If you're thinking about ways to improve attic insulation, remember two central facts of physics: During winter, heat energy is trying to get out of your house. In summer, it's trying to get in. Heat is transmitted by conduction, convection and radiation. Standard fiberglass or cellulose insulation affects both conduction and convection.
Conduction is the transmission of heat energy through materials. An example of conduction is the way heat in a broiling attic conducts down through your ceiling in summer and warms rooms directly below. Convection is the movement of heat through air, such as the natural process of warm air rising up and out of living spaces in winter. In both household examples, the movement of heat can be retarded and cooling and heating costs reduced by making the effort to improve attic insulation.
Insulation is rated by its R-value. "R" stands for resistance to heat and the value numeral expresses how efficiently the insulation performs that role. The higher it is, the better. Insulation's total R-value depends on its depth in inches. Fiberglass batts and cellulose loose fill insulation have R-values of 3.1 and 3.8, respectively. Therefore, a 10-inch layer of insulation in the attic equals a total R-value of 31 for fiberglass batts or 38 for cellulose.
Many if not most existing homes are under-insulated by today's standards. Efforts to improve attic insulation can pay off in both summer and winter, and energy savings will begin on Day One. Attic insulation may be upgraded by adding more of the same, or a different type can be added atop existing layers.
Recommended levels of attic insulation are specified by the Department of Energy according to your local climate zone. In a San Antonio home with an existing 3 to 4 inches of insulation, the DOE recommends an additional R-25 to R-38. This means adding another 8 to 12 inches of fiberglass insulation or 6 to 10 inches of cellulose loose fill.
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