Find and Address Hidden Problems
Attics can have hidden problems that can be tricky to solve. Here is a list of problems and indicators where it is recommended to hire a professional to correct these problems before proceeding:
- Difficult attic access and limited space to work
- Wet or damp insulation, indicating a leaky roof
- Moldy or rotted attic rafters or floor joists, indicating moisture problems
- Kitchen, bathroom, or clothes dryer vents that exhaust moist air directly into the attic space instead of outdoors
- Little or no attic ventilation
- Knob and tube wiring (in homes from the 1930s and earlier), which can be a fire hazard when in contact with insulation
Prepare to Call a Contractor
Before calling a contractor, gather the following information about the project:
- How many inches of insulation you currently have on your attic floor?
- What are the approximate dimensions of your attic floor in feet? (for example: 24 ft x 32 ft)
- Do you have an attic hatch, pull-down stairs, or other way to access the attic?
- You may be able to send the pictures to the contractor. So, if you can safely stick your head up into the attic, take a few pictures with your cell phone.
Shop Around When Selecting a Contractor
Insulation contractors have all the equipment and experience to do the job right and often do it much quicker. As with any home improvement project, you want to make sure you’re getting a good price and that the work will be done right. A good contractor has a license to work in your state, has insurance, and is trained and certified to do the work. Start by checking with your local gas or electric utility. They may offer incentives to do the work and provide pre-screened lists of licensed and insured contractors on their websites. Other helpful contractor lists include:
Home Performance with ENERGY STAR
- Contractors are pre-screened by local program, licensed, and insured
- Each HPwES program has contractor training and certification requirements
Building Performance Institute (BPI)
- Contractors are pre-screened by BPI and are licensed and insured
- BPI has national training and certification standards that contractors must meet
Owens Corning Certified Energy Experts (CEE)
- Contactors are pre-screened by Owens Corning and are licensed and insured
- Owens Corning has training and certification standards as well as offers warranties.
Talking to Contractors on the Phone - When you call a contractor or send an email for an appointment, here are some things to ask/confirm:
- The contractor is licensed and insured in your state.
- The crew is trained and certified to do insulation work.
- Make sure the contractor understands you want attic holes and gaps sealed before any insulation is added. If they do not agree to “seal before insulating”, call another contractor!
- Tell the contractor what type of attic entrance you have (hatch, stairs, door) or if they must make a new opening
- If needed, ask if they offer attic hatch covers or attic door insulation and request an estimate.
- Let the contractor know if you have an older house (1930s or earlier) and whether there could be ‘knob and tube’ wiring in the attic. It you are not sure, just tell them how old your home is
Many contractors will want to conduct a site visit for a more accurate cost and scope of work estimate. To help ensure you are getting the best deal, get estimates from several different contractors. You can compare costs and scopes of work to help ensure they will do a complete job.
Making sure the job is done right
Once you hire a contractor, it is a good idea to make a few requests of the contractor and crew to help ensure you are satisfied with the job. You should also understand what work they will be doing.
The Day of the Job - When the day of the job arrives, here are a few things to ask the contractor and crew to do to help ensure the job meets your expectations. Be polite, but insistent that they do these things:
- Wear shoe coverings to keep your house clean during the work.
- Vacuum up any dirt or spilled insulation.
- Notify you if there is any wet insulation or roof leaks they notice.
- Notify you if there are any signs of pests (birds, mice, or squirrels) living in the attic.
- Take a few pictures of the attic floor with your phone/camera before beginning any work so you have a record of what was there before they begin.
Make Sure the Job’s Done Right
When hiring a contractor, make sure that you clearly understand the work they’ll be doing. Don’t hesitate to ask questions before the contractor starts and stay involved throughout the process! Here are some tips to keep in mind:
- If there are any appliances or equipment in the attic that burn a fuel, like a gas water heater or furnace, have a professional HVAC contractor conduct combustion safety testing after any air sealing.
- Any project estimate should also include installing insulation baffles (rafter vents). This ensures that as you add insulation, soffit vents (which allow outside air to enter the attic) are not blocked and your attic has proper air flow.
- Contractors should seal air leaks in the attic floor before adding insulation. It’s much easier to seal first to ensure you get the full performance out of your insulation.
- If you have air ducts in the attic, make sure contractors do not step on or damage them.
- Burying any ducts on the floor in insulation is OK to do – it can even improve efficiency. Just make sure the ducts are well sealed first.
- Unless your old insulation is wet, moldy, smelly, or contains animal waste, contractors can just add new insulation on top. It is usually not necessary to remove existing insulation.
- If you have older recessed light fixtures (can lights) that stick up into the attic floor, the contractor should cover and seal them using specially designed covers before installing insulation. The covers are available at most home improvement stores.
- Almost every home has a plumbing vent pipe which passes through the attic. The contractor should seal the chase (hole) for the plumbing vent pipe.
- Almost every home has a chimney or flue for hot gasses from the furnace, boiler, or fireplace. The gap around the flue to chimney can be sealed with metal flashing and high- temperature caulk.
- It is important to weather strip and insulate the attic hatch or door. Alternatively, there are several off-the-shelf attic hatch insulation products available for standard-sized openings.
- Most contractors use blown-in, loose fill insulation for attic floors, which is quick and easy to install with the right equipment. Typical materials include fiberglass or cellulose – both contain some recycled content (glass or ground up paper) and are inexpensive and safe. If traditional insulation rolls are used for the attic floor instead, be sure that it is “unfaced” (no foil or paper backing needed) so moisture does not get trapped.
End of the Job –
The contractor is required to provide you with documentation at the end of the job to show how much insulation has been added and what the new insulation R-value is for your attic. When it’s done, take a picture and compare it to the pictures you took earlier to see the improvement. Then, you can sit back and enjoy knowing your home is more comfortable and energy-efficient.