Insulating Your Attic - Good Reasons to Choose a Professional
Really now, how hard is it to throw some insulation into an attic space?
Truth is, it's not that hard at all. The only problem is, you could throw layer upon layer of insulation into your attic, and if not done properly, it would have very little value.
Insulating and Air Sealing a home, requires a lot of knowledge and experience to get the job done right. Just like any other skill or job you learn from experience and training, and having the right tools to get the work done correctly is a must.
So what does a Pro bring to the table that you yourself don't have?
Just like a doctor assesses the health of your body, a professional contractor should be able to assess the health of your home, they should know how the different systems and construction of your home interact, and what is ailing it (if anything).
Prior to having any insulation or other work done on your home, your contractor should give you an assessment, or audit of your home, and be able to tell you some of the following:
1) The type of Heating System your home has:
Is it a boiler or furnace, is it Cat I or Cat IV, oil or natural gas, what is the efficiency and state of that heating system, and does it pose a health hazard to you?
The worst thing that can be done, is having your home air sealed and insulated, without inspecting your heating system and it's condition. If your heating system is not venting properly to the outdoors, and instead flue gases are venting into the home in some way, this could cause you to become ill, or in the most severe circumstances, be a deadly threat.
2) Evidence of Mold or Rodents:
A thorough inspection of your attic will reveal any issues that exist. Is there enough ventilation in the attic, are the bathroom fans properly venting to the outdoors, is there evidence of mice or squirrels, is there mold?
An attic that is properly vented and air sealed will pose no health threat. An attic that has moisture from the bathroom(s) being vented directly into it, has a leaky roof, or is a haven for rodents, is one that will expose you to illness and disease.
3) Infrared Camera Evidence:
The contractor should be able to provide you with Infrared thermal imaging photos of the areas of your attic, showing you where air is penetrating into your home, and where there is no insulation protecting it from the outside. Often times this thermal imaging will also be able to pick up evidence of mold, that might not be evident to the naked eye, as mold will often give off a different temperature that is detectable.
In order to be able to properly address areas that need to be air sealed and insulated (or treated for mold) you have to be able to detect them and properly identify their cause. In much the same way that a doctor has to be able to correctly diagnose what ails you, and if he diagnoses your illness incorrectly, the treatment combined with what is ailing you might actually make you sicker.
Only an experienced professional that has invested thousands (often tens of thousands) of dollars for the right equipment, and has received the proper training, can properly evaluate and assess your home's needs.
A true professional should be able to sit down and explain to you all of your insulation options, and offer you a variety of choices. If the contractor is determined to sell you on one option only, without a good explanation why, it is likely because that is the only material/insulation he is capable of installing for you, and that may not be your best option.
There are a variety of insulation options for you to consider, and depending on your wants, and your home's needs, some or all of them should be explored.
There are various types of spray foams, some green (Soy based), some chemical based. There are different cellulose options, some green (100% recycled and chemical free), some not. There are various types of fiberglass, open, encapsulated, blown. Each has its benefits and shortcomings, often times, its a combination of two that will get you the best results.
Do your homework and pick a true professional.
In the field of Insulation and Air Sealing, we want someone who can show their credentials, they should have proof of certifications or licenses from the likes of the Building Professional Institute (BPI), or RESNET (Residential Energy Services Network) these are professional institutions recognized nationally to provide proper training, there may be others, I would suggest researching them if they are provided.
Contractors should also be able to provide proof of insurance, and they should be partnered to a state or federal energy program such as NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) or DoE (Department of Energy) each State will have different programs and may offer different incentives.
If the contractor doesn't have a website that provides you with proof that they have such training and credentials, and if they don't provide you a business card or other forms of information about their company when they come to your home, there is a good chance they are a fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants contractor.
You don't want to be handing over the safety of your home, let alone thousands of dollars, to someone who isn't even professional enough to put up a website or print out some business cards, that's just common sense. You wouldn't trust being operated on to the cheapest, least experienced doctor, and you don't want to risk fire, mold, or having an uninsured worker getting hurt while in your home.
In summary, there are many reasons to at least consult a professional before considering attempting to DIY. The professional should have all the equipment, training and experience to give you a thorough evaluation of your attic (and home).
Many states have programs that offer a home owner free, or nearly free, energy conservation audits that will include an assessment of your attic. Take the opportunity to use these sources if they are available, as they will provide a recommended (licensed and approved) auditor to come and inspect your home.
True professionals should be able to inform you if you have dangerous materials in your home (IE - Vermiculite, asbestos) they should be able to tell you what insulation is present (IE - Sheep Wool, Fiberglass) and any condition of concern (IE - evidence of rodents, mold).
They should know how to properly vent bathroom fans, box lights recessed into the ceiling, and air seal around wires and other penetrations, they should understand the building science behind air flow, and how to incorporate baffles, ridge vents and gable vents into any attic project. It's not just money that is at stake when it comes to properly insulating and air sealing your attic (and home) it's your health and safety as well.
The author of this Hub, Ken Burgess, is BPI trained and certified, and worked in the field for several years as a Director of Energy Conservation, a Director of Weatherization, and various Energy Conservation projects.
© 2013 Ken Burgess