Over your head
If you’re not there already, go to the top floor of your home and look up. What do you see? A drywall ceiling, HVAC ducts, light fixtures, an attic access door? If your home is like most, an unconditioned attic is on the other side of that ceiling.
Ask yourself this question, this January, what will the temperature be like up there? Without realizing it, you could be losing more than 30% of the heat in your home through your ceiling.
When looking for ways to make improvements, first consider light fixtures, and in particular, recessed can lights. Can lights, especially those manufactured before 2004, have plenty of holes and gaps to allow conditioned air from the living space to escape into the attic. Because these fixtures traditionally use hot, incandescent bulbs and protrude up, they should not be covered with insulation without first installing a cover with an airtight barrier.
While you may choose to make covers yourself out of sheet metal or lumber, most home improvement stores offer air-tight can light covers make of a fire-retardant material that are designed specifically for this purpose. Once the cover is ready for installation, apply spray foam insulation to seal air leakages and secure it in place. Ceiling penetrations for other light fixtures or ceiling fans may also leak air from your conditioned space and should be sealed in a similar manner.
If you saw a register, grille or air diffuser when looking up, you have ductwork running through your attic.
Is it insulated? Un-insulated ductwork running through unconditioned spaces can lose as much as 40 percent of a heating or cooling system’s energy. Special insulation designed for ductwork with at least an R-6 insulation rating and a vapor barrier is also available at home improvement stores.
This is especially important with ducts used for air conditioning, properly insulated ducts are necessary for more than energy efficiency. During the summer, cool air passing through metal ducts in warm attics can cause condensation on ductwork, and dripping will occur. This can lead to mold growth and safety issues. Un-insulated ducts are also at risk of becoming rusted and leaking conditioned air.
How about an attic access door or panel? If you have stairs or a ladder mounted above, install a molded insulation cover above the access door.
If you have a simple door or panel, you can easily insulate yourself with rigid-foam insulation panels and construction adhesive. Finally, install weather stripping to reduce air leakage around the perimeter of the door or hatch.
Now, for the big one, consider your attic insulation. Due to temperature, compression, aging and moisture accumulation, some insulations lose their R-value over time. The Department of Energy recommends Nebraska homes have an R38 insulation value or better.
Insulation batts and blankets are made of fiberglass and are most commonly used in unconfined areas, like unfinished attics. Batts and blankets often have an R-value of 2.9 to 4.0 per inch of thickness. Blown in loose fill insulation is commonly made of cellulose, fiberglass, perlite or vermiculite.
It can be easily blown or spread into areas needing more insulation. Loose fill insulation usually has an R-value of 2.2 to 3.8 per inch of thickness. If you don’t have at least one foot of either of these insulation types, you probably have an energy efficiency improvement opportunity.
Hopefully some of this information will be of use to you if you are looking for ways to improve your homes efficiency.