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How to Properly Add New Insulation Over Existing Insulation

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.

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Prep Your Home for the Dog Days of Summer

The face of summer 2020 will undoubtedly be changed by the COVID-19 pandemic for most Americans. However, one thing won’t be affected – those scorching “dog days.”* And with climate change rampant, we can expect the annual average temperatures across the U.S. to continue the same increase we’ve observed over the last century. 

According to the Farmer’s Almanac

“For a large part of the United States, this summer is likely to be a scorcher! June will set the tone for the season, with above-normal temperatures in the northeastern quarter of the United States, the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska.” 

“Heat will come in spurts in the first half of the summer season,” AccuWeather meteorologist Paul Pastelok adds. “But, as we get into July, it will start to dry out a little, and I think that’s when we’ll start to see the heat peak, with temperatures climbing into the 90s.” 

For homeowners, thoughts turn to AC units when it comes to keeping the home cool across such heat waves. However, the key to keeping cool this summer is actually right over your head. That’s right – although we often think of attic insulation as the gatekeeper when it comes to retaining warm air and keeping out freezing assaults, a properly sealed and insulated space plays a vital role in staying cool.  

Maintaining the proper level of insulation keeps sweltering, humid air from creeping inside. “The way thermodynamics work is heat flows from a hotter place to a cooler place,” Lauren Urbanek, a senior program advocate with the Center for Energy Efficiency Standards, Climate & Clean Energy Program, said in an NBC interview. “Not having insulation means heat is seeping into your house and your air conditioner is having to work a lot harder.” 

Multi-layer, reflective insulation can both stop heat transfer and resist it, curtailing radiant heat from entering your home during the summer and exiting during the winter. 

As we’ve noted before, if you suspect insulation issues, the first step is to examine your attic floor. Is the insulation level even with or below the top of your floor joists? Use a ruler to measure the depth of your insulation. You can then estimate what’s known as an R-value.  

From there, it’s often helpful to schedule an attic audit from an energy-savings professional. A home-energy analysis can save homeowners an average of 5 to 30% on monthly energy bills and can also uncover possible unsafe conditions in insulation, attics, walls or basements. 

Finally, a major, doggone culprit when it comes to letting those sweltering canines inside could be a lack of proper sealing. Hidden leaks in your home can account for significant air loss.  

As the U.S. Department of Energy notes: “Air leakage occurs when outside air enters and conditioned air leaves your house uncontrollably through cracks and openings. When it’s warmer and less windy, not enough air may enter, resulting in poor indoor air quality. Air leakage also contributes to moisture problems that can affect occupants’ health and the structure’s durability.” 

Strategies for plugging up air leaks across your home include: 

  • Caulking and weatherstripping leaking doors and windows that leak air 
  • Caulking and sealing air leaks near where plumbing, ducting, or electrical wiring travel through walls, floors or ceilings. 
  • Installing foam gaskets behind outlet and switch plates on walls. 
  • Inspecting dirty spots in your insulation for air leaks and mold (sealing leaks with low-expansion spray foam and installing house flashing may be needed). 
  • Locating soiled spots on ceiling paint or carpet (possibly indicating air leaks at interior wall/ceiling joints and wall/floor joists). 
  • Covering single-pane windows with storm windows. 
  • Installing more efficient double-pane low-emissivity windows.  
  • Injecting foam sealant on gaps around windows, baseboards and other leakage sources. 
  • Covering the kitchen exhaust fan to prevent air leaks when not in use. 
  • Replace inefficient door bottoms and thresholds with models that offer pliable sealing gaskets. 
  • Sealing leaks around fireplace chimneys, furnaces and gas-fired water heater vents with fire-resistant materials such as sheet metal or sheetrock and furnace cement caulk. 

In addition, your home could also benefit from solar-powered attic ventilation systems that not only improve comfort across all season but also protect your roof. During the dog days of summer, an attic can reach temperatures of 160°F or more. Solar-powered attic fans expel hot air, returning the attic’s space closer to the outside ambient temperature.  

As implied by the name, the fans operate entirely off solar energy, pulling the outside air in through existing static and soffit vents. By pulling from this external air source, the attic fan will extract the hot, humid air up through the fan and create a constant exchange of air in the attic. 

Contact us today to discuss how we can help shape up your attic for the coming “Dog Days Daze.” 

* Wondering why we call them the Dog Days of Summer? You may have heard of Sirius (the star, not the satellite-radio company). Dubbed the “Dog Star” by the ancient Greeks, the word Sirius means “searing” or “scorching” – a reference to its brightness in the night sky. During the hottest months of summer, Sirius is one of the most prominent stars in the sky – hence, dog days.  

The Greek poet Homer, writing in The Iliad, was no fan of these dog days either:  

Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky 

On summer nights, star of stars, 

Orion’s Dog they call it, brightest 

Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat 

And fevers to suffering humanity. 

 We wonder if a well-insulated and sealed attic may have changed Homer’s mind? Don’t wait for the melting heat to hit. Contact us as Attics and More and let us show you how we can help keep your home cool and your air conditioner working at maximum efficiency. 

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Steps to a More Energy Efficient Home

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we commemorate the recent 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we can look back as a society and witness some solid victories in our quest for greater energy efficiency.

According to the Energy Efficiency Impact Report, investments in energy efficiency have significantly reduced spending on energy expenses over the past few decades.

The report notes:
“Without the energy efficiency investments made since 1980, energy consumption and emissions would have been 60 percent higher, and consumers would be paying nearly $800 billion more per year in energy costs. Efficiency’s benefits go beyond energy and cost savings, including a cleaner environment and improved public health.”

Within the average home, steps to energy efficiency can take many forms – from baby steps like switching to energy-efficient lighting to bigger steps such as sealing and insulating your attic. Of course, the bigger the step, the larger the savings.

Over the past two months of our shared “stuck-at-home” experience, it’s never been easier to take a look around our homes to see what steps can be taken to keep our nation on track for even greater savings and efficiency.

Take the LED
One of the simplest steps on the savings path is the replacement of inefficient lighting. From floor lamps to track lighting, your house should shine using LED technology. A light-emitting diode uses a semiconductor to convert electricity into light.

LEDs use heat sinks to absorb the heat produced by illumination. The heat sink dissipates the heat into the surrounding environment, keeping the light from overheating and burning out.
Energy Star-certified LED bulbs last 15 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Brightness is measured in lumens (light output) rather than watts (energy consumed). LED bulbs tend to be 6-7 times more energy-efficient than older incandescent bulbs. Studies show they may cut energy use by more than 80 percent. Taking a walk through your house to identify and replace inefficient lighting can save money down the road. They will cost more upfront, but the savings are well worth it.

According to a 2017 analysis by the Consumer Federation of America:
“Assuming an average $55 difference between the ten-year costs of LED bulbs and incandescent/halogen bulbs, a family may well save more than $1,000 by using LEDs during a ten-year period.”

“By using LED light bulbs, consumers not only save money, they also curb electricity use, potentially reducing the need for expensive new power plants,” said Mel Hall-Crawford, CFA’s Director of Energy Programs. “LED bulbs are a win-win-win for consumers, electric utilities, and the environment,” she added.

Tanks for the Savings
A “slightly-larger-than-baby” step you can take is to review the state of your water heater.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy: “Water heating accounts for about 18 percent of your home’s energy use. Reducing your hot water use, employing energy-saving strategies, and choosing an energy-efficient water heater for your home pool can help you reduce your monthly water heating bills.”
How old is your heater? If your water heater is more than ten years old, you may risk leaks or flooding. By upgrading to an EnergyStar-certified water heater, a family of four could save an estimated $3,500 over the appliance’s lifetime by heating water with a highly efficient heat pump. Also, many homeowners are going tankless. A tankless water heater – which heats water only when needed – can save a family of four more than $1,500 over its lifetime.
If you’re not ready to replace the whole water heater, you can realize baby-step savings by turning your water heater down. Most water-heater manufacturers set thermostats at 140⁰F by default. However, most houses will do just fine with the thermostat set to 120⁰F. Caution: Always shut off the electricity to the water heater before opening the heater’s panels to adjust the thermostat.

Energy Savings Above Your Head
What’s going on above your ceiling? If you rarely enter your attic (maybe to see if your prom dress still fits or if those old comic books are worth anything), you may be hemorrhaging dollars and cents if your attic space is drafty or improperly sealed.
You will often find some of your home’s most significant air leaks in the attic. This means higher energy bills and an inefficient home overall with hotter summers and icier winters.
If you’re ready to take an even larger and more cost-effective step in creating a super-efficient attic, now is the time to contact Attics and More for a complimentary home energy analysis by our qualified attic professional. We will make sure the attic is getting proper ventilation with natural airflow that keeps the roof deck cool and dry. This has the added benefit of extending the life of shingles and stopping ice dams. Finally, we can insulate your attic’s entry hatch using our Attic Gator. The Department of Energy offers tips on detecting air leaks and assessing ventilation needs.
While we are auditing your attic for leaks and ventilation issues, now would be a perfect time also to analyze your insulation needs. And, many homes can benefit from solar-powered attic ventilation systems. Attics and More utilizes solar power fans that have a lifetime warranty, can withstand hurricane force winds of 150 mph, and will work nonstop from sun-up to sundown. The necessary three actions we always reiterate for the most energy-efficient home are to seal, insulate, and ventilate.
For more steps you can take towards a more energy-efficient home (from baby to big kid), check out this exhaustive guide by the U.S. Department of Energy. Whether you decide to change a few light bulbs or launch an attic-renovation project, as Confucius said, “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” Now is the time to stop and see what Attics and More can do for you with our safe green products and our flexible financing.

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How Climate Change Affects Home Energy Use

According to broad scientific consensus, annual average temperatures across the U.S. have increased over the last century with the trend expected to continue.

A report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) notes:

“Extreme high temperatures are projected to increase even more than average temperatures. Heat waves are projected to become more intense and cold waves less intense. The number of days above 90°F is projected to rise while the number of days below freezing is projected to decline.”

And as the world experiences more extreme climate changes – notably warmer temperatures – energy consumption and costs will increase as well.

An EPA study reveals:

“If the nation’s climate warms by 1.8°F, the demand for energy used for cooling is expected to increase by about 5-20%, while the demand for energy used for heating is expected to decrease by about 3-15%.

Net expenditure in annual heating and cooling could increase by 10% ($26 billion in 1990 dollars) with a 4.5°F warming by the end of the century, and by 22% ($57 billion in 1990 dollars) with a warming of 9.0°F.”

And, while efforts to mitigate the damaging effects of climate change continue in some nations, homeowners will bear the brunt of increased energy costs for at least the next decade.

The EPA suggests homeowners can battle climate-change increased energy demand by reducing air leaks and drafts, primarily by sealing their home’s building envelope. [A building envelope is the physical separator between the conditioned and unconditioned environment of a building including the resistance to air, water, heat,[1] light, and noise[2] transfer.] The agency also notes that adding  insulation to attics can “save up to 20% on heating and cooling costs and significantly enhance home comfort with comprehensive sealing and insulating measures.”

Roughly 90 percent of existing homes are considered under-insulated, according to a 2009 survey. “If all U.S. homes were fitted with insulation based on the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), residential electricity use nationwide would drop by about 5 percent and natural gas use by more than 10 percent,” Jonathan Levy, professor of environmental health at Boston University and lead researcher, said.

Home energy-analysis experts agree that homeowners should pay attention to the mantra “Seal, Insulate and Ventilate” when it comes to optimizing energy savings. However, some homeowners think they can only pay attention to one or two of these methods. Neglecting any one area of energy loss is like suddenly finding three holes in a boat while on the high seas. The question would never be: “Which hole should we plug first?” Plug them all at once, Captain! The great news is that Attics and More offers affordable financing with great ease of confidential application right from our website.

SmarterHouse.org points out that hidden air leaks in your home can account for significant heat loss: “In the average home, small openings in the outer shell of a house account for almost 30% of total heat lost.”

In addition to enhanced energy efficiency, proper sealing reduces the amount of drafts, noise, and moisture inside a home and will equalize temperature differences in rooms. Ventilation goes hand-in-hand with sealing techniques. The Department of Energy notes: “Ventilation for cooling is the least expensive and most energy-efficient way to cool buildings. Ventilation works best when combined with techniques to avoid heat buildup in your home.”

As noted above, nine out of 10 American homes are underinsulated. Heat loss due to insulation issues in walls, roofs, and flooring combined can account for 45% of total house loss.

An energy audit of a home’s insulation can not only discover energy savings but also uncover dangers from unsafe material.  Also, some energy providers may offer rebates for a professional home energy assessment and air sealing and insulation projects. A qualified specialist will begin such an audit with an attic inspection. EnergyStar recommends considering a professional attic-insulation inspector if a homeowner experiences:

  • “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.

Climate change is real science, and it’s really happening. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you create an energy strategy for climate change on a complimentary basis.

 

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Attic Insulation: What You Need, What to Avoid

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.