BREAKING NEWS: Average Tennessee house comes with janky sauna
If you're like most Tennesseans you probably do your best to avoid going into the attic. Maybe you've got a few suitcases or boxes stored up there, but you certainly aren't hanging out up there and maybe only open it up twice a year to get down some decorations and then put them back.
So you really aren't ever exposed to how hot and cold it gets, right?
Well that's only partially true.
Again, if you're like most Tennesseans, your attic is a SAUNA all summer and an absolute ICE BOX in the winter.
Why? Well its not insulated. You've insulated the attic floor to keep the rest of the house comfortable, and the attic is really just a way to get to your lights and a storage spot for an HVAC system.
Unfortunately, it is also one of the biggest reasons your energy bills are so high, that you have to have the heat (or A/C) on as high as you do, and least efficient parts of the home.
This is because most homes in Tennessee did not air seal all the penetrations (aka holes) from the conditioned part of the house to the attic. Your light fixtures, if they aren't air sealed, are literally just big old holes going straight to the attic.
Another big reason is that a lot of homes in Tennessee, particularly older ones, are underinsulated.
As the attic heats up all summer, it truly turns into a makeshift sauna. There isn't great air flow up there, and it is heated up all day. The attic can actually reach temperatures way above the outside temps.
Now you just have this sauna sitting above the rest of your house. And if you remember anything from high school science, you'll remember that heat always goes from hot to cold, meaning the air in your attic is fighting to try and get to your comfortable, air conditioned living space.
What can you do to prevent your attic from getting super hot?
You can install a radiant barrier to help control attic temperatures.
You can also look to air seal lights, add insulation, install wind baffles, and increase attic ventilation with an attic fan. But today, we're here to talk about radiant barriers.
What is a radiant barrier?
I'm going to say this as un-sciencey as I can. A radiant barrier is a shiny material you put up (99% of the time in the attic or knee walls) which reduces the amount of solar heat allowed into the attic space.
The Department of Energy cites studies that have shown 5-10% reductions in cooling costs thanks to radiant barriers.
The radiant barrier is shiny on one (or both sides) and basically interrupts the radiant heat transfer from the roof to solid objects (like ducts, flooring, etc) and helps to prevent massive heat gain in the attic. As we've talked about before, preventing massive heat gain in the attic will help to keep the rest of your home cool.
Radiant barriers are amazingly & surprisingly effective.
How much does a radiant barrier cost?
Well, to DIY its going to run a few hundred dollars probably, depending on which one you choose. At The Home Depot you can find radiant barriers for less than $20 per roll or as much as $250 per roll (if you have questions about specific types you can ask someone there or reach out and we can talk or write some product reviews).
Is installing a radiant barrier a DIY project?
It certainly can be, but that doesn't necessarily mean it should be. Putting it up inside an attic isn't that difficult (although I do HIGHLY recommend getting to it before summer hits or else you will be sweating your butt off).
The tricky part comes in two parts:
- Don't fall through your ceiling. To get to a lot of your attic space you are going to have to balance on wooden beams. You'll be crouching, standing & maneuvering not only your own body but also big pieces of material. It is really easy to lose your balance doing that, and that can lead to a costly (and painful) slip.
- Don't mess up your insulation. Walking on blown-in insulation will compress it, and that can make it less effective. Since you're working on a project to better control the heat, you surely don't want to make the insulation work worse. So what do you do, brush the insulation out of the way so you can see the beams you need to walk on and avoid compressing the insulation? Well...then you're going to be left with uninsulated or underinsulated spots (this is already a problem as most homes are underinsulated).
So maybe the risk, the discomfort and the time make it well worth it to bring in a professional. After they install the radiant barrier, maybe you go for the double whammy and add some more blown-in insulation to your attic space, just really taking steps to control that attic temperature and reduce heat transfer to your living space.
A final word on radiant barriers
Ok, so the radiant barrier is a super effective & pretty cost effective way to keep your attic cooler in the summer, which will in turn help keep the rest of your house cool in the summer.
Installation can be done as a DIY project or by hiring an insulation professional...just be careful where you're stepping.
So if you're looking to make your home more efficient, to lower energy bills, and to make your home more comfortable, the radiant barrier is a great option for you.
Not only that, but having a radiant barrier in your attic will make it look & feel like some sort of 20th century space craft. Who doesn't want that?
*Fun fact: radiant barriers aren't just great as a project on older homes, they can (and should) be used when building new homes. It is a great, and relatively easy, step in building a better home.