Before identifying attic problems, it is important to understand the life cycle of a typical attic. After all, attics and basements/crawlspaces are the greatest source of a home's heat loss.
Improving these spaces are among the most valuable energy, comfort and market value investments you can make in your home. Air leaks make your house drafty and uncomfortable and raise your energy bills. Attics can waste more than 30% of a home's heating and cooling energy.
When the air you have paid to warm rises from your furnace, it sucks in cold air from all around your house, through the windows, doors, and any holes or gaps in the basement, walls, sofits, plumbing vents, lighting, etc., causing a "chimney effect"; the reverse is true for summer time. Finding these leaks can be very difficult, especially when they are hidden under existing insulation.
Air, Moisture and Attic Problems
Two things to keep in mind about air and potential attic problems(though both are technically the same thermodynamic principal): 1. warm air rises, and 2. air travels from hot to cold (“nature hates a vacuum”).
In a house, as warm air rises, it picks up moisture from people, bathrooms, laundry rooms, humidifiers and the kitchen. Once moist air flows upwards, the moisture condenses on the colder surfaces and resulting in these attic problems:
Apply These Principles
How can you deal with the space in the uppermost level of the house efficiently, so that it will be the asset it was meant to be and not the liability it can so easily become?
Separate the unconditioned space from the rest of the house, and Weatherize, Insulate and Ventilate (WIV). Sounds pretty non-intuitive to insulate and ventilate at the same time? Here’s what you get if you WIV:
Never Block Airflow
It's important to make sure that your vents in the eaves, soffits, rafters and ridge are NEVER blocked and have air flowing freely. Proper ventilation goes a long way in eliminating potential attic problems before they arise.
If you have very hot summers, and don’t have central air conditioning, you might want to consider an attic fan. If you absolutely need to use a fan, use attic solar fans, which turn on when the sun is out (usually the warmer time of the day) using PV panels (free electricity) and have a temperature sensor.
But cool as all these devices are, I still think that natural ventilation, when designed and executed properly, is the way to go.
One more note about moisture: moisture generally comes from living spaces, crawl spaces and basements. So while planning to weatherize, take a whole house approach and seal your basement or crawl spaces (foundation), ducts, windows, doors, lighting receptacles, outlets, soffits, and any other openings and gaps where you can feel a draft.
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