Attic Insulation in Metro Boston: Answers to Homeowners' Questions

Batts of mineral wool attic insulation stacked together and laid out across the floor of a residential attic.
You've checked your window frames and door jambs and they're sealed tight against air drafts. Your HVAC system is operating smoothly, and your siding is in great shape. So why are the monthly energy bills for your Metro Boston home so high? If you're tired of energy costs that are high in the summer and completely out of control in the winter, the problem might be looming right over your head: your attic insulation, or lack thereof.

If your attic is more like a dusty gap between your ceiling and roof, and people rarely, if ever, venture up there, it's pretty easy to forget all about it. But if your attic insulation has deteriorated over time, or it was never installed correctly in the first place, it could be making your home a lot less comfortable and costing you an arm and a leg on your heating bills. Expert attic insulation installation completed by aprofessional can make a big difference to the livability of your home and prevent your bank account from being drained by unnecessary utility costs.

From R-values to batts and rolls, attic insulation can be a confusing topic when you haven't had the opportunity to learn about it with a Metro Boston handyman. We have the answers to some questions Metro Boston homeowners typically ask us, along with expert advice from the team of service professionals at Mr. Handyman of Central - Eastern Norfolk County & South Shore. We have installed attic insulation in many homes across the Metro Boston area, and we can restore your home to an energy efficient condition that could decrease heat transfer and result in significant energy savings.

Could Metro Boston Attic Insulation Actually Save Me Money?

It certainly could—potentially quite a lot of money, depending on the current state of your attic insulation. It may seem odd at first that a part of your house that is used for storage, or not used at all, needs to be insulated, but attic insulation usually isn't so much about keeping the space under your roof warm. If you have a finished attic that actually is used as part of the livable space in your home, that's one thing. But if your attic space is not habitable, the installation is to prevent air movement and transfer of heat between your upper floor and roof, helping to keep your house at a comfortable temperature, so it’s always warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

If you have inadequate insulation, either because it has flattened and deteriorated over the years or because it was not adequate to begin with, considerable amounts of heat will be lost from your home in the winter. You likely also have a problem with summer heat gain, where the hot sun beating down on your roof raises the temperature in your whole house with thermal energy that seeps in via your attic.

Here's why that's such a big problem. Your heating and cooling costs are probably the most expensive charges on your utility bill by far. That's the case for even the most energy efficient home, because your HVAC system needs to burn a lot of fuel to keep your house at the temperature you have set on your thermostat. But when warm air from your heater is able to escape into your attic (and out through your roof), or your air conditioner's efforts are hindered by warmth from a hot roof radiating down into the rest of your house, your HVAC system has to operate for a lot longer in compensation. Since it's already fairly expensive to run your heater or air conditioner, that increased energy usage makes a very noticeable difference on your monthly utility bill.

A new Metro Boston attic insulation installation will fight energy loss and heat transfer, making it a lot easier to heat or cool your house. That gives your hard-working HVAC system a break and keeps your money in your bank account where it belongs.

What Does R-Value Mean for Attic Insulation?

The insulating material's R-value is a measure of its effective heat resistance and thermal performance, and the approximate R-value is generally expressed per inch of thickness. There are a number of factors that influence R-value, including the types, densities and thicknesses of the materials.

A high R-value indicates that the material is better at preventing the transfer of heat, and that it is more costly to purchase. That being said, it is not necessary to choose the highest level of insulation R-value available, because the R-value your house needs is related to the climate here in Metro Boston, as well as the existing insulation in your house (if any).

The minimum R-value for attics in Massachusetts is R38, but you may need to go higher than that if you are working with an uninsulated space. Not sure what R-value you should be aiming for? Our Metro Boston handyman team will consult with you and offer a recommendation based on our professional experience.

What Kinds of Attic Insulation are Available in Metro Boston?

There are a number of different materials that could be used for your installation, but the categories tend to be related to the structure of the material rather than what it is made with. Three of the most common types of attic insulation materials in Metro Boston are batts, rolls and blown-in.

When most people think about types of insulation, that fluffy pink stuff that looks kind of like cotton candy is the first thing that tends to come to mind. It's also called blanket insulation, because it blankets the area and the material is contained in a unit, not loose. It usually comes in batts or rolls. While it looks soft and inviting to touch, it's actually made of tiny, hair-thin shards of fiberglass that can get under your skin and cause injury, so you should avoid letting it make contact with your body. Blanket insulation isn't always made of fiberglass, but that is the most common type.

The blown-in versions, such as loose-fill fiberglass attic insulation, are made of similar materials. Aside from fiberglass, you can also get blown-in installations that are made of recycled materials like paper and fabric. The difference from the blanket types is that it is not contained in a unit that can be picked up and placed here or there. It's small, loose chunks of material that need to be literally “blown in” to the space with a blower machine. It gets everywhere, which is both a pro and con. If there are parts of the floor space that you don't want covered, blown-in is not going to work. On the other hand, it is noticeably better than blanket versions at providing full coverage for all nooks and crannies.

Roll Vs. Batt Insulation: What's the Difference?

The roll and batt options are quite similar to each other. The main difference is the shape and size of the pieces. Batts are rectangular pieces of blanket insulation that are pre-cut in manageable sizes that make them easier to carry and move around. They are usually around 15 to 24 inches wide, and either 48 or 93 inches long. Rolls, on the other hand, are pretty much exactly what they sound like: big rolls of blanket insulation that need to be unrolled and cut to the appropriate size.

Both batts and rolls have similar costs and functions. They come in the same range of R-values. So what is better for your Metro Boston house? That really depends on factors such as the size and shape of the area that needs coverage, and whether there are obstructions that may need to be worked around.

If you've got a big, empty space, rolls will probably be the preferred option. They go down quickly and can easily be cut at the end to the correct size for your attic without leaving gaps between pieces. But if your attic is more cramped, oddly shaped, or has a lot of obstacles to move around, batts are likely the better choice. They are a lot easier to move, and they are much simpler to fit around corners, support pillars, and so on.

What Does Cold or Warm Attic Insulation Mean?

Cold or warm insulation has to do with where material is placed within your space. In a cold installation, insulating material is placed on the floor of your attic. This helps a lot to reduce heat transfer between that space and your floor below, but it doesn't keep your attic itself warm. If you're not using it as a habitable part of your house, cold installation is a good idea. It gives your HVAC system less space to cover, and there's no point in heating or cooling a part of your house that nobody uses.

With a warm installation, the insulation is placed between the ceiling of your attic and the roof itself. That means the heat is held into the attic and air can move between the attic and lower floors. If you want to actually create livable space in your attic that could be used for an office, bedroom or just additional storage space that is heated, a warm installation makes sense.

Is Warm Attic Insulation Suitable in Older Homes?

A warm installation may not be appropriate for older houses, or houses with wooden shingle roofs. Those types of roofs are designed to get wet and dry out naturally with the help of gaps or vents that help to rid the attic of excess heat and humidity. If those ventilation holes are covered with insulation, the roof can't “breathe” as it is designed to do, and it won't be able to dry out after it is soaked with rain or snow melt. Timber that has a moisture content of 20% or higher will quickly begin to rot. Because wood rot causes timber to soften and crumble, a rotten roof can eventually collapse.

Whether or not you have that style of roof, your attic and roofline likely contain soffit vents. Soffit boards are the part of your roofline that covers the underside of your eaves where they protrude past your exterior walls. They provide a similar service to what we described above, and need to be left uncovered by attic insulation. Find out more on what homeowners need to know about soffits and fascia.

How Often Should Metro Boston Attic Insulation Be Replaced?

Generally speaking, attic insulation in Metro Boston needs to be replaced every 15 to 20 years. However, there are factors such as material type, original R-value and unexpected damage that may cause it to need replacement before 15 years. Insulation can suffer issues over time, such as water damage and pest infestations, that reduce its effectiveness and can lower your indoor air quality.

Not sure if your attic insulation is due for retrofitting or replacement? Here are a few warning signs homeowners should be aware of:

  • Energy charges on your utility bill are increasing
  • Rodent or insect infestations
  • Fluctuating temperatures or hot and cold zones in your house
  • Material has shifted or appears to be compressed
  • Material is visibly wet, or you can see signs of water damage such as mold and mildew growth

Tired of Paying Too Much in Energy Costs? Metro Boston Attic Insulation Could Save You Money!

Whether you are in Norwood,Westwood, Quincy or another part of the greater Metro Boston area, you don't have to keep paying so much for energy usage in a house with inadequate attic insulation. Count on the team of service professionals at Mr. Handyman of Central - Eastern Norfolk County & South Shore for expert attic insulation services and much more.

Call us today to schedule a convenient time for your appointment, or to chat with our knowledgeable customer service staff and find out more about how we can make your Metro Boston home more comfortable, appealing and overall more livable.