Just about every home has an entry way into the attic. It can be a small scuttle often tucked away inside a closet or a pull down stair way in the hall. Some homes even have a full stairway into the attic (a personal favorite of mine). What these entries all have in common is a covering over the opening. Be it a door, a piece of wood or sheetrock, the openings are by some means closed off from the cold, unconditioned attic. But most often they are not insulated or sealed allowing heat to easily escape into the attic.
The infrared image at right is a typical un-insulated pull down attic stairway. The opening is roughly eight square feet of heat escaping area.
It is important to understand that heat is attracted to cold. The heat you pay so much for will seek out cold spots like this pull down stairway and leave your home through your attic. Contributing further is that heat rises and the opening is on the ceiling.
The second image is of an attic scuttle. This opening is about half the size of the pull down stairway, about four square feet. But none the less it is permits heat to readily escape to the attic.
You may not be aware of some other large heat robbing culprits in your home. The third image is of a whole house fan opening. The fourth is a return vent for the air conditioning system.
The insulation was not reinstalled around the vent nor was the opening sealed as is evident from the cold perimeter.
Not all opening are in the ceiling. Some are in knee walls as shown in the last infrared image.
What can be done to fix these heat robbing thieves? There are some basic and relatively cheap and easy solutions.
For the attic pull down stairs there are insulated covers available that fit right over the opening. Weather striping around the opening is also a good additional step to stop air flowing through the gaps and into the attic.
If the stairway is an odd size a foam insulation box can be constructed to fit the opening. Or the foam board can be affixed directly to the wood sheathing on the attic side just under the fold up stairs. Polyisocyanurate is a high performance foam board insulation that would be ideal for these projects. It has an R value of 7 to 8 per inch and can be easily cut to size.
Foam board can also be used in a similar manner for all the other openings previously described. It can be used by either fastening it directly to the entry way cover or constructing a box to fit over the opening.
For walk up attics with full sized doors an exterior grade door properly weathered striped will do the job or again foam board affixed onto the door.
With the price of heating our homes becoming so expensive, these low priced fixes can pay for themselves in little time. But the best method of saving energy is to have an energy audit performed by an energy saving professional. The energy inspector can help you understand where your home is most energy deficient. Provide you with a plan on the most cost effective improvements and show the hidden energy robbers.
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC
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