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Reflective Attic Insulation 101 – What Is It & How Does It Work?

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.