Does your house have an attic? Not all houses do. If you live in a cold climate, as we do in Canada, the roof on your house is likely sloped to allow rain and melting snow to run off. When a house has a sloped roof and horizontal ceilings, there is going to be some dead space between the ceiling and the roof, otherwise known as the attic. In warm, dry climates, homes often have flat roofs, with no attic.
What is the actual purpose of an attic? Attics (also commonly called lofts) support the roof, with rafters or trusses. Rafters are regular beams, but trusses are a bit different. They are triangular in shape and fill most of the space in the attic. A well-insulated attic will also help to keep your whole house cool in summer and warm in winter. Building codes vary from one location to the next. However, there is usually a requirement for a specific amount of insulation in the attic.
The attic is an important part of your house, but if it’s not properly designed or maintained, any number of problems, particularly with ice buildup and water damage, can occur. It’s important that the attic be properly insulated, vented, and sealed from the main part of the house.
Insulating: Attics need to be properly insulated. Whether you’re leaving it as an empty space, or you’re converting it to additional living space, insulation is key. In cold climates, the recommended R rating for attic insulation is 50. So, wherever you live in Canada, you’re likely looking at a fairly high R rating. Before you insulate your attic, make sure there are no roof leaks. Wet insulation is useless insulation. It also becomes a breeding ground for mould. In winter, without proper insulation, the heat from your main living area rises into the attic, causing the roof to warm up, melting the snow, and causing ice dams to form. Not a good situation.
Venting: Most experts agree that attics need some venting. Intake vents bring fresh air in from outside, and exhaust vents release any old stale air to the outside. Without proper venting, your attic can trap moisture which not only can cause mould to form but can also cause your attic structure to rot. And make sure your dryer vent, stove vent, and any exhaust fans are vented to the outside. It’s against most building codes to vent anything into the attic, plus if warm, moist air is released into the attic, again you’re going to have a problem with mould.
Some experts say that vents used to be required to remove moisture entering the attic through leaks, but that modern homes have sealed attics and really don’t require venting. The type of climate you live in can also have a bearing on whether or not ventilation in the attic is a good idea. In a cold climate, vents can help keep the attic cool, thus preventing ice dams, and also getting rid of moist air coming up from the rest of the house.
In hot climates, vents can get hot air out of the attic, allowing your air conditioning unit to function more easily. In a very humid climate, the air outside is moister than the air inside, so vents, allowing that moist air in, may not be a good idea. The best way to find out would be to check the building code in your area. Building Science Corporation has an excellent document you may like to refer to for more information on venting an attic entitled A Crash Course in Roof Venting.
Sealing: Assuming you’re leaving your attic empty, you want to seal it off. Seal any spots that open to the main house, including holes for the wiring, pipes, and vents, and gaps around the attic entryway, any attic windows, and any chimneys. It’s all well and good to insulate and vent the attic, but if it’s not sealed off from the rest of the house, you’re going to be wasting energy, by heating the empty attic
If you’re using your attic for storage space, there are a few things to consider. The entryway to the attic is very likely not airtight, so it will allow warm air from inside the house to leak into the attic. Also, unless you have built a raised platform on which to place your stored goods, these items will be flattening the insulation, making it much less efficient. Sometimes it is best just to leave the attic alone to do its job.
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Need more living space? It may be difficult, or impossible, to build an addition onto your home. If that’s the case, you could look up, instead of out. Many people would like to convert that empty attic into a den or an extra bedroom. But there are many things to consider before going ahead.
Whether your attic is a big empty space at the top of your home, a place for extra storage, or a cozy converted den, it’s important to make sure that your attic is in good shape. Proper sealing, ventilation, and insulation will prevent many common problems faced by homeowners.
Even when you take precautions, accidents can happen. Home insurance is one way to protect your family against financial losses from accidents. And, home insurance can start from as little as $12/month.