Cecil County Insulation Contractors

in Cecil County, MD

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Winter guide

The Angie's List Guide to Winter Maintenance

It's the time of year when the winter weather can take a toll. Follow this winter maintenance checklist to protect your home, your car and your health.

Without proper insulation and venting in your attic, icicles can form on your eaves, leading to a damaging ice dam on your roof, says Neubecker. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Donna B. of Mendota Heights, Minn.)

Avoid ice dams with proper attic insulation

Do you have icicles forming on your eaves and gutters and ice collecting on your roof? An ice dam can cause serious problems without proper insulation.

Angie's List
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Contractors say homeowners with this trait are the most satisfied with home improvement projects.

With insulation technology always advancing, you’ve got choices to make when it comes to the material you pick, says Lindus. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Lynn M. of Columbus, Georgia)
Insulation

Thinking of installing your own insulation? One highly rated provider shares six things that every homeowner should be aware of before attempting to DIY.

Before winter arrives, ensure your attic is sealed properly and has both adequate insulation and ventilation. (Photo courtesy of member Kitty Jones of Columbus, Ohio)
Insulation, Heating & A/C, Roofing

A comfortable, energy efficient home starts at the top. Those hot spots and cold rooms may relate to problems in your attic. Beyond adding insulation, what's a homeowner to do?

Download the Angie's List Fall Maintenance Guide to get started on protecting your home from potentially damaging winter weather. (Graphic design by Matt Mukerjee)
Heating & A/C, Deck Maintenance, Lawn Fertilization & Treatment, Water Heaters, Plumbing, Roofing, Gutter Cleaning, Garage Doors, Fireplaces, Chimney Sweep, Insulation, Auto Service, Foundation Repair, Lawn Irrigation, Tree Service, Windows

When tree leaves and temperatures begin falling, it's a sign winter is on its way. Use this fall maintenance checklist to protect your home from winter damage.

Angie's Answers

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Google and read about it. Some people swear by it, though their comments sound suspiciously like they were all written by the same person. Some call it a rip off - expecially people paying $6000-8000 for what would normally be a $1,000 range job.

I would not call it an outright fraud as they are providing a product that has some potential merit in the right application, but from a technical standpoint it sounds suspicious. They claim a 1/4 mat with doiuble sided foil facing is R-16 insulation. This at least is deceptive - they appear to be saying its radiant heat reflective properties give the equivalent of R-16 insulation, because there is NO WAY 1/4" foam is going to yield R-16 in an ASTM test for insulation, which is a thermal conductivity test. Would be lucky to get R-2 or so as an insulator, so this is basically a radiant barrier. Competing products from national brandname manufacturers list R value of 3.8-4.2 for one inch mats, so the equivalent for this 1/4" mat would be expected to be in the R1 range.

Properly installed, with ventilation on BOTH sides, it can be slightly effective in reducing radiant heat loss from the house, and more effective in reflecting heat in the attic from coming down into the house. However, from a thermodynamic and vapor control standpoint, they are trouble unless their integration into the house envelope is designed VERY carefully. Short explanation:

1) for keeping heat in the house, if they are installed above the attic floor insulation they can slightly limit air loss through the ceiling, and reflect radiant heat back down, resulting in warmer insulation, hence a warmer ceiling - but not as marked an improvement as added insulation would give.

2) for keeping attic heat from getting into the ceiling, they do reflect back a good portion of the radiant heat coming from the roof sheathing. This reduces the attic floor insulation surface temperature, so can reduce air conditioning cost. it does increase teh temperature in the attic, which can be very bad for support timbers and the roof sheathing.

3) the worst thing about how this type of foil radiant barrier is used is that, unless it has free air space on both sides, it acts as a vapor barrier. In the typicall application as a blanket over attic floor insulation, it traps any moisture coming up from the house, and can cause mildew and rot, especially in climates where the outdoor temperature gets quite cold.

4) the attic fans are generally a last resort measure - the normal house does much better, at no energy cost, using ridge vents with adequate eave openings to provide ventilation and cooling in the attic.

5) their effectiveness in winter heat diminshes rapidly with time - tests of attic radiant barriers show they lose about half their effectvieness within 5 years, because even a light dust coating greatly reduces their ability to reflect radiant heat, and greatly increases the absorption of heat from the hot air above them.

6) pay attention to cost - from what I see, their installed cost is many times the cost of normal insualtion or radiant barrier placement.

I would say, in summary, buyer beware, and I would be inherently leery of a product being sold the same way timeshares and "secret" moneymaking schemes are.

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Obviously this is not a timely response to the initial question. However, for those who may be reading these answers at a later time, a couple of added thoughts:

1) the radiant barrier being discussed is basically heavy-duty metal foil or metallized surface on a plastic sheet, intended to reflect RADIATED heat (infrared radiation - think heat light, or heat you can feel at a distance radiated from a fireplace), the same way a mirror reflects light. Radiated heat is how a standard oven broils and how steam and hot water baseboard heat predominately work.

2) you generally should do NOT place a radiant barrier over the insulation that lies between and over the joists in a normal attic, especially in a region where the attic temperature can frequently reach condensation temperature (below about 45-50 degrees) - it may reflect back some of the house heat that is coming up from the house, but by destroying most of the temperature gradient from the house to the attic air destroys much of the driving force that moves moisture to the attic air and subsequent venting. Between that greater heat and the fact the barrier is also a moisture barrier, that makes a perfect condition for mold and rot in your insulation and attic wood, and has become quite an issue in energy upgraded homes because of retrofits that cut off airflow outside the insulation, but do not cut off the moisture source leaking thorough from the house. The proper and ONLY place for a vapor barrier in a normal attic insulation system is on the pressurized and normal warm, humid side of the insulation zone - directly above the ceiling drywall in the top floor, fastened to the UNDERSIDE of the ceiling joists or trusses, NOT anywhere above that. Perforated barriers are supposed to reduce this tendency, but the perforation area percentage is so small that typically they still act as a vapor varrier, just not a totally effective one.

3) radiant barriers reflect radiated heat ewith up to 99% efficiency but have basically zero resistance to CONDUCTION (body to body heat transfer at points of contact - think heat transfer from your warm hand to a frozen cold drink can, or hot pavement heat transfer to the bottom of your feet) - so there needs to be an air gap between the radiant barrier and the hot item passing the heat to it, otherwise the heat will just pass through it by conduction. Therefore, applying it directly to the sheathing (above or below) or manufacturing it directly on the surface of the sheathing defeats its purpose, even though this is commonly done.

4) there is a lot of discussion, particularly in the professional design community, about attic radiant heat barrier effectiveness and problems. Because they are being installed on the bottom of the sheathing or underside of roof joists, they act as a heat trap for the energy being conducted through the roof which would normally radiate into the attic air or be transferred by CONVECTION (fluid flow heat transfer) to the attic air, and be vented through roof vents, ridge vents, gable vents, etc. By trapping that heat, they are causing the underside of the shingles and particularly the felt and sheathing to get a lot hotter than they otherside would, essentially changing it from a system where the shingle top surface might reach 120-180 F and the inside surface of the sheathing about 80-140F in the summer, to making the entire roof system equal to the outside surface temperature. This causes more rapid shingle deterioration and cracking, and makes the felt or plastic moisture barrier under the shingles brittle and subject to failure.

Also, any moisture above the radiant barrier (from roof leaks or humid air coming into the area) is prevented from evaporating by the attic airflow which would normally remove it, so it starts acting like a steamer. I have seen both wood and metal lofts and attics become a major mold farm in months because of this effect, and a couple of roofs which started sagging due to rotted sheathing within 2 years of reroofing with tightly adhered radiant barrier. Some radiant barriers are vapor-permeable to reduce the moisture issue, many are not, but few actually are effective in letting moisture freely escape.

Having seen these products in use, and having analyzed and specified building products for use from the Middle East to the Arctic for decades, and having a Masters in Arctic Engineering (a degree predominately in energy conservation and heat flow), my personal opinion is that these radiant barriers will be banned by code within 10-15 years for unheated (so-called "cold" roofs) roofs, because they just do not use the principles of thermodynamics correctly. For more info on this issue Google the following search phrase  - moisture trapping by radiant attic barriers       and read the government (not the manufacturer) literature on the issue.

5) Unfortunately, the right way to handle this issue is to put the radiant surface on the OUTSIDE of the house - by using reflective materials on the roofing material. This is already done with flat roofs, house trailers, and industrial structures by spraying with alumiunum paint, and a few brands offer reflective aggregate shingles that are slightly more reflective and radiant than normal shingles. People obviously do not like this reflective surface from an aesthetic standpoint, though with solar cells coming into more general use this may soon be more widely adopted. The idea should be to keep the solar energy from penetrating into the building envelope at all, not try to re-reflect it away after it has penetrated throguh the roof system.

The sprayed-in foam has a couple of issues you need to be aware of:

6) it needs to be the low-pressure expanding type mixed for use around window frames, as fully expanding foam can bow joists or trusses and pop drywall ceilings free as it expands, and non-expanding foam actually shrinks as it cures, leaving gaps for air and heat flow alongside the ceiling joists.

7) being closed-cell it is essentially impervious to moisture, so the vapor barrier on the house side has to be EXCELLENT (incuding sealingof all penetrations), or it will trap household moisture escaping into the attic and promote mold and rot in the ceiling drywall and joists.

8) it tends to bleed chemical fumes into the house for a long period of time (can be noticeable for years), which may be objectionable to some people from an odor or environmental standpoint, and especially should be considered if any residents have severe allergy issues or respiratory problems.

9) I emphatically recommend AGAINST use of sprayed-in foam between ceiling joists or truss members in any area that can have cold attic air that could cause moisture condensation in the insulation, though this is probably not a significant problem where you live, assuming your Dallas is the city in Texas. For essentially year-around air-conditioned homes in hot climates, the problem can actually be condensation of attic air moisture on and in the colder ceiling surface insulation and on cold attic runs of air conditioned air, so attic ventilation becomes a critical issue to remove the moisture before it condenses.

In summary, having seen an awful lot of attic moisture and thermal problems, my personal recommendation would be to ensure excellent sealing of the house from the attic, use normal UNFACED fiberglass insulation, and instead of a radiant barrier ensure adequate full-attic ventilation. If you decide to got with a radiant barrier, then I would recommend a perforated one, sloping up towards the sides a foot or two and stopping a foot or so clear at the sides so moist air under it can escape to the roof joist spaces and be vented from the attic. I have seen this done several times with a fine nylon net strung above the insulation in the attic, supporting the barrier, resulting in something very similar to the double-roof system used in bedouin tents, where airflow between the two layers keep the hot air away from the living space.

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A couple of comments about what Jim said:

1) Regarding type of insulation, in cold winter environments: Cellulose and fiberglass are actually about comparable in R value when installed - blown in cellulose runs from 3.2-3.8 R value, fiberglass batt 2.9-4.3 R value depending on manufacturer and whether hig-density or low density, high-efficiency or standard, according to official Department of Energy publications. Measured values in attic test cases, in areas with a true winter, after 10 years showed a decrease from 3.4 (in the test case) down to 2.1 for cellulose, and 3.5 to 3.3 for fiberglass batt, due to packing or matting. In an attic environment, there WILL be condensation or frost on the insulation at some point during the year (assuming an area with true winters) and in highly insulated houses commonly for a substantial time period each winter. Fiberglass packs down slightly from that weight but mostly rebounds, cellulose packs down and mats and does not substantially recover, so over the years cellulose loses 1/3 to close to 1/2 its insulation value, fiberglass about 10%.

2) a note on radiation barriers attached to the bottom of the rafters - there are a lot of installers and homeowners making two major mistakes with this product that can cause major trouble: First, be sure to terminate it short of the eave openings. I have seen cases where it was carried all the way out to the fascia board, thereby blocking all airflow on the underside of the roof. Even carrying it all the way to the eaves along the bottom of the rafters will block off ventilation to the main attic area. You have to leave the air space between the rafters open to full airflow from the soffit/eave area ot the ridge vent. Second, do NOT run it continuous from eave to eave across the full width of the attic - leave a gap about a foot wide under the ridge vents so warm and moist air in the attic can vent through the ridge vent. Closing the ridge vent area off with the radiant barrier effectively puts a vapor barrier around the main attic area, causing retention of the moisture which WILL accumulate there, promoting mold.

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Steve made a good point.  Also, while it isn't required to remove the old insulation you can check the ductwork, wiring, etc. with the old stuff removed,  You can also spray foam around all openings and holes in wall top plates to better seal your home as Steve was pointing out.  My concern is the potential for mold spores you mentioned in your question.  If you suspect there are any get a good company in to remove the old and clean the attic.  Another concern is asbestos.  Your home is old enough you could have it in there and that's worse than mold if released into the air.

Todd Shell
Todd's Home Services
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