Unless you enjoy working in hot, cramped attics, it’s best to just pour yourself a cool drink and call a contractor to properly seal air leaks and add insulation to your attic during the summer. Insulation contractors have all the equipment and experience to do the job right and do it much quicker than you can. Let them do the hard work. Your job is to find a good contractor.
Shop Around – Selecting a Contractor
As with any home improvement project, you want to make sure you’re getting a good price and that the work will be done right:
• Check with your electric utility or state energy office to see if they offer incentives for improvements or have pre-screened program contractors. (See www.dsireusa.org or www.energystar.gov/dime for lists of incentives)
• Get several estimates from contractors (know the square footage of your attic).
• Make sure the contractor is licensed and insured in your state.
• Ask if the crew chief is certified to do insulation work.
• Ask how the contractor will keep your house clean during the work.
• Make sure the contractor understands you want attic holes and gaps sealed before any insulation is added. If they do not agree to “seal before insulating,” call another contractor.
Some locations in the U.S. have pre-screened, trained and certified contractors available through the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program. These programs are run by local utilities or State Energy Offices and are a great place to start looking for contractors to help you with your project. To find out if a program exists in your area, click here.
Make Sure the Job’s Done Right – What to Look For
When hiring a contractor, make sure that you clearly understand the work they’ll be doing. Don’t hesitate to ask questions before the contractor starts, and stay involved throughout the process. Here are some tips to keep in mind:
• Contractors should seal air leaks in the attic floor before adding insulation. It’s much easier to seal first to ensure you get the full performance out of your insulation.
• If you have air ducts in the attic, make sure contractors do not step on or damage them.
• Burying any ducts on the floor in insulation is OK to do – it can even improve efficiency. Just make sure the ducts are well sealed first.
• Unless your old insulation is wet, moldy, smelly, or contains animal waste, contractors can just add new insulation on top. It is usually not necessary to remove existing insulation.
• Most contractors use blown-in, loose fill insulation for attic floors, which is quick and easy to install with the right equipment. Typical materials include fiberglass or cellulose – both contain some recycled content (glass or ground up paper) and are inexpensive and safe. If traditional insulation rolls are used for the attic floor instead, be sure that it is “unfaced” (no foil or paper backing needed) so moisture does not get trapped.
• Any project estimate should also include installing insulation baffles (rafter vents). This ensures that as you add insulation, soffit vents (which allow outside air to enter the attic) are not blocked and your attic has proper air flow.
Seal and Insulate- Installing a Baffle Installing a Baffle (or Rafter Vent)
• If you have older recessed light fixtures (can lights) that stick up into the attic floor, the contractor should cover and seal them before installing insulation using specially designed covers that are available at most home improvement stores.
• Contractors should also seal the chase (hole) in the attic around the plumbing vent pipe.
• It’s also important to weather strip and insulate the attic hatch or door. There are several off-the-shelf products available for standard-sized openings.
• EPA recommends having a professional contractor conduct combustion safety testing before and after any air sealing, as this may affect the drafting of any combustion (oil or gas) appliances in the house.
Finally, tell the contractor that you expect documentation at the end of the job to show how much insulation has been added and what the new insulation R-value is for your attic. When it’s done, take a picture and compare it to the pictures you took earlier to see the improvement. Then, you can sit back and enjoy the rest of your summer knowing your home is more comfortable and efficient.
If you would like more information, including details on doing this work yourself, ENERGY STAR has expertise you need. Check out the website for details.
Doug Anderson is an ENERGY STAR Project Manager and has been with EPA for 14 years. He works on issues related to the home envelope, including insulation products and energy efficient residential windows.
Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.