We used to have icicles hanging from our roof edge once— once!
They were massive, taller than our eldest grandchild, with the girth of a baseball bat. Break one of those icicles off and a person could defend themselves against a pack of coyotes.
Do we have coyotes in our neighborhood? No, but there’s a neighbouring cat that visits on occasion, who can be rather intimidating.
Regardless, they were quite impressive, and charming, especially during the holiday season when our Christmas lighting would reflect through them, creating a prism of colour that was indeed spectacular. Now they’re gone, with only the odd, pencil-sized icicle left; hardly worth setting a light upon. But, it’s for the best really, because this tells us that for the first time in several years our attic space has finally reached its proper working temperature.
Well, we renovated our attic space, which is essentially an investment in home efficiency, as opposed to home décor. Nobody much cares about what goes on in an attic, as a result it tends to rank about 78th on the to-do list of house repairs, falling somewhere between ‘aerate lawn’ and ‘repair dent and touch up scratched paint on trash can.’
However, and understanding the overwhelming pleasure homeowners receive by renovating their kitchens or bathrooms, and the fact they both offer a reasonable return on your investment, neither of these renovations actually make you money. On the other hand, a rejuvenated attic space is going to start saving you pennies from day one.
So, once you’ve prettied things up a bit in your living space it might be time to help pay for these renovations by investing in an area of the home where 30 to 85 per cent of your heat is lost: that being the attic.
Handyman Hints: Stepping from carpet to hardwood
Handyman Hints: Your stairway to happiness
Handyman Hints: What’s inside that load-bearing wall
Step one, we ensure the vapour barrier, a plastic membrane positioned right behind your ceiling drywall, is in place, and intact. The vapour barrier is basically the first layer of defence to prevent heat and water moisture from making its way into the attic space.
Moisture from cooking and the taking of showers will rise up and test the integrity of your ceiling. When warm moist air gets into contact with cold attic air, condensation occurs. Condensation will either evaporate, provide feed for mould, or slowly deteriorate your ceiling’s drywall.
With the odds slanted towards unsavoury results, we needed to make sure that one, we had vapor barrier covering the entire ceiling space, and two, it wasn’t compromised, with all seams taped and areas around pot lights, speaker systems, ceiling fans, and any and all other ceiling fixtures, properly sealed.
This required the existing insulation to be removed, not tossed in the dumpster (unless it was wet or contained animal feces), but just moved off to the side until the vapour barrier repairs were completed.
Next, we made sure every space between the trusses contained an attic vent, a 24”x48” sheet of foam, shaped to encourage incoming air from the soffit to draft into the attic space.
Next, bathroom and kitchen exhaust vents were wrapped with insulation or replaced with insulated ducting, again, to prevent warm air exiting the living space from warming the cold attic air. When cold meets hot you get water, and pooling water anywhere except in the bathtub is never a good thing. Plus, the exhaust from these vents was directed straight up and out the roof, as opposed to the soffit.
With every elbow or bend in ductwork negatively affecting a motor’s efficiency, the most effective way of expelling air, be it an oven, bathroom, or dryer vent, is a straight line of ducting.
Last, but obviously not least, we added 12 inches of blowing wool, boosting our attic’s insulation to about 20 inches in depth, or R-60 of thermal resistance. The purpose of insulation is to insulate, and like a travelling coffee canister, keep the heat in— so the more the merrier.
Now my attention is drawn to those homes with icicles. Ah, the not so good ol’ days of heat loss.