For many homeowners, ensuring their attic space is well-insulated is one of the most cost-effective ways to maximize their home’s energy efficiency. But can you over insulate your attic? While over-insulated attics aren’t as common as under-insulated attics, it is possible to put so much insulation in your attic that it has a negative impact.
To understand why this is the case, we’ll take a closer look at how your attic is supposed to function, why attic insulation is crucial for your home’s energy efficiency and comfort, and how much is too much insulation in your attic.
How are Attics Supposed to Work?
Before diving into why over insulating is possible, it’s worthwhile to take a brief detour to learn how attics are supposed to work. This informs why over insulating can cause problems. There are two types of attic construction methods; vented and unvented. Understanding which you have has important implications for how and where you insulate.
Vented attics are the most common type of attic construction. In a vented attic, insulation is placed along the ceiling plane of your home. This leaves the actual attic space above your home’s insulated areas, known as the conditioned space.
As the name would suggest, vented attics have vents located around the eves of the roof. These vents allow the air in your attic to circulate with the outside air passively. This is important for two reasons. During the winter, those vents allow cold air from the outside to cool down the attic, which keeps the roof cool. If you have snow on your roof and the air in your attic is warm, the snow can melt off your roof and refreeze in your gutters, known as an ice dam.
During the summer, attic ventilation allows excess moisture to rise from your home’s interior and hot air in the attic to vent outside. This has the added benefit of protecting your roof shingles from damage.
A sealed or unvented attic has the insulation installed at the roof rather than the ceiling plane, bringing the attic space into the home’s conditioned area. Unvented attics are less common than vented attics, but they do offer some advantages.
Sealed attics are considered more energy efficient than vented attics. This is partially due to the fact that air-conditioned ducting is brought into the conditioned space of your home, offsetting the energy loss that occurs from leaky ducts.
One thing to note about unvented or sealed attics is that they lack the protection against heat buildup for shingle roofs that vented attics offer. Because of this, some homes with sealed attics utilize a double roof that features a ventilated air space above the insulated roof decking.
Why Is Insulation Important?
Using the right amount of insulation can make your home feel more comfortable and can save you money on your energy bills. Insulation is important because it helps reduce the transfer of heat from the conditioned spaces of your home to the unconditioned outside. This means that your home’s warm air will escape more slowly when running a heater in cold weather. When you are running your air conditioning unit on a hot day in the summer months, your home will stay cooler longer.
The relationship between the transfer of heat and insulation can be found in an insulation’s R-value. The R-value is a rating used to note an insulation material’s thermal resistance, or how well that material resists the heat transfer, per inch of insulation material. Heat transfer is inevitable, but insulative materials slow the process down.
The effect of a well-insulated attic space is greater energy efficiency and comfort. A home with a poorly insulated attic will experience more significant fluctuations in temperature throughout the day. So, in a poorly insulated home on a hot day, the home’s conditioned spaces’ temperature will have a wider range than in a well-insulated home. Because of this, if you’re running your air conditioning, your air conditioner will have to work harder to keep your home’s conditioned areas the same temperature throughout the day. Not only is a well-insulated attic important, but also making sure your attic is safe and free of asbestos attic insulation.
How Much Insulation is Too Much?
In Southern California, you’ll want to shoot for an R-Value of around 30 for an optimum experience. The California Department of Energy’s 2019 Building Envelope requirements state the minimum R-Value for wood-construction ventilated attic spaces in California is R-22. In contrast, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Start program recommends an R-Value between 25 – 38 for homes in Zone 3, encompassing most Southern California areas.
Achieving an R-Value of 30 should offer more than sufficient insulation in the Southern California area, without some of the downsides that come with too much insulation in attic.
While achieving an R-Value of 30 is optimum, anything over an R-Value of 38 is probably excessive. Here are a couple of reasons why more insulation isn’t necessarily better:
Poor Return on Investment
Return on investment (ROI) is a concept often heard in business for determining the efficiency of an investment. In the context of insulation, determining your return on investment comes down to dividing the benefit it will provide you, namely your energy savings over time, by the cost of the initial investment.
Put simply, achieving an insulation R-Value over 38 in your attic, in Southern California, offers a poor ROI. What you may gain in efficiency is more than offset by the cost of investment into the additional insulation.
If you have attic insulation with an R-Value of 38 and still want to make your home more energy efficient, consider installing a radiant barrier instead. Radiant barriers are great because they block heat from your roof before it can ever reach your insulation. That means less heat will transfer into your home’s conditioned spaces, which will allow your air conditioning system to cool your home more efficiently.
Ventilated attics need to ventilate. If you’ve got four feet of insulation stacked throughout your attic, it could be impacting how efficiently your attic can circulate air. Ultimately, though, it really depends on the type of insulation material you have in your attic. If you are uncertain about what to do, you may want to look into a professional inspection and replacing attic insulation.
As we mentioned, air circulation is a crucial feature of ventilated attics. That passive air circulation occurs through the vents from your attic to the outside that are located underneath your eaves.
Blocked vents in a vented attic will lead to poor energy efficiency, moisture buildup in your attic space, and most importantly, it will lead to mold. This is a big issue and should be addressed to prevent further damage and potential health concerns.
Better Results Through Proper Installation
If you want the best result from your new attic insulation, focus your attention on how it is installed. Well-installed attic insulation with an R-Value of 30 will always perform better than poorly installed attic insulation with an R-Value of 38.
Well-installed attic insulation will eliminate air gaps between the insulation and a structural component or between insulation pieces. An air leak can significantly impact your insulation’s performance and lead to moisture problems down the road. As warm, moist air rises from your home’s conditioned spaces, it will escape more easily through that area if an air gap exists. This will lead to the formation of condensation and eventually lead to moisture damage.
A well-insulated attic will have comprehensive coverage of your chosen insulation and be clean and dry. The use of a radiant barrier is also a great idea, as that will reduce the transfer of heat between the roof and insulation.
Can you over insulate your attic? The answer is yes! Past a certain point, insulation in a vented attic will do more harm than good. In most of the United States, achieving an R-Value of 38 is more than sufficient. In the temperate Southern California region, an R-Value of 30 tends to be ideal.
Using more insulation than required doesn’t offer a significant advantage and can detrimentally affect how well your attic ventilates. If you’ve got well-installed attic insulation of a sufficient R-Value and still aren’t pleased with the results, you may want to consider installing a radiant barrier. Radiant barriers are a great way to maximize the benefit you realize from your attic insulation and improve your home’s energy efficiency.
Curious about whether your attic has too much insulation? Schedule an attic inspection with Attic Construction! Our San Diego, OC, & Phoenix insulation installation professionals can assess the state of your attic and provide helpful recommendations that will boost your home’s energy efficiency and lower your utility payments. To learn more, contact us today!
- “2019 Building Energy Efficiency Standards” https://www.energy.ca.gov/programs-and-topics/programs/building-energy-efficiency-standards/2019-building-energy-efficiency
- “Florida Solar Energy Center FAQ: Roofs and Attics http://www.fsec.ucf.edu/en/consumer/buildings/homes/faq.htm#roofs
- “Energy Management for Home” https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/documents/sp759-o.pdf
- “How much insulation is too much in attics and walls?” https://www.ecohome.net/guides/3456/how-much-insulation-is-too-much-insulation-in-attics-walls-floors/
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