The Goldilocks Approach to Attic Insulation: How to Make Your Attic 'Just Right'

Most of us recall reading "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" as children. As the tale goes, Goldilocks explored the three bears' cottage and discovered that breakfast was ready. One bowl of porridge was too hot; the other was too cold. After trying the third bowl, Goldilocks proclaimed it "just right."

Attic insulation is a lot like Goldilocks' porridge bowls. Some homeowners' attics are too hot. Others are too cold. But how do you make sure your attic insulation is just right?

Too Hot: Understand Insulation Types
When it comes to attic insulation, you may be tempted to overstuff every wall space and floor joist with pink batting and blown-in insulation. Maybe you dealt with ice dams on your roof last winter, and you suspect your hot attic is to blame.

But before you fill your attic to the brim with insulation, take a few minutes to learn about the merits of each insulation type:

  • Blanket insulation: This type of insulation is great for do-it-yourselfers who want to unroll batting and tuck it neatly in between wall studs or floor beams. Most blanket insulation is made from fiberglass, natural or plastic fibers, or even mineral slag wool. This type of insulation may not cover hard-to-reach spots.
  • Foam board insulation: Some interior walls benefit from rigid or foam board insulation. This type of plastic insulation offers good insulation properties for its relative thin profile. However, foam board insulation is more common on low-slope, unvented roofs and/or floors than in attics.
  • Reflective insulation: Made from foil and kraft paper or cardboard, reflective insulation may prevent undesirable (downward) heat flow. Most commonly, insulation experts use this method for unfinished ceilings, walls, and floors.
  • Blown-in (loose fill) insulation: Although some blown-in insulation is fiberglass, most is made from cellulose or mineral wool. Loose fill insulation works particularly well around obstructions and oddly shaped features in an attic. Installers can also blow loose fill inside existing-wall cavities for extra protection.
  • Spray foam insulation: This insulation is also sprayed into a given space, but-unlike loose fill-spray foam becomes rigid as it fills uninsulated areas. Spray foam is harder to chip away if you need access to structures underneath.

Now that you’re familiar with a few common insulation types, you’re ready to learn more about climactic factors.

Too Cold: Get a Clue from Your Climate
It doesn't come as a surprise that Denver-or Colorado generally-is cold in the winter. Homeowners who move here from warmer climates may not think about insulation a tall until they see their energy bill.

Now that you’re acquainted with insulation types, you need to understand Colorado's climate zones. Mountainous areas belong to zones even (the same zone as Alaska!) while the open plains are in zone five. The higher the number, the colder the climate, so-unsurprisingly-zones five to seven fall in the “cold climate” category.When you ask your

HVAC or energy expert about insulation, you'll probably hear about R values. These values indicate the correct insulation for each climate.

In the Rockies, a typical home may have inadequate insulation (lower R values). The reason? Most standard construction techniques don't require contractors to insulate pasta minimal R value. Also, since most contractors want to save costs, extra insulation may not be a priority. Walls, in particular, may need extra batting to bring a house up to R-40 ratings-and lower heating bills.

Just Right: Ask Your Energy Experts
So, what is the best way to ensure energy efficiency, comfortable temperatures inside your home, and a temperate (not too hot or cold) attic?

Experts generally recommend a blend of insulation types. When heat rises, it can escape through many places such as weather stripping gaps, under-caulked windows, and the attic. As to attic insulation, watch for:

  • Visible floor joists. If you can easily see floor joists in your attic, you need more insulation. The easiest solution may be extra loose-fill insulation.
  • Low spots. If certain areas are fluffy and deep while others are shallow, talk to your insulation installer about creating an even application. An expert will also know the right value for optimum protection.
  • Thin or old batting. When your installer comes to inspect your attic, ask him or her to assess your current insulation. If you have pink fiberglass batting, you may be able to put loose fill on top or underneath as a supplement. However, be sure the batting is unfaced (no foil or paper backing) if you put batting on top of loose fill.

Your insulation expert will also watch for gaps around flashing and air vents. If you have too much insulation in your attic-particularly over the soffits-your technician will adjust those areas so you can avoid moisture or indoor mold problems.

Before you know it, your home will be “just right"-in any weather. Even Goldilocks would approve.

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