The furnace is functioning, and yet you feel a chill down to your bones. There isn’t a window open in the house and the walls and ceilings are fully insulated. You can’t figure out where the cold is coming from. If your home is 20 years old, or older, there is a good chance that you might need to perform a little maintenance on your insulation. And, the attic is the first place you will want to look. Experts tell us that most heat is lost through the ceiling, 60 percent or more. Walls account for about 20 percent to 30 percent of loss, with the rest exiting through the floor.
Most homes that were insulated during construction have rolled-batt insulation in the walls and loose-fill insulation in the attic. Chances are the batt insulation is still in pretty good shape even if it is 20 years old. However, there can be a problem with loose-fill insulation, especially in the attic. Powerful air currents are created in there as air enters through eave vents and exits through higher-gable or ridge vents. Natural air currents can be so powerful that they can actually move loose-fill insulation as if it were being swept by a broom. The result can mean piles of insulation in some areas and none in others. This condition can result even when the proper baffles have been installed to deflect air entering the attic at the eave vents.
This might not be the most convenient time of the year to peek into your attic. It’s too cold to do a lot of things, but you really should look to see if your insulation is properly in its place. If the wind really has exposed several areas of your ceiling, the repair can be made quickly with a plastic lawn rake. Use the rake to gently move the insulation from high spots onto the bald areas. Note we said plastic. With electrical wires present in the attic it would not be wise to use a metal rake.
This might come as a surprise, but the same cold air that chills your bones is used to keep you warm with insulation. Here is how it works. Insulation is nothing more than a lightweight material filled with hundreds of thousands of tiny air pockets. Each pocket traps a small portion of air and holds it motionless. Motionless air is an excellent insulator.
Keep in mind that with insulation, more is better. Can you use too much insulation. The answer is no. But, there is a point when diminishing return clicks in. In moderate climates R-38 is more than enough in the attic. However, in extreme climates R-60 makes more sense. If you intend to add insulation, here are a few tips:
Glass fiber insulation is the most popular type and is most readily available. It is more commonly known as fiberglass insulation. It is relatively inexpensive and easy to install. It is nonflammable and resists damage from water. The fibers can irritate your skin, and, therefore, precautions must be taken while handling. Gloves, breathing apparatus, protective clothing, goggles and a hat all can be used to reduce an itchy aftermath. A cold shower will help to remove tiny fibers that make their way to your skin. A hot shower will open the pores of your skin and allow the pesky fibers more opportunity to make you crazy. Mineral wool or “rock wool” is very similar to fiberglass insulation. It is a little more expensive, but doesn’t usually provoke the itching caused by fiberglass.
We recommend not using cellulose insulation which is made of recycled paper. It is organic and susceptible to attack by moisture and rot. It also absorbs moisture, making it heavier and causing it to pack down. When this happens, it loses its insulating value. The ability to insulate does not return once the paper dries. Insects love to nest in organic materials, and cellulose insulation is no exception. If you have it in your walls and ceilings, chances are its ability to insulate has diminished substantially since it first was installed. To keep things simple, cover it with either fiberglass or rock wool, and warm your place right up.
By the way, don’t overlook air infiltration. Cold air can enter your home at weather stripping, door bottoms, window frames, attic and sub-area plumbing and electrical penetrations, at heat registers, and, yes, even at electrical switches and receptacles. Insulate these areas with spray foam or gaskets.
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