By following these simple steps you can drastically reduce your heating and colling bills.
Before you even get started, let’s talk about SAFETY. Insulation is made up of tiny fibers that can cause respiratory problems. When you work with insulation, you should wear a respirator mask to keep you from breathing those in. Also, always have a “safety buddy”, (someone who is safely on the ground and able to go for help), whenever you are working off the ground.
Insulation helps keep in the air that you pay so much to heat and cool each year. Head up to the attic and see how a little preventative maintenance can save you a bundle!
First, you’re going to have to find your way to the attic. Depending on how your house is built, you may have a staircase, a ladder, or just a hard to reach opening somewhere. Try going to the top floor of your house and looking at your ceilings. Somewhere, you’ll probably find your accessway. A square about two feet wide, framed by molding, is what it will most likely look like. Climb on something safe and stable, and push up on the center piece. It should move upwards into the open space, and then you can lift it down through the hole and set it aside.
If your accessway looks more like a rectangle, about two by three or four feet, you may be in luck. Look for a thumb-hole or a pull-string, and you may unfold a drop-down ladder or folding staircase. If you can’t find any kind of opening inside the house, check outside. Some houses actually have their attic access from outside.
Once you find your way in there, Watch Your Step!! The first thing you want to check on is whether or not you have a floor. It’s quite common for attics not to have a real floor; instead they have joist boards spaced about 2 feet apart, and you have to step from one to the other of them to keep from falling through the ceiling of the room below. Those ceiling boards will NOT hold your weight, so you’ll need to stay on the joists. You can also lay spare boards across the joists, making yourself a little pathway of safety to walk on.
Once you’re up there walking around safely, you need to decide what kind of insulation you want:
Rolled insulation: literally unrolls, just like a giant roll of *very* fluffy toilet paper.
Loose fill insulation: looks like you opened an old pillow and pulled out handfuls of fluff.
Loose fill is okay for putting between those floor joints, but very difficult to put on walls and attic ceilings. For those you’ll want the roll-out kind.
How much do you need?
Before you head to the store to buy insulation, there’s going to be some math. For the attic floor, if you’re wanting to use loose fill, you need to know the square feet of your attic space, and also decide how deep you want the insulation to be. Write those numbers down and take them with you to the building supply store, like this: “My attic is _______ feet long and _______ feet wide and I want _______ inches of loose fill insulation for it.” That’s enough information for them to send you home with what you need.
If you’re wanting to use rolled insulation, whether is for the floor, the walls, or the ceiling, you’ll need to measure the space between the joists. You need to get the right width, you that it will fit in the space. Then you need to measure how many linear feet of insulation you’ll need. For instance, if your attic ceiling had between-joist cavities that are 7 feet in length, and you have a dozen of those cavities to fill, then you’ll need 84 linear feet of insulation to fill them all. (because 7 x 12 = 84)
If you use the rolled insulation, you’ll be asked at the store whether you want the kind with a paper backing. That means that one side of it will have paper extending a couple inched beyond the edge of the insulation. That paper lays over the joist, and you can staple it in place. That’s very handy when you’re doing ceilings and walls, because it keeps it from falling down, so you should consider getting that kind. For the floor, gravity will keep it in place, so the expense of getting the paper-backed kind is unnecessary there.
To install the loose fill kind of insulation, simply open the bags and toss out handfuls of fluff to your desired thickness. (Think about wearing gloves for this, because insulation is very itchy.) To install the rolled insulation, cut pieces off the roll to fit each cavity, and press it into place, then staple it if needed.
When you’re finished in the attic, be sure to close the accessway securely, so children or pets don’t get in there by mistake. Then change your clothes and shower off those tiny fibers of insulation before you hug anyone, or sit on furniture. If you don’t get rid of them all, you will itch like crazy!!
Be sure to keep your receipts, and check with your utility company. Often they provide rebates or other incentives to homeowners that upgrade their insulation. That’s a nice bonus, on top of all the money you’re going to save on your heating and cooling bills by doing this preventative maintenance.
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