Rule Your Attic by Hiring a Contractor

This is the second installment of blogs related to ENERGY STAR’s “Rule Your Attic!” outreach campaign encouraging homeowners to properly insulate their attics to reduce energy use, decrease utility bills, and increase comfort this heating season.

By Doug Anderson

If you know you have low insulation levels in your attic (see my first “Rule Your Attic!” blog about measuring attic insulation levels) but are just not interested in making improvements yourself, now is the time to call a contractor to properly seal air leaks and add insulation to your attic BEFORE the high heating bills come. Insulation contractors have all the equipment and experience to do the job right the first time. Let them do the dirty work. Your job is to find a good contractor to help you “Rule Your Attic!”

Shop Around – Selecting a Contractor

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. Here’s how:

Check with your electric utility or State Energy Office to see if they offer incentives for improvements or have pre-screened program contractors. (See energystar.gov/dime or www.dsireusa.org for lists of incentives.)

  • Get several estimates from contractors (know the square footage of your attic).
  • Make sure the contractor is licensed and insured in your state.
  • Ask if the crew chief is certified to do insulation work.
  • Ask how the contractor will keep your house clean during the 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!

You may find local pre-screened, trained, and certified contractors available through the Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program. These programs are run by local utilities or State Energy Offices and are a great place to start looking for contractors to help you with your project.

Make Sure the Job’s Done Right – What to Look For

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:

  • 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 okay 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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Make sure your contractor seals attic air leaks before adding insulation.

  • If you have older recessed light fixtures (can lights) that stick up into the attic floor, the contractor should cover and seal them before installing insulation using specially designed covers that are available at most home improvement stores.
  • Contractors should also seal the chase (hole) in the attic around the plumbing vent pipe.
  • It’s also important to weather strip and insulate the attic hatch or door. There are several off-the-shelf products available for standard-sized openings.
  • EPA recommends having a professional contractor conduct combustion safety testing before and after any air sealing as this might affect the drafting of any combustion (oil or gas) appliances in the house.

Document the Contractor’s Work

Finally, tell the contractor that you expect 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. Post your before and after pictures on ENERGY STAR’s “Rule Your Attic!” Pinterest board. Then, you can sit back and enjoy the cooler weather knowing your home is more comfortable and energy efficient.

For more information on deciding to DIY or hire a contractor, watch the second video in our “Rule Your Attic!” video series.

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Adding “blown” attic insulation

About the Author: Doug Anderson is an ENERGY STAR Project Manager and has been with EPA for 14 years. He works on issues related to the home envelope, including sealing and insulation products and energy-efficient residential windows.

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