How to choose the best attic insulation for your climate
Properly insulating your home can help make it a more comfortable and welcoming place. A well-insulated home will have better temperature control, saving on heating and cooling costs. This insulation can also create a greener home, increasing your energy efficiency and allowing your home to remain comfortable while using fewer fossil fuels. However, an incredible 90% of homes across the United States do not have adequate insulation.
To achieve a quality level of insulation, you need to pay close attention to your attic. When insulating their homes, people generally focus on the rooms inside where they spend their time; however, many neglect to properly insulate the attic. Since most homeowners do not venture into the attic often, they don’t realize how the space can get hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The attic can become a key area for air to leach out of your home, forcing you to spend more on energy bills.
Let’s walk through some things you need to know about attic insulation material and how you can improve the insulation in your space.
Can you insulate your attic yourself?
Insulating your attic is an important project that can help prevent heat from escaping your home, creating a more comfortable environment for everyone inside. Homeowners generally find that insulating the attic can be a DIY project; however, it can be a rather dirty and large task. Those who have experience working with construction and insulation will likely find tackling this type of activity more feasible than those who have not worked with these materials before.
When you install insulation in your attic, you want to thoroughly care for the walls, the ceiling and even the attic floor. Your insulation project should stop heat from transferring between your attic, the outside and the rest of your home as much as possible.
Whether you want to insulate your attic yourself or rely on an insulation contractor to help get the job done, understanding the different types of insulation can help you make the best decision for your home. We’ll walk you through the major types of insulation you’ll generally encounter when insulating parts of your home, like the attic.
Understanding the R-value
It’s important to review and understand the rating factor you will see on different insulation products. This rating factor, the R-value, articulates how well this particular type of insulation slows down the transfer of heat. The higher the rating, the better the insulation performs.
The R-value will help you better understand how well this particular insulation material will prevent air leaks. Certain climates might have recommendations for the R-value that you should aim for when looking for maximum efficiency with your insulation. As the Department of Energy explains, while manufacturers can calculate an R-value, the actual effectiveness of insulation is determined by how well it maintains the climate of your living space. In other words, the effectiveness also depends on how well you install the material. Note the difference between the two and the importance of proper installation to understand the true value of the insulation.
Common types of attic insulation
You’ll discover a variety of different types of insulation for your attic space at the home improvement store. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the common options you might encounter there.
Looking at the old insulation in your attic can help you improve your home’s insulation situation. Knowing the type of insulation you have will better equip you to decide if you want to keep and improve the existing insulation or if your home improvement project calls for replacing everything. As a warning, if your insulation contains asbestos, you will want to call in trained attic insulation installers who have experience with the safe handling of this material.
Let’s review some insulation options you may encounter:
- Blown-in fiberglass: This type of insulation uses a mechanism that propels loose-fill fiberglass insulation into the open space, making it a great option for getting into tight spaces. The blower function is typically straightforward to use.
- Fiberglass batt insulation: This type of insulation comes in long rolls of fluffy-looking fiberglass attached to an adhesive barrier. Its design rolls out into the space, such as between joists. This style is also relatively easy to use.
- Blown-in cellulose: Cellulose is a type of insulation that comes from shredded-up newspaper. However, this base material means the insulation absorbs water easily and can develop mold, which can be a major deterrent for homeowners.
- Other types of batts: Homeowners can get batts similar to the fiberglass style but made from mineral wool or denim. Denim is often viewed as a “green” choice but has a significantly higher price tag. Rockwool is a common type of mineral wool made from basalt rock and recycled slag.
- Spray foam: This type of insulation is sprayed directly into the space. It will harden after use and cannot be removed. It has an excellent R-value and comes in two varieties: open cell and closed cell. Open cell dries into a softer, more flexible material, while closed cell becomes harder and creates a tighter shell. The latter will also have greater stability and a higher R-value. This type of insulation is good at repelling water and can help serve as a sound barrier.
- Rigid foam panels: These panels reduce the heat transfer between your attic joists. They can be cut to size to fit perfectly in your attic. Structural insulated panels are similar to rigid foam panels and are used to improve insulation while building walls, floors and roofs.
- Reflective insulation: This type of insulation uses reflective surfaces to reflect the sun’s rays and reduce the heat coming through the roof into the attic.
As you can see, homeowners encounter a variety of options as they begin to insulate their attic. The right choice will depend on factors like the size of the space, the cost and your environment. Let’s dive in a little deeper to learn about insulation costs and the types of insulation that excel in different environments.
How much does attic insulation cost?
The cost of your attic insulation will depend on a few factors, including:
- The type of insulation you buy
- The square footage of your attic
- The amount of insulation you need to insulate your attic fully
The average cost of fiberglass insulation comes to about $0.35 per square foot. Cellulose typically has similar prices of about $0.33 per square foot. On the more expensive end of the spectrum, Rockwool insulation is a thicker type of insulation and costs up to $2.40 per square foot.
If you hire workers to help you, know that insulation companies will include labor costs and materials costs in their final price. The total cost to insulate an attic ranges from $1 to $7 per square foot, with total prices typically around $1,500 for an average-size attic.
You can use these estimates to start determining the costs for your home.
The best attic insulation for cold climates
Those who live in cold climates want to make sure their home has the insulation necessary to keep warm air inside the home from leaking out. Inadequate insulation can result in tremendously high heating bills, drafts in the home and an overall uncomfortable experience.
Generally speaking, you want to make sure the new insulation you choose for your home has the highest R-value possible. If you use blown-in cellulose insulation, look for options that carry a minimum R-value of 49. If you decide to go with loose fiberglass insulation, look for a minimum R-value of 60. These options make good choices for cold climates, but many people choose the loose-fill insulation made from fiberglass. This insulation has a higher R-value, is resistant to rot and decay, and makes an unappealing spot for rodents or insects that might want to burrow in your home.
Once you put in your main attic insulation, consider following up with spray foam insulation to fill in any cracks and gaps (e.g., those around pipes or HVAC equipment).
In terms of what to avoid, those in cold climates who rely heavily on their insulation may want to avoid batt insulation and similar products. This option installs easily, but can compress and does not always fit well in awkwardly shaped spaces.
The best attic insulation for hot climates
If you live in a hot climate, you probably depend heavily on your insulation to maintain cool interior temperatures for maximum efficiency and comfort.
Depending on your local climate, you’ll generally want to find products with an R-value between 30 and 60. Those living in areas with higher levels of heat will need to find products closer to the 60 range. Those in more moderate areas can stay closer to the lower end.
Fiberglass can be an excellent option for homeowners interested in finding products with this rating. Cellulose can also fit within that range, but it tends to degrade faster than fiberglass. Spray foam also easily fits within the window but can be more challenging to install.
Those in hot climates might appreciate reflective insulation. This type can help increase energy savings and keep the home feeling more comfortable — a win-win.
The best attic insulation for temperate climates
Temperate climates do not have to worry as much about the swings between hot and cold temperatures or excessive moisture in the air. If this type of climate describes your region, you want to find insulation that generally slows heat transfer to keep your energy bills low.
Loose-fill fiberglass typically works best for these areas. This insulation is lightweight and easy to install.
The best attic insulation for wet climates
Certain regions of the country face particularly damp weather, such as the Pacific Northwest. In these moist climates, it’s important to find insulation that can slow the transfer of heat and resist mold growth and moisture accumulation. Insulation that can limit the humidity in your home is also highly desirable.
Seal foam insulation works very well for these goals. It forms a firm boundary, preventing the transfer of heat while also resisting moisture and humidity. Using this type of insulation wherever possible works best. If you cannot use spray foam insulation everywhere, focus on waterproof materials to help make sure your insulation will not break down quickly or grow mold.
The best attic insulation for dry climates
Other areas of the country experience extreme temperatures in the form of hot, dry climates, such as the American Southwest. Find insulation that will keep hot air out while maintaining your indoor humidity and cool temperatures.
Rockwool batts can be an excellent choice for this situation. While this type of insulation is vulnerable to moisture and can lead to mold growth, the dry climate in this situation limits this problem. The material performs very well in resisting the transfer of heat and provides a high degree of fire resistance, enhancing its appeal in this climate.
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As you improve your home’s climate control, trust Cinch Home Services to help protect your critical home systems. The Cinch Built-in Systems plan will protect your A/C and water heater, ensuring that a trusted provider will help to fix the issue quickly and correctly if something goes wrong.
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