Every summer and winter season brings its own unique challenges each year, but trying to keep your home well insulated during the hottest or coldest months is always an annoying hurdle.

No matter what you try, there’s always a stretch of days or even weeks where you just can’t get the temperature where you want it. Having to crank your home’s AC during the summer or bundle up in blankets to combat the winter cold should never have to happen.

One of the biggest reasons why you can’t seem to control your the temperature in your home can be the attic. Attics often trap heat from the sun and transfer it into your home, or let heat generated from your air conditioning escape outside. Luckily, installing insulation in your attic allows you to reverse many of these effects.

In this article we discuss how reflective attic insulation works, their uses and benefits, and even some of the myths surrounding them to give you a comprehensive understanding of this innovative home-insulation method.

Reflective Attic Insulation

What is reflective attic insulation?

During summer months, the sun’s radiant energy heats your roof shingles, which then transfers that heat into the attic through conduction. The temperature of the attic increases, and the heat is eventually released down towards the rest of the house.

During the winter months, heat can have a similar effect but from the inside. The warmth generated from your heaters can escape in various ways, keeping your home from being as warm as it can be. This process makes your hot summer months that much hotter, and your chilly winter that much colder, driving up your air conditioning and electricity bills.

Reflective attic insulation addresses this issue by reflecting radiant heat rather than absorbing it. This system consists of highly reflective material – usually foil – that reflects heat from the sun to keep it from entering your home, while keeping heat from inside your home from exiting. They generally take the form of sheets of foil that are placed on the ground or walls of your attic.

How reflective attic insulation works

Heat travels through conduction and radiation. Heat flows by conduction from a hotter location within a material to a colder location. Radiant heat travels in a straight line away from a surface and heats anything solid that can absorb its energy.

Reflective insulation systems work by reducing radiant heat gain. When the sun heats a roof, its radiant energy makes the roof itself hot. Through conduction, the heat travels from the roofing material to the walls of an attic. The hot roof material then radiates that gained heat energy onto the cooler attic surfaces. The reflective attic insulation reduces the heat transfer from the hot roof material to the attic surfaces. Similarly, radiant heat generated from inside the home can be reflected back through the same reflective insulation material.

Benefits of reflective attic insulation

The most apparent benefit to reflective attic insulation is a cooler attic, which translates to a cooler home. Because heat isn’t getting trapped inside the attic, less heat is being transferred to the lower levels. Multi-layer reflective attic insulation can block up to 97% of radiant heat transfer, translating to an attic heat reduction of almost 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

This reduction in heat during summer months can be extremely beneficial for homeowners during the summer, where you’re already having to turn on air conditioning. By reducing radiant heat from entering through the attic, your home becomes that much cooler, and your electricity bills decline as a result.

Science dictates that heat moves up from warm areas to cold areas, so heat generated by your heating system naturally moves up toward your freezing attic. If you have reflective attic insulation installed, it transfers that heat back down and keeps the house warmer.

The reduced attic temperatures increases the efficiency of attic ductwork. This reduces cycle time and takes the pressure off your home’s heating and cooling systems, thereby prolonging their life cycles.

Myths about reflective attic insulation

There have been a number of myths about reflective insulation over the years, particularly with how the design affects the overall performance of reflective attic insulation.

Neither the color nor the reflectance (effectiveness of reflecting energy) makes any reflective attic insulation more efficient at doing its job, as the typical foil used in most systems gets the job done. And while reflective attic insulation certainly helps reduce air conditioning costs for many homes, it’s not the end-all-be-all of efficient energy design. It must be integrated as part of a larger cohesive building plan centered around energy efficiency.

Also, many think that NASA invented reflective insulation materials – they did not. But they have used it on spacesuits and spacecrafts for insulation, which speaks to the system’s effectiveness for trapping heat inside and outside of homes.

Is reflective attic insulation right for your home?

Every home is different, so the best way to determine if a reflective attic insulation makes sense for your home is through a detailed attic inspection. Aside from assessing your existing insulation systems, an attic inspection can provide a number of other insights.

Attic inspections can uncover problems in the attic, such as mold growth from poor ventilation, and energy efficiency issues due to poor air sealing and insufficient insulation. If you’re interested in getting a free attic inspection and quote for reflective attic insulation, please contact us. We’ll be happy to come out to your home and determine if our reflective insulation products make sense for you and your home.

Maintaining proper levels of attic insulation not only keeps your home cooler in the summer and warmer come wintertime, but also shaves your energy bills. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates homeowners could reduce energy costs by 10 to 50 percent with proper attic insulation. According to EnergyStar: “The attic is usually where you can find some of the largest opportunities to save energy in your home.”

Winter has passed, but the sweltering heat waves of summer have not yet arrived, making this month an excellent time to climb on up and check out your attic’s insulation situation.

When Enough is Enough

An under-insulated attic is a recipe for a drafty house and higher bills. Like any kind of home improvement project, there is a “Goldilocks Zone” for sufficient insulation – a level of “just right.”

While a “back-of-the-napkin” analysis will help any homeowner make decisions on proper insulation, nothing beats partnering with an attic professional. An energy analysis by a qualified professional can provide an actionable evaluation for your insulation needs. However, if you decide to take a look for yourself, here are a few tips to determine if your attic is under-insulated.

Know Your Material

Whether you’ve owned your home for decades or days, many homeowners rarely visit the attic and may not realize what kind of materials are being used for insulation. Older homes especially may contain insulation materials such as asbestos and Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation that have been determined to be hazardous to your health. Many modern homes are insulated with some form of fiberglass. Also, homeowners are discovering the energy-saving advantages of multi-layer reflective insulation. Attics and More uses a patented MLI called eShield. There are three types of heat flow – conductive, convective and radiation – that can cause an attic to become hot in the summer or lose heat in the winter, making it more difficult and expensive to regulate the temperature of your home. Traditional insulation does a sufficient job combating two of the most common types of heat flow, conductive and convective heat, but is ineffective against radiant – a third type of heat transfer that comes from the sun. This is where the eShield™ radiant barrier insulation comes in. This state-of-the-art attic insulation reflects 97 percent of all radiant heat transfer – a leading cause of home energy waste.

R You Ready for R-Value?

To determine if your attic is under-insulated, it’s time to “get mathy” and assess your insulation’s R-value. R-value is not a concept you slept through in calculus class. Instead, it’s the measure of your insulation’s ability to resist heat traveling through it. The higher the R-Value, the better the insulation’s thermal performance. If the insulation level sits even with or below the top of your floor joists, it’s time for more insulation. Check out our recent blog post for more tips on determining R-value (and no, this won’t be on the final exam!).

Furthermore, unlike other blown-in insulation products on the market, ours is the only one that is guaranteed to maintain its R-value level for as long as you own your home, so you can rest assured that you’re investing in a quality, effective product. Additionally, our air sealing service, which seals holes and leaks in the house, can significantly cut down on air leakage in the attic and can have an immediate impact on your monthly energy bills.

Next Up to Batt…

Batt insulation is pre-cut into flat sheets and is usually made of fiberglass or rock wool. It often includes a foil or paper facing that serves as a vapor barrier. While partnering with a professional will ensure the right material and correct quantity, you can lay down batted insulation on your own; but, please follow these guidelines (courtesy of This Old House):

  • “Wear a long-sleeve shirt, gloves, eye protection, and a dust mask.
  • Make sure you use an unfaced batt (one without a paper or foil layer), so the insulation does not trap moisture in the ceiling.
  • Lay the batts perpendicular to the joists, so they do not compress the insulation below.
  • Use cardboard or rigid-foam baffles to keep soffit vents open.
  • Fill all cracks between the living area and the attic with caulk or expanding foam.”

Blown Away

The primary alternative to batted insulation is blown insulation. In addition to our radiant barrier insulation, we also offer our own blown-in insulation and air sealing service, which together comprise “The Perfect Attic System.” The benefit of this advanced system that we’ve developed is that it is designed to combat all three types of heat transfer – where our blown-in insulation and air sealing service limit conductive and convective heat flow, our reflective foil insulation is effective against radiant heat. As a result, we’re able to offer you a level of comprehensive protection that can’t be beat.

This is commonly composed of fiberglass or cellulose, blown insulation is – as it sounds – blown into the spaces of your attic like confetti with a (you guessed it) blower. The small particles fit snugly into any space and can fill existing walls with minimal damage and to the desired depth. While it’s often the least expensive choice, the fiberglass particles can irritate the lungs, skin, and eyes. Blown insulation has also been known to cause problems with holding moisture and mold.

While going down the DIY path is doable, remember that insulation installation is a precision process. Improper addition of insulation can encourage mold growth and, if you fail to add proper ventilation, moisture can accumulate in the attic.

A qualified specialist can provide a comprehensive overview of your attic’s needs. EnergyStar recommends considering a professional if you experience:

  • “Difficult attic access and limited space to work
  • Wet or damp insulation, indicating a leaky roof
  • Moldy or rotted attic rafters or floor joists, indicating moisture problems
  • Kitchen, bathroom or clothes dryer vents that exhaust moist air directly into the attic space instead of outdoors
  • Little or no attic ventilation
  • Knob and tube wiring (pre-1930), which can be a fire hazard when in contact with insulation.”In addition to enhancements such as eShield insulation, homes may benefit from solar-powered attic ventilation systems.

Don’t Forget to Seal Those Leaks

The gaps — often difficult to locate without thorough inspection — allow for temperature-controlled indoor air to escape outside. This is the source problem behind drafts and cold spots throughout homes.

Poor sealing is a problem for all seasons. Indoor temperature control is most notably necessary during warm and hot seasons, as heated and cooled air is essential for a comfortable home environment. Even then, the effects of improper sealing are felt across the calendar, allowing for energy escape at any point.

Have to Move That Air Around

When a home is well-ventilated, temperature control efforts are more diversely spread throughout the home. This means that air conditioners and heaters don’t have to work as hard to keep designated areas the desired temperature. When appliances don’t work hard, their energy output is lowered, resulting in a tangible reduction to home energy bills over time.

While Dorothy had it right in The Wizard of Oz when she said, “There’s no place like home,” we can say with confidence that “There’s no place like a properly insulated home, Toto.” Attics and More is a phone call away to ensure your attic is properly sealed, insulated, and ventilated for the best energy savings and most comfortable environment in your home.

A home energy analysis not only saves homeowners an average of 5% to 30% on their monthly energy bills but can uncover possible unsafe conditions in insulation, attics, walls, or basements.

According to HomeAdvisor, homeowners spend between $207 and $647 for an analysis. The good news is that Attics and More will perform a complimentary home energy analysis at no cost or obligation to a homeowner.

A home energy analysis professional will analyze energy bills, inspect various parts of the home, and may use high-tech equipment such as an infrared camera. However, the most crucial part of the analysis process comes down to one thing – conversation.

The Importance Of Being Heard

A home energy analysis expert will spend a great deal of time with homeowners asking questions, making notes, and performing various “walk-and-talks” throughout the home. To maximize this vital process, all decision makers must be present during the home energy analysis.

If mishandled, home service providers can step into a public-relations nightmare when broaching this vital guideline. Worded improperly, a spouse or significant other may feel devalued, or “talked down to” if a contractor insists both homeowners be present.

“I found it incredulous that I would be treated like ‘the little woman’ who was unable to make decisions related to doing work on a home,” a dissatisfied homeowner reported to Angie’s List, when told a home-service professional wanted both spouses present during an initial consultation.

“The person I spoke to on the phone said she understood it could be offensive, but that it was their wish to visit when both husband and wife were present. I was insulted and used another builder.”

And while it may be understandable if a homeowner mistakes such a policy as a Mad Men-era throwback, there are many valid reasons both decision-makers should be present for any consultation or audit affecting the home.

Scott Siegal, president of Certified Contractors Network, told Angie’s List he advises both homeowners to be present at significant consultations.

“We found that the most dissatisfaction comes from a missed communication or an unrealized expectation on the job, and that’s usually a result of not everybody being involved in the buying process,” Siegal told Angie’s List. “It’s nobody’s fault, just a bad circumstance, such as when the husband insists that he makes all the decisions, the contractor presents something to him and the wife doesn’t like the color or style, or vice versa. It’s a whole lot easier if everybody’s on the same page.”

Siegal’s insight is exceptionally accurate when it comes to a home energy analysis. When a specialist visits a home, a major goal is to gather as much data as possible during the initial audit. Unlike a window installation, closet reorganization, or new flooring project, a home energy analysis covers the whole house from top to bottom.

Common Home Energy Assessment Questions

Having access to all decision makers allows the analyst to dig into lifestyle habits that yield more in-depth insight into how energy is deployed in the house. Questions may include:

  • Is anyone home during working hours?
  • What is the average thermostat setting throughout the seasons?
  • How many people live here? Are there times when the immediate family is present temporarily (college break)?
  • Is every room in use? How often?
  • When was X (water heater, insulation, etc.) installed?
  • What major appliances are used the most?

With so many questions, it would be surprising if one decision maker had all the answers – much less accurate ones. With all decision makers present, a specialist can be confident they are gathering the highest quality intelligence.

Creating Clearer Communication

On the flip side, the presence of all decision makers ensures the home energy analyst can handle all the questions at one time instead of creating a back-and-forth, text/e-mail chain series of questions that may create more confusion.

While the old adage “opposites attract” may not be strictly accurate, it is true that each decision maker will approach the home energy analysis process from a different perspective. Each will offer fresh insights and know things about the home the other may never consider or perceive.

In a perfect world, homeowners would possess the clear, logical communication skills of a Mr. Spock “mind-meld.” In reality, a single person could misunderstand a cost estimate or the results of the analysis, causing confusion when sharing information to his or her spouse or significant other. If this misunderstanding is passed on to the other decision maker, the entire project, from data analysis to final recommendations, can be jeopardized and never realized. In addition, the home energy analysis providers may find themselves the loser of the “blame game” when it comes to final estimates or the project’s scope.

And then, there are costs – the greater the amount of accurate information shared during the home energy analysis, the lower the costs for both the provider and the consumer. Extra and unnecessary time spent by the provider may reflect a costlier final bill down the road.

The fruits of a home energy analysis may blossom into any number of beneficial solutions – from wattage-saving solar fans to a more effective attic insulation scheme to superior draft control. The first step down this path to energy efficiency is elementary. Everyone – spouses or significant others – should be present to answer the door when the home energy analyst comes knocking.

Home energy analysis providers should find ways to educate homeowners about the importance of simply being together at the appointment – it’s not a personal thing; it’s not meant to belittle either homeowner. It’s simply the best policy for the best outcome.

Now Is The Time To Schedule Your Home Energy Analysis

Consuming less energy puts more money in your pocket and, as an added bonus, helps keep our environment cleaner. Take the leap with Attics and More and schedule your complimentary no-obligation visit with our home energy savings professional today.

When’s the last time you went into your attic? I did not give my attic much thought until I started a new job. Now I am amazed to discover how rare people go in their attics. I have talked with homeowners who have not been in their attic for 20+ years.  One new homeowner said that she purchased a home 8 months ago and has actually never been in her attic.

Here’s my attic story:

When I was a little girl, I remember seeing magic stairs pop down from the ceiling in one of my grandmother’s bedrooms in her tiny rancher. Kids who see stairs always wonder what’s on the other end. I was so small and the stairs so large that I never went beyond just looking up.

As I got older and saw those stairs descend each Christmas to bring down decorations, I would beg my mother to allow me to go up. It was always a firm “no,” and I lived with it.

After my grandmother passed away, I was at the house with my mother and my aunt. We were packing up boxes and reminiscing. I walked into the spare bedroom, where I saw the stairs to the attic had been pulled down. I was 32, and I had my own attic with pull-down stairs by that time. But the lure remained. I HAD to see what was up there. My aunt heard me step up the first three rungs and yelled out, “Don’t go up there! It’s full of asbestos!” As I am apt to do, I said okay and went up anyway, but stealthily and quickly. It was gross. “Stuff” hung from the rafters, my eyes burned, I couldn’t breathe, and it felt like I was inhaling particles.

A dirty attic with poor insulation, similar to what was in my grandmother’s home.

But I did see my Fisher-Price castle with the working castle gate. I ran and snatched it like a thief in the night. The Lincoln Logs were covered in the debris that was hanging everywhere. On the floor, I saw what polite people would not refer to as “rodent turds,” but it most assuredly was. I ran to the kitchen with my castle and washed it off while my aunt looked at me unfavorably and told me that I should not be handling something covered with asbestos. Plus, I hadn’t listened to her and went up in the first place. She was right, of course.

It ended up that my aunt had specialists come out in hazmat suits and respirators to remove the toxic material in my grandmother’s attic and had it replaced with safe insulation. The lesson that I learned is that if you don’t know what’s in your attic, it can hurt you. I also learned that if you are pigheaded enough to ignore the pleas of your aunt and mother to stay out of an attic, you can score a childhood toy, but at what cost?

I’ll end this by saying: Know what’s in your attic. If you don’t know or don’t want to know, hire a professional to do this for you. Attics and More will provide a free complimentary home energy analysis, which includes inspection of your attic and crawlspace.

As for my Fisher-Price castle? It’s now safely inside my attic. I feel content, and some redemption, knowing it’s there.

With climate patterns growing more chaotic each winter – from record lows in 2019 to record highs this year – evaluating your attic’s insulation needs has never been more important. As unpredictable seasons become “the new normal,” it’s important to prepare your home for a bumpy weather ride. 

According to EnergyStar: “The attic is usually where you can find some of the largest opportunities to save energy in your home.” Additionally, a review of your attic insulation status may also reveal the presence of dangerous materials – especially in older homes. Let’s examine the ABC’s of dangerous insulation and also determine (if our insulation is safe) how much your attic may need. 

Know the Dangers

Older homes may contain a variety of insulation materials that have been determined to be hazardous to your health. If your home has been sold in the past several years, chances are good such materials would have been discovered during an inspection. Some of the key culprits include:

Asbestos

Banned in American homes since the 1980s, asbestos can still be found in older homes. Exposure to asbestos has been linked to increased risk of mesothelioma, asbestosis, and lung cancer.

Appearance: Asbestos insulation has a flat, loose appearance and is usually gray.

What to do: Do not attempt to remove asbestos yourself! Immediately contact a professional removal firm. 

An attic in West Chester, PA with asbestos filling. 

Vermiculite

In its natural state, vermiculite is a gray/brown/silver mineral. When exposed to extreme heat, it puffs like popcorn, expanding to create an effective insulator.

On its own, vermiculite isn’t dangerous. However, vermiculite produced in the U.S. before 1990 probably came from one mine which, was later found to contain a significant asbestos deposit. If your home was built before then, it might contain vermiculite (which is often marketed under the Zonolite brand). As such, asbestos-laced vermiculite could pose the same health risks as asbestos insulation. 

Appearance: Pebble-like granules of a grayish-brown or silvery-gold color.

What to do: The EPA recommends these guidelines:  

  • “Leave vermiculite insulation undisturbed in your attic or in your walls.
  • Do not store boxes or other items in your attic if it contains vermiculite insulation.
  • Do not allow children to play in an attic with vermiculite insulation.
  • Do not attempt to remove the insulation yourself.
  • Hire a professional asbestos contractor if you plan to remodel or conduct renovations that would disturb the vermiculite in your attic or walls to make sure the material is safely handled and/or removed.”

Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation (UFFI)

As if the name didn’t sound unappealing enough, urea-formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) has been found to emit toxic formaldehyde vapors, which can cause numerous nasty health effects – especially respiratory. UFFI can mostly be found in homes older than 35-40 years. 

Appearance: Yellowish, dull foam, or loose particles. Inspectapedia notes: “Look for small amounts of soft crumbly foam insulation at tiny openings in wall cavities such as at knot-holes or gaps between siding boards … in the attic you may find the same oozing insulation shown at the top of gable end walls.”

What to do: Follow the guidelines in previous entries above. Contact an attic professional. 

How much insulation?

Once you’ve determined your insulation material is safe, your next task is to discover if you have enough to handle the ups and downs of modern climate change. 

Diagnosing insulation shortfall can be tricky. EnergyStar notes the following symptoms: 

  • “Drafty rooms
  • Hot or cold ceilings, walls, or whole rooms; uneven temperature between rooms
  • High heating or cooling bills
  • Ice dams in the winter”

If you suspect insulation issues, examine your attic floor. Is the insulation level even with or below the top of your floor joists? In either case, it’s time for more insulation. 

But what if the insulation rises above the joist level? Use a ruler to measure the depth of your insulation. From there, you can estimate what’s known as an R-value. 

Our old friend, EnergyStar, tells us: “R-Value is a measure of insulation’s ability to resist heat traveling through it. The higher the R-Value, the better the thermal performance of the insulation.” 

  • Cellulose and fiberglass insulation measure about R-3 per inch. 
  • If you live in the Southern United States, you should have at least R-38. 
  • Northern dwellers need around R-49. 
  • If your attic measures R-13 below these figures, consider adding more. 

An attic in Cherry Hill, NJ containing very old insulation. 

Before starting an installation project, make sure to check for air leaks that will require sealing. The Department of Energy offers tips on detecting air leaks and assessing ventilation needs. 

Have A Pro Inspect Your Attic

As you can see, understanding the in’s and out’s of attic insulation can quickly grow complicated. An inspection by a qualified attic professional can save time and money. 

Using a pro will save you from the nasty task of crawling around a dark, dusty space. An inspector will often uncover overlooked issues, including pest problems and undiscovered leaks. And, an inspector knows the warning signs for dangerous attic materials. 

Getting serious about the state of your attic is not only a matter of cost savings. A proper inspection can save money and – more importantly – save your health.

Here is what a properly inspected and insulated attic can look like when you go with the right professionals:

 

Contact us today to discuss how we can help you define exactly what your attic, and home, needs to be healthier.