If you feel that your home heating and cooling costs are going through the roof, it could be that your attic needs to be better insulated. Proper attic insulation can make your home more cost- and energy-efficient by keeping warm and cool air where it needs to be so it’s warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
About Attic Insulation
Attic space is usually insulated by using one or a combination of three different types of insulation. Whichever ones you use depends on the particulars of your space, such as existing insulation, if any, or the type of access you have to install the insulation, among other factors. The three types are:
- Batts and Rolls Insulation – These are pre-sized lengths, or rolls of fiberglass “wool” often referred to as “blanket” insulation, designed to fit between framing studs, or in the case of an attic, the top floor ceiling joists. Batts are pre-cut and sized for particular uses, while rolls provide more material to work with and cover more space. Both can be cut to fit the exact dimensions needed. Rolls are ideal for most attic insulation projects.
- Loose Fill or Blown-in Insulation – This type of insulation is usually made of recycled paper or another source of cellulose and blown in place using a machine. It is ideal for cavities and spaces that are hard to reach. It can be installed over existing blanket insulation if need be.
- Polyurethane Spray Foam Insulation – This expanding foam is sprayed into place, and is great for filling small crevices and holes. It molds to surfaces and sets quickly. It is excellent at blocking moisture. It usually has a higher R-value than batts/rolls and blown-in insulation and forms an air barrier, often reducing the need for additional weatherizing, such as applying vapor barriers or sealing with caulk.
As with the rest of the insulation throughout your home, R-value is the important indicator of how well the insulation will perform, so take special note of it. Different regions need insulation with a higher R-value than others—the Northeast, compared to the Southwest, for example. For all regions though, insulation’s required R-value usually will be anywhere from R-30 to R-60. In most applications, a general benchmark for adequate insulation is around R-38. The R-value you need will also depend on whether you already have existing attic insulation or not. If you’re not sure about exactly what you need, ask an employee at your local True Value hardware store for advice.
A quick and easy way to see if you need more insulation is to take a trip to your attic and look at its “floor.” If your existing insulation doesn’t cover the joists completely, you probably should add insulation.
Before you add any insulation, stop and plan out your project. Determine where in the attic you need to add insulation and how much additional R-value you need from your new insulation, if you’re adding to existing insulation. To find out how much more R-value you need, examine your existing insulation. If you can determine its R-value, subtract it from, say, 38 (as in R-38), to determine how much more R-value you need. Next, decide on the type of insulation that best suits your needs. In most cases, adding blanket insulation is the most user-friendly type for a DIYer. Lastly, calculate by square feet how much insulation you need to buy. Rolls and batts usually come in 16″ or 24″ widths to fit between joists. Either can be cut to fit in the space between joists, using a utility knife. The amount of insulation you buy will be determined by the length of the batts or rolls and how much attic space you need to insulate.
Blown-in insulation is fairly easy to install but requires specific equipment for the job. In most cases, it is added in new builds by contractors. As they have ready access to the required equipment to install it, consider hiring a professional if you want to add this type of insulation to your attic.
Remember to seal all air leaks throughout your home before adding insulation in your attic. This makes it easier to find any leaks in the attic and helps overall with your home’s efficiency. Polyurethane spray foam sealant is ideal for sealing air leaks and creating a vapor/moisture barrier.
Step 1: Apply Vapor Barrier (optional)
Apply a vapor barrier to all new insulation first. This is installed between the joists before installing batts, rolled or blow-in insulation. This barrier is important because it keeps moisture away from the insulation and keeps water vapor from passing through. The barrier is usually created with plastic sheeting, cut to fit within the joists and added before the insulation. You will most likely add to your existing insulation and the original barrier will be sufficient.
Faced insulation batts also provide a vapor barrier along with insulation. The facing material must be installed “down”, as in it “faces” the attic floor. Facing is attached to joists and studs using a staple gun. Unfaced batts and rolls should be used when a vapor barrier already exists or you are simply adding to existing insulation. You do not want or need more than one vapor barrier.
Remember to always check your local building codes to ensure you will be installing insulation to match regulations.
Step 2: Prepare to Insulate
Measure the space between your joists with a tape measure so that you know how wide each length of insulation must be. Don’t forget to measure length either so that you can cut accordingly. Open the rolled insulation package by cutting lengthwise along the side with a utility knife, making sure that you don’t cut the insulation or any facing. Rolls need to be measured and cut to fit between your attic joists. Cut the insulation about 1″ wider than you need to ensure that the insulation fits snugly between the joists and properly fills the space. Use a utility knife and a hard surface to cut the insulation.
Use a portable work light when working in the attic so that you have optimal visibility to work and so that you know where you’re stepping. You don’t want to accidentally step between the joists and push your foot through the ceiling below or fall.
Bring up a panel of plywood or similar material as a work platform to make the job easier and safer if your attic doesn’t have places to safely step.
Wear pants, gloves and a long-sleeve shirt to keep fiberglass insulation from irritating your skin.
Wear safety goggles and a dust mask while working in your attic to avoid nose and throat irritation due to dust and debris from insulation and attic surfaces.
Step 3: Install Insulation
Unroll the insulation and place or push it into the spaces between joists. Make sure that the roll lies completely flat inside. You can then expand it so that it fills the entire space. The piece of insulation should be snug inside the space. If you’re using faced insulation rolls or batts, be sure that the facing faces the floor of the attic, i.e. the room below the attic for proper vapor retarding. You can staple the flanges of faced insulation to the joists and other surfaces but may not be necessary. Unfaced insulation should fit snugly in without securing it.
You can also get more R-value by laying new rolls of insulation across existing insulation perpendicular to the existing insulation.
Great job! These attic insulation tips have no doubt helped you on your way to better efficiency and a thicker wallet.
Project Shopping List
Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.