With this summer’s record-breaking heat wave still fresh in their memories, the prospect of an equally brutal winter has many homeowners thinking about energy efficiency.  In this multi-part series of blog posts Dave Condon of Standard Energy Solutions will walk you through some of the things he looks for when conducting a home energy audit and will share some tips to help you help keep your house comfortable and your energy bills under control year-round.

An unfinished attic is an excellent place to look for ways to make a home more comfortable and energy efficient.  During the summer months, attic temperatures can soar well into the triple digits.  Most attics have some level of insulation to help keep heat from escaping into the attic during winter, and to prevent summer heat from making its way into the living space below.  While the insulation in your attic may be adequately isolating you from the temperature extremes above, you may be surprised by the ways in which high attic temperatures are impacting the environment inside your home and beyond.  Here are some of the ways that attic heat can find its way into your living space, and what to do about them.

Check insulation – In most climates, a minimum R-value of 30 to R-49 is a pretty good place to start.  The R-value of most types of insulation is marked on the paper or plastic surface of the insulation itself.  Loose or blown-in insulation should have an average depth of around 10 inches above the drywall.  If you find that your insulation doesn’t cover the rafters, consider adding another layer to keep things comfortable.

Check for air leaks – Everywhere that your home’s walls intersect with one another, with the floor below and with the ceiling above is a potential source of air infiltration or evacuation from the home.  This is especially true wherever exterior or unfinished interior spaces border living areas. Air moving in and out of the living space carries dust (and your conditioned air) with it – often leaving a visible stain around fixtures and along door, window and baseboard trim.  This air transfer also can stain the edges of wall-to-wall carpets in the living space and can darken attic insulation – giving you a visual clue as to which areas need attention.

Attic air often seeps into interior walls through gaps around the pipes, wires and ductwork.  Sealing these gaps with expanding foam can cut significantly the amount of air flowing into the walls from the attic.  Light fixtures (especially the recessed type) and attic hatch doors are other common problem areas.  A bead of caulk can help keep air from leaking in around overhead fixtures and trim.  Use rigid foam insulation and weather stripping to insulate and seal the attic hatch.

In the next installment of this multi-part series, Dave will explain the ins and outs of attic ventilation and will share some tips for keeping attic-mounted air-conditioning systems operating at peak efficiency.