Either a hired professional or DIY effort will help your home from the top down

Reporter/Byline: Steve Maxwell for the Toronto Star

Insulate your attic

Cold weather and home heating are never far away for Canadians. That is why it pays to develop your insulation intelligence. Understanding how to recognize and use today’s best insulation products saves money, is better for the environment and makes your home more comfortable.

The trick is choosing the best insulation for your situation. Adding attic insulation delivers the greatest return on investment for most Canadian homes. As energy prices rise, it means deeper applications of attic insulation make more economic sense. Even homes built to code just two years ago may not meet the minimum levels required for new homes today. Do not assume that a brand new house has enough attic insulation without measuring it first.

How much is enough?

Start by aiming for a minimum of R50 as an end goal. The R-value is a measure of thermal resistance. If there is loose, fluffy insulation in your attic it has a value of about R3 per inch. If it is blanket-like batts it is about R4 per inch.

You will need to measure and calculate what you have so that you will know what you need to add. If you do not have at least 16 inches of insulation in your attic you’re letting money waft out of your home.

How to add insulation?

There are three main options:

  1. Hire a contractor
    A contractor will blow additional loose fill insulation on top of what you have now. This is the most expensive choice, but will be the easiest for the homeowner.
  2. Do-it-yourself
    You could save money by renting an insulation blower yourself, putting on a mask and operating the machinery on your own. This is a rather noisy operation that generally takes two people: one handling the blower nozzle on the end of a hose that snakes through your house and up into the attic, and another person feeding bags of loose fill insulation into the machine parked below.
  3. Do-it-yourself 2
    A third alternative uses bags of loose-fill insulation that is meant to be carried to the attic and spread by hand. This is the simplest, most quiet, itch-free and least dusty option.
Quick tip

Regardless of how you upgrade your attic insulation, it is important to keep loose fill away from the edge of the attic where the roof slopes down to meet it. This area is called the eaves, and modern homes are often open to the air here for attic ventilation. Fresh air in the attic is essential for allowing moisture to escape and to keep the temperature of roof surfaces low enough in winter that they do not cause snow to melt and form ice dams along the eaves.

Attics may be out of sight, but they should never be completely out of mind. Adding more attic insulation may not be exciting on its own, but lower energy bills have a way of makings Canadian homeowners smile.

First published in the Toronto Star on September 13, 2013

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