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Better Attic Insulation: Simple Solutions for 4 Common Problem Areas

Quality Matters

Better Attic Insulation: Simple Solutions for 4 Common Problem Areas

Home builders generally do a good job with blown-in-place attic insulation but should take care with these common trouble spots to ensure a better insulation job and greater home energy efficiency


By Clem Newcamp August 3, 2022
Home attic insulation batts installed in areas hard to reach
Pre-install batts: When using blown attic insulation, identify those areas the insulators will have a hard time reaching and insulate them with batts before the drywall goes up. | Photo: courtesy IBACOS
This article first appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Pro Builder.

Although most home builders do a good job with blown-in-place attic insulation, I repeatedly see the same handful of shortcomings on jobsites I visit. Fortunately, they’re easy to prevent.

Most often, I find low insulation depths (lower R-value) in hard-to-reach spots, insulation dams that appear likely to fail, and drafty attic hatches. I also see inadequate platforms for attic storage, which increases the likelihood homeowners will disturb the insulation or accidentally put a foot through the ceiling. Consider these tips to rectify such attic insulation trouble spots.

Home Insulation Solutions for Tricky Areas and Trouble Spots

Insulation Challenge 1: Inaccessible areas

Solution: Pre-install batts in hard-to-reach places

Some attics have cramped, tough-to-reach places, such as hip-roof corners and the spaces under mechanical platforms and around ductwork and some fans. If the insulator can’t get a loose-fill insulation hose into these spots or can’t check the results, such areas will end up poorly insulated or not insulated at all.

The remedy is to insulate them from below with fiberglass batts that are the same R-value as the blown-in depth of the insulation before the ceiling drywall goes up (see photo, above). Most builders use batts in the walls, so it’s a simple matter of identifying the difficult attic areas and adding ceiling batts to the wall insulation crew’s scope of work.


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Insulation Challenge 2: Keeping insulation in place

Solution: Use proper insulation dams

You want blown attic insulation to stay where it’s supposed to and to be installed to the correct depth across the entire attic floor. That’s why you need insulation dams around access hatches and other ceiling-height changes, as well as where the attic meets an unconditioned space such as a garage or porch ceiling.

Those dams need to be rigid and durable. Cardboard dams (which I often see) are neither, and plastic or foam-board dams are easily damaged by activity in the attic. By contrast, a dam made from plywood, framing lumber, or OSB (oriented strand board) (see photo, below) will stand up to abuse and will last the life of the house, keeping the insulation depth consistent and the insulation in the correct location.

Home insulation best practice using insulation dams around ceiling penetrations
Insulation dams: Dams around ceiling penetrations and where the attic is open to an uninsulated space, such as a garage, will ensure insulation gets blown to the correct thickness. Use a rigid, durable material such as plywood, OSB, or lumber. | Photo: courtesy IBACOS

Insulation Challenge 3: Access hatches

Solution: Insulate and seal hatches and covers

Uninsulated attic access hatches work against your energy-saving and indoor comfort efforts. That’s why codes now require that access hatches be insulated to the same R-value as the rest of the attic.

Best practice is to permanently attach insulation—a batt or a piece of rigid foam—to the top of the hatch (see photo, below). To eliminate drafts, install tightly sealed weatherstripping on all four sides of the trim around the hatch.

Insulation best practice is to attach batt or rigid foam insulation to attic hatches
Hatches: Attic hatches should be insulated with batt or rigid foam to the same or better R-value than surrounding insulation levels. | Photo: courtesy LittleEco/Pinterest

For a pull-down stair leading to the attic, provide an insulated cover that fits over the opening. A good commercially available cover consists of a rigid box with a reflective surface and a rubber gasket that makes a seal with the attic floor. Or purchase an attic-ladder insulation cover that includes a zipper to seal the attic from the house (see photo, below).

Insulated attic stair cover installed for better home insulation
Covers: For pull-down stairs—whether prefab or site-built—use insulated and weather-stripped covers. | Photo: courtesy IBACOS

Insulation Challenge 4: Disturbance and damage

Solution: Prevent or discourage homeowners from storing items in the attic

Doing so will mitigate damage to mechanical runs, limit disturbance to the insulation, and prevent potential damage to framing or drywall if homeowners fall or put a foot through the ceiling below.

If you must offer attic storage in your homes, design the framing to carry loads and provide a pull-down stair leading to a beefy storage platform made from plywood or OSB. Even in those cases, you can help discourage homeowners from disturbing the insulation beyond the borders of the storage platform (or taking an ill-advised step onto the ceiling drywall) by installing a safety railing that blocks off the storage platform from the rest of the attic.

 

Clem Newcamp drives quality and performance in home building as a building performance specialist on the PERFORM Builder Solutions team at IBACOS.

 

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