To the everyday person, a home would have only one ceiling: The rooftop, right? But this is not entirely true. Each room in your home has a ceiling and a floor… Even the basement and each one of those has a different insulation need in comparison with the rest of the house.
Regardless of how many rooms are there in the house, one thing is certain, there is no better place to insulate than the rooftop of the house. This is where all the warmth or coolness of the home can escape more easily. Starting from the roof down is where you ensure that you will have insulation that will render optimal energy efficiency.
However, it is important to remember that just like with any other home-based activity, you should never “plunge” into it without care nor consideration of the many things that you need to correct, or check that they are correct or to replace before insulating your ceiling.
Failure to do so can hinder your effort, render you at a monetary loss as the job would have to be re-done or even risk your home to an accident because of improper insulation. Taking the time to consider, supervise, check, and repair (when needed) will only help you develop a proper strategy and maximize your effort by cutting down on time invested and even money spent.
How To Insulate Ceilings
When you set up to insulate your home’s ceiling; there are a few things that you need to consider before thinking about taking this task on. One of such is the ceiling that your home has.
The second thing that you need to consider when deciding on insulating your home’s ceiling is the accessibility to the ceiling. As a do-it-yourself person, you most likely do not have the equipment that a contractor usually has, staying safe is–and should always be your priority.
In the USA, most homes have accessible attics whose entrance is through an interior ceiling hatch. There are other homes that have an exterior roof or entrances that are mounted in their walls. The main problem with these entrances is the size and whether they are big and wide enough to let you pass through all the materials, you will be needing.
Gable-end entries are ideal as they are one area that you need not insulate with the additional plus that–if needed, they are a great entry point for firefighters. None of us plan to get our homes burned down, but accidents happen and it is always best to be safe.
While you are reviewing and checking the access and the space you have in which to enter your insulation materials; it is now a good opportunity to check:
- Ease of movement
- Vertical clearances
- The condition of the roof framing
- The condition of the sheathing
- How is the finish
Make sure that neither the soffit nor the fascia has signs of moisture-related problems: leaks, stains, mold, flaking, mildew, or rot.
If you find any of these areas with even the slightest problem, it is in your best interest to have them corrected before you launch into setting up or replacing the insulation, you will face a myriad of problems and all your hard work will be for nothing as the efficiency of the insulation will be 0.
In addition, you need to consider that some of these problems can cause rot in the wood that supports the attic. This could lead to even more problems and even structural ones.
If you see moisture-related problems, these can come from the outside and sift in.
Moisture can also come from inside the house in the form of vapor by air leakage. The main areas that will show this problem if this is the cause are Kitchen and Bathroom.
How can you tell for sure you have air leakage in your attic? Because you will find discoloration of the insulation. Check existing insulation so you can pinpoint and locate any air leaks. These are areas in which you will need to be extra meticulous.
Ok, but is there an ideal time to do so? Cold snaps are a perfect time. This will take the form of frost in cold climates. While this is somewhat expected, see nothing ranging between 2 inches or more.
For this check to be efficient, make sure that the ventilation is free. It should not be blocked.
If you want to check for moisture, do so during the raining season.
Replace, Remove or Add
Some experts consider that the existing insulation (if there is any) is perfect to lay new insulation over it. In this manner, you will already have “the blueprint” where to place the new insulation. This might be handy if you are a do-it-yourself kind of person.
Other consider that this is a bad idea, particularly since insulation usually is efficient for a period no longer than 8 years. It might be better to replace the whole thing.
If the insulation is decolored, damaged, brittle, or has any change in its appearance or structure, the best and safest bet is to replace it. If it is wet, you need to correct the moisture source before installing the new insulation.
Depending on the source of the moisture you might need to call a roofer or work on your roof directly. It is important that you fix and resolve the moisture or vapor problem. As even with water-repellent insulation, there might be mold or mildew if not in the insulation, it can grow in any of the other attic elements such as the wood that makes up the soul of the attic.
Things you SHOULD have when insulating your attic:
A vapor barrier on the warm side of the insulation. In previous times, this was done with paper-backed batts or even layers of paint. Nowadays the choice is a polyethylene sheet.
Air Seal the attic to prevent outside so that any vapor that can escape to the attic does not condensate and cause problems.
Weatherstrip to enhance the air sealing.
With the following items, always contact your contractor or insulation specialist as they require special actions regarding attic insulation.
Metal Chimneys. Should be at least 3 inches away from contacting any insulation.
Electricity. Before working on the insulation, turn off the general power for your home or area where you will be working. It will always be advisable to stop and consult a specialist if you notice faulty or suspicious wiring.
Animal droppings. These signal three things: Wildlife nesting in your home, in which case you need to call a relocation service. Harmful vermin infesting your home, in which case you will need to determine exactly what the vermin is and call an exterminator.
Finally, it might just be that there was an infestation or nesting at some point but not anymore, in which case you should try to figure out which one it was and if it was nesting, prevent it from happening.
It is also important not to remove the debris by yourself as there might have bacteria and viruses that can be harmful to human beings.
Insulating Drop Ceilings
There are homes that have two ceilings. A secondary one that is laid down below the main ceiling is known as a drop ceiling, false ceiling, or suspended ceiling. It is normally used to conceal pipes, wiring, and/or ducts.
Drop ceilings are usually created to enhance or make the most out of the thermal-efficient system you have in your home. Therefore, it is important that you insulate them properly.
They are also used when there is a cathedral ceiling or when otherwise the normal building structure demands a drop ceiling to further control the temperature inside the home in a more efficient way.
There are many preferences for the way to insulate a drop ceiling and what products to use. In most cases, it usually depends on the experience of the constructor or renovator. Yet, fiberglass batt insulation is the perfect insulation for these types of ceiling.
Their efficiency in insulation while being light and easy to handle and install makes them the ideal insulation for drop ceilings.
While there is some debate on whether mineral wool batts are light enough to do the job without adding too much weight to the drop ceiling structure and with the efficiency that is expected from them. It depends on what is it you expect to achieve from the insulation.
For instance, fiberglass is perfect to care for the investment in climate control systems such as heating and air cooling, but mineral wool has a voice of its own for soundproofing.
Many specialists believe that insulating a drop ceiling is the easiest insulation task that a homeowner can do when they are starting on the do-it-yourself world. If you are among the homeowners that fall into this category, always consider that regardless of the insulation that you use, it is best that you use batt insulation rather than roll.
This is because the space (if any) in the drop ceiling is too short to maneuver safely. The R-value that you will need for this job depends on what you want to accomplish and the overall weather in the location where you are at.
If you are not sure what R-value you should consider, contact your insulation specialist for guidance. Once a decision has been made, it is important to check on the structure of the drop ceiling so that when you are moving it about installing the insulation, the constant movement does not cause the drop ceiling to fall down.
The way to tackle the insulation depends on you and the way the drop ceiling has been built. A traditional way states that you will take the ceiling panels down to install the insulation batt and then put them back in their original place.
This process is long and it can be tedious. A modification from this traditional method states that you process each row of panels.
· Number the panel rows: 1,2,3,…
· Remove the panel row: 2
· Work on panel row 1. Install and secure the insulation.
· Place row 2 back in its place.
· Remove panel row 3
· Repeat the process until completion.
In this process, you will still have some difficulty installing the insulation for the last row.
Regardless of which way you go, you will still need to consider things that can be a potential hazard such as electrical installations and other installations.
Insulating Cathedral Ceilings
As its name states, a vaulted ceiling has an arched structure with one or two sharp, sloping sides that together form a peak. When one of the two sides has an unequal length, it slants to the lowest wall, and this creates an illusion that it might be bigger than what it really is.
This makes slanted ceilings part of cathedral ceilings. A cathedral ceiling besides the elements already mentioned has a center point that IS higher than the walls, its sides are of an equal length that meets in the middle of a room and it gives it a unique shape.
Vaulted ceilings and cathedral ceilings might seem similar, but they are not as cathedral ceilings do not admit as much “play” as vaulted ones.
As with any other ceiling insulation, working on a cathedral insulation is the same. There are many alternatives for insulation. Many of them present problems as this ceiling has a unique shape and therefore a set of problems of its own.
Using cellulose insulation, for instance, can cause leaks as the best way to apply cellulose insulation is wet and as with any other paper, once it dries, it shrinks making it a false reading. This means that once you have installed this insulation, it will settle down and cause crevices and drafts, leaving your work to be for nothing.
In addition, and probably the most important thing: Cellulose will react badly to water and of thumb, it is not fire retardant. Cellulose can absorb a lot of water, and that will make it heavy and cause additional weight to your cathedral ceiling. If it gets wet, it will take a long time to dry out leaving plenty of room for mold and mildew.
Another alternative that is commonly used is spray foam. Also known as open or closed insulation foam; this name references to when the bubbles in the foam burst, whether it is when spraying it or after it has dried. Spray foam is expensive and sometimes, they have a heavy odor that can demand the people that live in the homes to leave for some time while the odor dissipates.
Finally, it is an insulation that admits no error. It is not insulation that the do-it-yourself homeowner can take care of. If it is not properly installed it will leave gaps that will render the whole work pointless.
Fiberglass has an easy installation process as all it takes is for it to be stapled to the underside of the roof before hanging in place the drywall.
This is a more financially friendly option. Glass does not shrink, and it absorbs no water. It is also known to be fire retardant and since depending on the manufacturer you can find this insulation with or without backing, then you can have double-efficient insulation and install it in one process instead of going over the whole work twice.
As always, if you are not sure what type of insulation benefits your cathedral ceiling the most, reach out to your insulation specialist for guidance and consultation.
Insulating Ceilings with Attics
Not all homes have attics, some do. When your home has an attic, a question comes to mind. What to do when the ceiling of your home is the floor of the attic? Many people leave the attic un-insulated. One clear example of this attitude lies in the US classic movie: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation ™, in this movie, the main character played by Chevy Chase climbs up to the attic to hide some Christmas presents.
Since the attic is not insulated, a cold current runs through the house from the attic’s open door. His mother-in-law closes the hatch and leaves Chevy Chase “locked” in the attic. Again, since there is no insulation, he is cold and has to resort to clothes layering to keep warm.
You can see the character as he “walks about” the attic from beam to beam, trying not to step over the insulation. This is probably the best example there is for you to get convinced that it is a good idea to insulate the attic.
But why didn’t the character insulate the attic? The reason is simple, to keep your energy cost as little as possible, then you need to keep the protected volume (the area that receives the heating/cooling processes) as small as possible. And in most cases, insulating the attic can be unbalancing this structure.
However, you need to consider what use are you giving your attic? Even if you plan on using it for storage, consider the state in which the items stored there will be. An un-insulated attic can draw moisture and therefore mold and mildew that can not only damage the beams of the attic and the structure of the house but also anything you store in it.
Therefore, the best alternative is to insulate the whole area. Both the floor and the underside of the roof of the house which is the attic’s ceiling. This will keep the heated/cool area small enough to keep the energy costs low, but it will prevent any outside weather from sifting in.
Traditionally, cellulose is the insulation of choice for this, but there are many problems with it:
· It is not airtight, and it allows air to flow through, therefore it is not the perfect match to help you save money with your energy bills.
· As we have mentioned, it can absorb water and become even heavier. This could have a negative impact on the structure and stability of the ceiling.
· It is not fire retardant.
On the other size, fiberglass has some problems of its own, though despite them it is still the best alternative for the insulation of the entire attic space. As it is lightly weighted, it does not absorb water and is fire retardant
Insulating Ceilings without Attics
Insulating the under-roof of your home is a definite must if you want to use your financial resources in the best and most intelligent way.
Flat roofs or roofs that have no attics should be insulated from above so that a layer of rigid insulation can be added over the weatherproof layer or directly on top of the timber roof surface. In this latter case, the weatherproof layer will be applied later on top of the insulation.
If you are not building a home but renovating, it will be needed for you to remove the covering of your roof, whether you have tiles or any other covering as the process is elaborated, it should be carried out by a professional.
Not only because of the elaborated process but also so that the whole structure and the insulation itself complies with building regulations both local and federal.
Yet, there is another way which will mean to install the insulation underneath the roof. Otherwise put from inside the house; still, this process should not be carried out by a do-it-yourself.