Blown-in insulation fills every nook and cranny of your attic—which seems like a great idea right up until you decide to take it out!
Removing blown-in or loose-fill, insulation is a hot, uncomfortable, and dirty project. The process, time, and blow insulation removal cost depend on factors including the size and accessibility of the space as well as the removal method you use.
Whether you’re working with professionals or tackling it yourself, it’s helpful to understand both the steps involved and the tools needed to do the job. In this short guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know.
#1: Inspect Your Attic Insulation
An important part of learning how to remove blown in insulation from your attic is understanding the possible dangers involved. Attics are dusty at the best of times, but if yours has water damage or signs of pests making themselves at home, it poses health and safety hazards. Look for:
- Signs of infestation – Blown-in insulation can be a cozy material for mice, squirrels, and other unwanted guests. If you can see or smell signs of nesting, urine, or droppings, then the process of attic insulation removal will release additional toxins into the air during removal of old blown insulation.
- Mold or water damage – If you see black streaks or spots, or any sign or smell of water damage in the attic, the insulation removal could stir up mold spores.
If you are removing spray foam insulation, you must proceed with caution. Old blow insulation can actually cause damage to your health if dealt with incorrectly. Both of these issues are dangerous to workers and can result in airborne toxins spreading to the rest of your home. If present, they may impact the removal method you choose.
#2: Evaluate Your Working Environment
The access to and within your attic can affect the time you or a professional will need to invest in the job. A large unfinished attic with few obstructions that allows workers to move freely is going to be a different job than a small crawl space riddled with ducts and pipes.
Assess the work environment of your attic, including:
- Vacuum access – The machinery will be located outside, often in a truck or trailer. Is there space where a vehicle or machine can be situated so that the hose has a window or other point of entry to the attic?
- Obstructions – Does your attic look like an octopus convention? Is it riddled with ducts, pipes, cabling, or wiring? And are those items in good repair or fraught with loose connections?
- Freedom of movement – Will removal workers be able to stand and move easily throughout the attic? Are there nooks and crannies that will be difficult to access?
#3: Determine Removal Method
The preferred method of removing blown in insulation is by machine, using a vacuum process to suck the insulation out of the attic. This is the most efficient option and can save both time and money.
If you’re doing the removal yourself, you’ll need to rent a high-powered insulation vacuum. These are usually gas-powered and they’ll typically come with around 150 feet of hose to reach from the attic to the vacuum outside. Larger ones may come in their own trailers to haul to and from your home.
In some circumstances, however, you’ll need to bag the insulation by hand rather than using a vacuum process. This will be the case if your existing insulation contains:
- Airborne toxins – If mold or animal waste is present, they can be stirred up and released more into the home through the vacuuming process.
- Water – If the insulation material is saturated with water, the vacuum will not be able to pull it cleanly through the hose.
- Foreign objects – If the insulation has been penetrated by objects such as wood chips or nails during roofing or other home construction projects, those objects could interfere with or damage the vacuum.
#4: Understand Health and Safety Considerations
Remember that even in the best circumstances, old insulation removal involves stirring up fibers that you don’t want to swallow or have on your skin.
The most common types of blown-in insulation are fiberglass, rock wool, and cellulose insulation material. Although fiberglass is popular, it’s also a carcinogen that can damage your eyes, skin, respiratory system, and lungs.
Protection during the removal process includes:
- Skin coverage – If you’re tackling insulation removal during the warmer months, it’s going to be an uncomfortably hot job, but you need to keep your arms and legs as well as your hands fully covered.
- Breathing protection – Use a respirator rather than a simple fabric or plastic face mask to prevent lung damage.
- Washing up – Use cool water to wash your hands, arms, and face. Warm water can open your pores and allow your skin to pull tiny particles deeper.1
Quick tip: When fiberglass touches you, it can cause a stinging sensation. Scratching or rubbing it will push it into your skin. Wash the area instead, following the protocol above.
#5: Rent and Buy the Tools You Need
To safely remove your blown-in attic insulation, you either need to fill up a shopping cart or find a single item: a trusted professional attic removal team.
If you’re removing your old attic insulation yourself, you need to gather:2
- A rented high-powered insulation vacuum
- Extra rented hose and connectors if needed for your attic access
- Insulation bags that fit the vacuum
- Gas to power the vacuum
- Protective goggles
- Heavy-duty work gloves
- Duct tape
- A good friend
Although running the vacuum in the attic is generally a one-person job, a friend to help throughout the process is a must-have. That person can keep an eye on the vacuum for any clogs in the hose or connection issues, make sure the insulation bags aren’t overfilled, and replace them as needed when removing old attic insulation.
#6: Get It Done!
You’ve gathered up everything you need and had a good breakfast. If you’re ready to jump into your first workday, follow these steps:
- Preparation – Move the vacuum close to the door or window you’ve selected for access and clear the path. If you’re running it through the house, lay down protective material. Close all other doors and windows in the house.
- Suit up – Make sure you’ve got all your protective gear, and suit up as soon as you’re ready to work in the attic space.
- Vacuum – Make sure you’ve got someone to check on the machine down below as you turn it on and begin vacuuming. Take a logical path through the attic space that helps you set small goals and appreciate as you complete each area.
- Pause for glitches – You may need to pause to navigate around obstacles, replace insulation bags, or address clogs or leaks in the vacuum hose and connectors.
While you’re in the removal stage of your existing insulation, there are some ways to make the process go as efficiently as possible:
- Stay alert – As you make your way through the attic, take a moment to carefully inspect each area in all directions: left, right, up, and down. Look for nails sticking through the roof or floor joists, and for any weakness in surfaces that you walk or put weight on if your attic doesn’t have a finished floor.
- Keep inspecting – The middle of the job isn’t a great time to realize there is mold or infestation present, but the fact is, you may only see signs of these hazards as you move further into the attic and remove some insulation. If that occurs, observe what you can and take a break to reevaluate whether you need to call in professionals who can work safely in and fully clean up a toxic environment.
At the end of the day, there are no magic tricks to removing blown in insulation from attic easily or in a snap—aside from hiring a professional.
Once you’re done, you’ll be a critical step closer to making your house a home that uses less energy and provides more protection and comfort!
#7: Clean Up and Dispose of Removed Insulation
It’s not the fun part, but at least you can see the light at the end of the tunnel! Clean up for insulation removal includes:
- Vacuum removal – Move the hose back outside and prepare the machine to be returned.
- Cleaning attic surfaces – To avoid stirring up remaining fibers, use a damp clean method like a wet shop vac to do a final clean-up of your attic. Ensure proper ventilation so surfaces can dry cleanly.
- Undressing the house – Remove any protective sheeting or drapes used inside the house carefully and give family members the all-clear!
- Disposal of insulation bags – Contact your city or county waste management organization to find out how to dispose of the old insulation. You may end up with a half dozen or more full garbage bags if you have a particularly large attic. Transport them via a trailer if you need to bring them to a disposal site to prevent any transfer of unhealthy particles from the bags to your vehicle interior.
Ready to Partner with Professionals on Attic Insulation Removal?
Your smartest first step in an attic insulation project is to obtain a professional opinion. While dedicated DIY’ers can take on projects like this, the potential for hidden health hazards makes it vital to get a second set of eyes on your attic before work begins.
If you’re considering removal or replacement of your attic insulation, take advantage of our no strings attached inspection offer.
One of our consultants will come to your home to give you an expert opinion on the best next steps to an attic that is clean and operating at its best to protect your home and comfort.
- DoItYourself. Fiberglass Insulation Dangers. https://www.doityourself.com/stry/fiberglass-insulation-dangers-to-be-aware-of
- Jay Schmidt, YouTube. How To Remove Blown-in Attic Insulation | My First Renovation. https://youtu.be/RN1Te0AKCLs
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Great work! Our attic went from totally disgusting to pristine. They are courteous and professional and clean up after themselves.
-Karen L. Santee, CA
Andrew was very informative and helpful during the whole process. Excellent communication and his team did a great job. He came on Sunday and the work was done and completed by Tuesday. Highly recommend to anyone who is looking for a fair prices and great service.
– Joey E. San Diego, CA