to our electric company. A few weeks later we got a check in the mail for $300!
- The DIY route didn’t save us much. In short, we thought that the job wouldn’t amount to much in savings. We got a quote from a company we were using to have some HVAC work done, and were surprised at how reasonable it was. When we priced the same insulation and rental of a blower device through a big box store, plus contractor bags for disposal, protective clothing, and dumping fees, there wasn’t too big of a gap between the professional quote and the cost do it ourselves. In this case, I think we both had a huge sigh of relief that we could justify the cost of a contractor.
Types of Insulation
We many common types of insulation products for our attic:
Batt insulation comes in long rolled sheets. It’s great for fitting in between standard size studs.
Spray foam insulation creates a great air barrier in one step (other insulation types don’t fill air gaps as well). We found this method to be far too costly.
Blown-in insulation is what we ultimately chose for our attic, due to the ease of installation and the price offered by our contractor. It’s particularly good for irregular shaped openings between ceiling joists.
The most important step in insulating is air sealing, as demonstrated in this tutorial. Air sealing further prevents the flow of air from the main part of the house into the attic. Access points like openings from electrical wires, return ducts, and electrical fixtures. The use of caulk and expandable foam helps seal up any air. Creating an air tight barrier around electric fixtures can require extra care depending on the type. We used a Recessed Light Tent to seal up our lighting. We also used an Attic Tent to seal the air around our pull-down attic door.
This is probably hands down the least glamorous home improvement project we’ve tackled, but it greatly improved the way we live in our home. I can now wear seasonally appropriate attire to work in our home office. Additionally, we’ve seen some savings in our monthly electric bills, which has been very nice.
Do you have any stories from doing the insulation in your attic? What did you use and how’d it go?