5 ways to make an energy efficient attic
Energy Efficiency | June 18, 2018

5 Ways to Make Your Attic More Energy-Efficient

Improving the energy efficiency of your attic helps maintain a comfortable temperature in your home while saving you money on heating and cooling costs. Despite this, it’s easy to overlook the benefits of proper attic ventilation, radiant barriers and energy-efficient insulation: over 90 percent of US homes are improperly insulated. If you’re looking to improve your energy use, check out these five different ways to make your attic more energy efficient.

5 Ways to Make Your Attic More Energy Efficient

The way your attic retains or releases heat can affect your entire house, and implementing a simple set of solutions can make your attic more energy efficient. Energy-efficient insulation, while an important consideration, is actually only one solution to attic heating and cooling issues. Depending on your geographic location, the size of your attic and the pitch of your attic roof, one or more of these solutions may be required.

1. Install energy-efficient ventilation to improve air circulation in your attic.

Venting an attic allows outdoor air to flow into the attic in winter while providing an escape route for hot air in the summer. It may seem odd to allow cold air any entry in your home in the winter, but a cold attic reduces the risk of rising heat melting snow on the roof. Melted roof snow often refreezes in gutter systems, causing ice dams that can damage roofs and lead to interior water damage.

Proper ventilation is also important in the summer months, when heat from the home rises into the attic. Hot air trapped in the attic can heat roof shingles from below, increasing the risk of roof damage. Hot, humid air trapped in attics can also cause moisture to accumulate, resulting in mold or mildew.

Why should you have attic ventilation?

Venting the attic helps maintain appropriate seasonal temperatures inside the attic while allowing you to maintain a constant temperature in your home through your HVAC system. That said, venting an attic is not always a complete energy-efficient solution. Attic ventilation works best in mild to cold climates. In hot, humid climates, ventilation will not keep an attic cool, although air circulation combined with an attic fan can help reduce cooling costs.

Installing ventilation in an attic must be done properly for the ventilation to work efficiently. When installing ventilation, avoid blocking vents with insulation, which prevents airflow. Another common mistake occurs if your home’s exhaust system inadvertently pulls HVAC-conditioned air into the attic. Proper HVAC installation by a licensed professional can prevent this issue.

2. Use energy-efficient attic fans to regulate your home climate.

Attic fans are a good option for regulating your home’s temperature, and the type of fan you install can impact the energy-efficiency of your attic depending on how well-insulated your home is and where you live.

Attic ventilation fans are a type of attic fan that cools attics by pushing hot air outside while pulling in cooler air from soffit and gable vents. They differ from whole-house fans, which are attic-installed fans intended to cool the entire home rather than simply maintain proper attic temperature.

the pros and cons of attic ventilation fans

Attic ventilation fans: pros and cons

Some debate exists concerning the pros and cons of attic ventilation fans. On the one hand, proper ventilation and lower temperatures at the top of your house are great assets that can extend the lifespan of your roof and ensure anything stored in your attic isn’t destroyed in the punishing summer heat. An attic ventilation fan, with an installation cost of anywhere from $200 to about $1,300, is a common choice.

Although properly installed attic ventilation fans can be an effective way to cool your attic, improper sealing can cause the fans to pull conditioned air through small cracks in ceilings, forcing your HVAC to run longer and work harder.

The energy expenditure of powered attic ventilation fans also needs considering, as such fans consume more energy than they save in homes without proper insulation (although they may still address moisture issues and prevent rising heat from damaging roofs). Solar-powered attic fans offer a potential alternative to electrically-powered attic ventilation fans.

Pro tip: for homes without air conditioning, consider installing an energy-efficient whole-house fans to improve the energy efficiency of your home.

3. Install radiant barriers in your attic to improve heating and cooling efficiency.

A radiant barrier in the attic helps prevent the electromagnetic transfer of heat (such as from the photons in sunlight). An attic radiant barrier is made of a highly reflective material mounted on one or both sides of a substrate. Aluminum is the most common choice for the reflective material, while cardboard, plywood sheeting, kraft paper and plastic films are often used for the substrate.

A radiant barrier in your attic maintains proper attic temperature by reflecting radiant light back the way it came—whether from outside sunlight or heat radiating from your living spaces. The best radiant barrier is installed perpendicular to incoming radiant heat, as radiant heat travels in straight lines.

Radiant barriers in the attic for hot climates vs. cold climates

The best radiant barrier for your attic depends on your local climate. For hot climates, where most of the radiant heat hitting the attic comes from sunlight, radiant barriers should be draped from the attic ceiling or installed between the roof beams. In cold climates, the best radiant barriers are installed on the floor of the attic so that they can redirect radiant heat from the home back into your living spaces. In either case, the reflective portion of the barrier must face the approaching radiant heat.

Generally speaking, radiant barriers are more efficient in hot climates, where they can reduce cooling costs by 5 to 10 percent. In cool climates, energy-efficient insulation is usually a better solution than a radiant barrier.

In hot climates place radiant barrier on attic ceiling and in cold climates place them on the attic floor

4. Seal cracks to minimize air leaks in your attic.

Attic air leaks are cracks, holes or other weak points where air can enter or exit the home. Left unfixed, attic air leaks can leak heated air during the winter and cool air in the summer, forcing your HVAC to work harder and increasing your utility bill. Attic leaks can also provide starting points for serious water damage. Sealing the cracks and leaks in your home and attic is one of the best ways to take control of your energy bill.

Pro tip: read more about how to find air leaks in your home and how you can fix them.

5. Upgrade to energy-efficient insulation.

Insulation helps prevent heat loss and heat gain in a home by acting as a barrier to temperature extremes. Most often found in attics, basements, walls, floors and ceilings, insulation can save up to 20 percent on a home’s heating and cooling costs, making it one of the most important energy-efficient tools at your disposal.

Insulation is one of the most effective ways to improve the energy efficiency of your attic.

Pro tip: discover how to improve your attic insulation with these handy tips.


Bonus: How Heat Affects Your Attic

How well your attic retains and releases heat affects your entire house. Your attic may trap heat, causing temperatures to rise in your living spaces. In the winter, your attic may suck heat from the home, forcing your heating system to work overtime to maintain comfortable temperatures.

Heat travels in three different ways, all of which can affect your attic:

  1. Conduction: This is the process by which heat moves from hot objects to cold objects. For instance, in the winter, heat from your home may move—or conduct—to cold areas of your attic. In summer, the process reverses, and heat moves from the attic into your home.
  2. Convection: This describes how hot air rises—warming the air and objects in its path—while colder, denser air falls. Cold air from an attic will seep down into the home whereas warm air from the home may escape by rising through the attic.
  3. Radiant energy: This is heat transferred through electromagnetic radiation, such as the sun’s photons—basically, the sun heats your attic and house up as it travels across the sky. Radiant energy travels in a straight line, heating any solid object it encounters.

Check out these other ways to improve the energy efficiency of your attic.

In addition to ventilation, energy-efficient attic fans and radiant barriers, a number of other methods exist to improve your home’s energy efficiency.

  • Shade landscaping: Planting shade landscaping carefully in relation to your home can cut down on your heating and cooling costs.
  • Ductwork cleaning: Dirt and debris in your HVAC’s ductwork force the system to work harder while reducing air quality. Find out how ductwork cleaning can help reduce your energy costs.
  • Energy-efficient roofing materials: Solar-reflecting shingles and other types of energy-efficient roofs help maintain a comfortable temperature in your home.
  • Cool roofing: Cool roofs absorb less heat and reflect more sunlight than traditional roofing materials.

Attics are isolated areas of our homes and easy to forget about. They’re also extremely important factors when considering a home’s energy efficiency. Maintaining an ideal temperature in your attic reduces your energy costs, makes your living areas more comfortable and helps prevent damage to your roof. So give your attic a little thought today—you’ll be glad you did.

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Comments ( 4 )

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George Schlaffer - 6/29/2018

You did not address fans that work strictly on wind current outside. I have one of these on top of my house and it turns when there is wind. presumably it helps remove hot air ,etc I’d like to see your comments on these type fans mounted on roof top. Thanks

    Constellation Community Team - 7/16/2018

    George, that’s a great point! Attic turbines can help ventilate an attic in the summer and possibly cool your attic, and prevent ice dams in the winter, which can prolong the life of your attic. Some other attic options may provide better cooling results, but overall, attic ventilation turbines are a great option for attic energy efficiency.

Peggy A Ward - 6/28/2018

We rent our home.

    Constellation Community Team - 7/16/2018

    Hi Peggy,
    Depending on your leasing agreement, you may be restricted or allowed to install energy-efficient attic add-ons. We suggest talking to your landlord to figure out what can and can’t be done.

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