Watt, Why & How e-Newsletter

What's Escaping From Your Attic?


Your utility budget is something you want to keep in house. If you have a leaky, poorly insulated attic, however, those energy dollars are slipping up, up and away. What can you do? Grab a flashlight, a tape measure and a pair of gloves. Head up to your attic and find ways to bring your utility bills back down to earth.

Look at your insulation

Adding attic insulation is one of the most effective ways to reduce heating and cooling costs, but how do you know if you have the right amount? If there's no insulation up there, that's a no brainer. Call a qualified contractor right away.

If you do have insulation, you'll have to find out what type you have and how much. Most attics have batt insulation or loose-fill. Batt insulation is that pink fuzzy stuff that comes in rolls with brown paper on back. Insulation level is measured in R-value, which should be listed on the brown paper.

If you have loose-fill insulation, calculating the R-value gets a little trickier. Shove your tape measure down into the insulation at several places in the attic to measure the depth. Loose-fill comes in different types. Use the descriptions in the following table to determine your type and multiply the depth by the numbers provided to figure your R-level.


Calculating the R-Value of Your Insulation
Type What It Looks Like  Depth in Inches (you supply) R-Value
Fiberglass Light weight; yellow, pink, or white   Depth X 2.5
Cellulose Small gray flat pieces from newsprint   Depth X 3.7
Rock Wool Dense gray pieces with black specs   Depth X 2.8

Now, check your R-value against recommended levels for your climate zone. If your insulation level is less than those recommended, you're losing energy and money. Consider adding insulation.

Check the quality of the insulation as well. If batts are not securely attached to the joists, energy can escape. Fill insulation surface should be even; low spots could mean that those areas are not adequately covered.

Sealing in savings

You've got the right level of insulation and it's installed correctly. You're good to go, right? Well...not so fast. All of that extra insulation won't do much good if there is a lot of air escaping through gaps or holes in your attic.

Locate all ceiling fans, recessed lighting fixtures and electrical outlets in the ceiling below your attic. Each of these is a potential source of air leakage. From the attic, pull back the insulation to find the cutouts and seal them with caulk or expandable foam. Check for and seal gaps around plumbing vents, furnace flues and ductwork. Also, seal the attic door or access with weatherstripping.

Get a home energy audit

Not a do-it-yourselfer? No problem. A qualified home energy professional can help you find cost-saving opportunities in your attic and throughout your home. For more information, see Home Energy Audit: Your First Step to Lower Utility Bills.

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