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From a Certified Pro
Certified Energy Auditor
Residential Comfort & Energy Efficiency
Tuesday, December 20 2022
Written by Eric Gans, Building Analyst & Envelope Professional
Maryland Attic Insulation Guide
This guide can help anyone figure out how to improve insulation to their attic.
As winter takes hold in Maryland you should take a peek into your attic.
The attic is the place to start if you want a cozy, draft-free home.
If you see insulation in the attic it does not mean that it is working well for you.
The answer is in the details that you can learn about below.
The State of Maryland recommends that our attics have enough insulation to equal R-49.
If your home is older than 10 years than you are likely not meeting the 2022 Maryland building code.
Existing insulation in a Maryland attic is typically inconsistent for a variety of reasons. Air sealing and the right amount of insulation are important for a tight, energy efficient home.
New tax credits are here now which demonstrates insulation's importance.
Take a look at a few under-insulated attics so you can do some comparing.
STEP 1: Get Your Attic's Current R-Value
STEP 2: Get Your Attic Area
1. Measure the length and width from below for any attic area to calculate the square footage.
2. Note the exact square footage of any area that has different insulation levels (up to three). Use a laser measure to make it easy!
REQUIRED R-VALUE MARYLAND
|Ending R-value of 49 or as space allows|
|Ending R-value of 38 or as space allows|
(basement, crawl space, knee wall)
|Ending R-value of 11 or greater|
|Crawl Space Ceiling|
|Ending R-value of 25 or as space allows|
|Ending R-value of 25 or as space allows|
(top of foundation wall in basement)
|Ending R-value of 19 or greater|
Learn how to determine what type of insulation you have below the graphic...
Determine what Type of Insulation You Have
Different attic insulation materials and levels yield wide ranging R-values.
So, it is first important to determine the type of insulation that is in your attic.
Typical Insulation Materials Found in Maryland Attics
- Fiberglass batts
- Loose fill fiberglass
- Loose fill cellulose
- Mineral wool
- Two-part spray foam
Need help identifying what type of insulation exists in your attic?
Take a photo and send it to me! email@example.com
Identifying the Most Common Maryland Insulation Types
Cellulose Loose Fill
Grey in color
More dusty and clingy than other materials
Has bits of newspaper in it
Good fire/mold retarder w/ additives
Rolled Fiberglass Batt Insulation
Typically referred to as batt insulation
Has the kraft paper or aluminum foil on one side
Recognizable due to the "Pink Panther" commercials
Must be installed flawlessly (unforgiving)
Low R-value per inch if not installed properly
Fiberglass Loose Fill
Typically white shreds, pink squares or yellow shreds.
Much less dusty
Lower cold weather performance than cellulose
Determine Your Current Attic Insulation Level
The amount of insulation your attic needs will depend on how much is there now.
This can be a little tricky. Calculations can be off if the information is not gathered right. The condition, coverage and depth of the insulation are each important. Accuracy will ensure the best return on your investment and that you are meeting Maryland building code.
Un-insulated Areas Play a Heavy Hand in Poor R-Values
Now lets go a little deeper and explore the impact of un-insulated surfaces. It may surprise you how important having an even blanket of insulation is for for getting a great result.
If you notice any area in your attic that does not have insulation then pay attention to the information below!
This typical Maryland attic is a great example of what the impact of missing insulation can have.
The attic area in the home pictured above is 975 square feet and flat (R-49 recommended in Maryland).
You will notice 1" of blown in fiberglass insulation and 7" of rolled fiberglass batting laid on top.
In this scenario, the attic has roughly 8" of insulation in "most" of the areas that need it. Later you will learn how to use the depth to determine the R-value. In this case, the attic is R-17...
But, there is a catch!
There are two major un-insulated areas in this attic (very common in Maryland attics).
1. A three foot by three foot push up hatch
2. A three foot by three foot whole house fan
Equaling a total of 18 square feet of un-insulated area at the attic floor.
This equates to just about 2% of the attic area (18 divided by 975).
Typical hallway push up hatch leading to an under insulated Maryland attic. Watch how a hatch gets treatment.
The hatch from the attic has a plywood cover (seen in background)
Whole house fan as seen from the attic.
With the use of the HOME ENERGY SCORE CALCULATOR we are able to calculates the impact un-insulated surfaces have on insulation performance.
The picture gets clear!
What ends up happening with this common scenario is not good. A mere 18 square feet of missing insulation has a big impact. The expected R-value reduces down from 17 to 13 for the entire attic!
That translates to hot summer nights and cold winter drafts and high energy bills to pay.
According to Dr. Allison Bailes of Energy Vanguard, the heat flows through the bare areas fast. Based on his article, the air leaves in the un-insulated ceiling area as much as 38 times faster then the insulated areas.
Be sure to measure your attic insulation in precise fashion. Different areas that have different levels should be separate. Each area will get an R-value assessment. Along with knowing the condition, this weighted average calculator can then help you determine your attic's R-value.
Back to Top
Determine Your Attic Insulation's Condition
The condition of the existing insulation in an attic is also important. Obtaining the information will assist in generating reliable return on investment reporting. Current condition can also reveal clues about future comfort gains.
R-value can be misleading if several factors are not met:
- Installation integrity
- Missing pressure boundary (air sealing around gaps/voids)
- Overall insulation coverage (distribution)
Your insulation should get a rating of "poor", "moderate" or "well" insulated.
Attic Insulation in Poor Condition
Insulation with large gaps and voids. Missing insulation greater than 2% of the insulated area.
Attic Insulation in Moderate Condition
Insulation with defects and gaps around wiring, electrical outlets, plumbing and other intrusions. Rounded edges or "shouldered". The amount of fill is incomplete, but rarely dips less than 30% of intended thickness. Gaps and spaces running clear through the insulation should be no more than 2% of the insulated area.
Well Insulated Attic Characteristics
The insulation has no any large gaps or voids around obstructions. The insulation appears to fit in any cavity side-to-side and top-to-bottom. The insulation appears to around wiring and other services in the area.
Different Insulation Types & Conditions = Different R-Values
The values for the corresponding condition of your attic insulation can be multiplied by the number of inches you have to see where your attic falls on the scale.
- Loose Fill Cellulose
New: 3.60 R-value per inch
Existing Well: 3.60
Existing Moderate: 3.13 R-value per inch
(Example: 6" = R19; 10" = R31)
Existing Poor: 2.7 R-value per inch
- Fiberglass Batt Insulation
New: 3.14 R-value per inch
Existing Well: 2.67
Existing Moderate: 2.10 R-value per inch
(Example: 6" = R13; 10" = R21)
Existing Poor: 1.26 R-value per Inch
- Loose Fill Fiberglass
New: 3.14 R-value per inch
Existing Well: 3.14
Existing Moderate: 2.73 R-value Per inch
(Example: 6" = R16; 10" = R27)
Existing Poor: 2.36
Watch a uniformly blown cellulose attic insulation job in progress!
Maryland Insulation Rebates
How the Insulation Program Works
Maryland utilities (BGE & Pepco) offer a portfolio of programs promoting energy efficiency and conservation, including rebates, education and services. The program is designed around a consultative approach.
Air sealing and insulation are considered the most important measures to complete to achieve energy efficiency - before windows, doors and replacing older HVAC.
The initial qualifier for rebates is to get a home energy audit.
Get a home energy audit & get questions answered such as:
Why is the room on the front of the house colder?
Do you have enough insulation?
Why is it so stuffy upstairs during the summer?
Should I remove old insulation from my attic?
Why does my HVAC run all of the time?
Is spray foam insulation the best solution for my home?
Why are my new windows feeling drafty?
Do my walls have insulation?
Wanna know more about the home energy audit process?
Do you need an energy audit?
Check your house for any of these 5 signs...
A home energy audit is the GPS of home improvements...
Turn by turn directions to better comfort & energy efficiency.
Schedule yours today!
Montgomery County - Maryland
You might say that a Colonial is the most common home you will see. Usually two stories, A-framed and rectangular, they are also fairly simple - on the outside.
Inside, they are complex structures with lots of different ways your conditioned air finds ways to escape.
Colonial style houses typically have good accessibility to the key places that need to be sealed and insulated so they are usually good candidates for measurable results.
The most important areas to insulate in Colonial style homes include the attic and foundation.
First Step - Energy Audit Assessment
Getting a comprehensive home energy audit is the best way to find what places are most important to insulate around a Colonial style home.
Sometimes homeowners think an energy audit is a critique of their energy habits, but it is not. Instead, you get a certified and trained pro that shows up ready to help you discover ways to tighten up your home. And, where to look is not always as obvious as it may seem.
As an example, a well performed energy audit can sort through the HVAC system to determine ways to improve efficiency.
Opportunities to do so might include:
- Sealing large HVAC duct openings in the attic
- Sealing the ducts themselves
- Insulating ducts
- Improved duct placement for better flow
Many of the biggest issues causing comfort problems are hiding in plain sight and an energy audit can illuminate them right before your eyes!
An energy audit will assess your insulation right on the spot and give you sound advice about how to improve the boundary between the inside of your home and the outside - which is the name of the game!
The Scenario: Classic Colonial with Addition
In this example, the homeowner was mainly concerned about a very cold house in the winter.
The rear addition was added around 2001. It opened up the kitchen and dining room quite nicely.
Insulation complexities can arise when new spaces are added to the existing structure.
The homeowner pointed out that the floors and cabinets were cold.
According to them, it was a let down. A lot of thought had gone into the design of the new space. Comfort was high on the list, but the plan missed the mark when it came to temperature control and they were seeking the cause and a fix.
How to Make Insulation Decisions for a Colonial Style Home
Understanding Stack Effect & How it Can Wreak Havoc with Comfort
Everyone should learn about the stack effect when ready to purchase a home.
Knowing where and how the air leaves and enters your home can play a big part in attaining better comfort.
The stack effect can be simply understood by taking one concept we all learn as young children: Hot Air Rises
Here is the SECRET: when warm air goes up in your house it creates a lot of pressure at the top and all that warmth escapes through all of the holes in your ceiling right up into the attic if modern insulation techniques are not in place.
Many of the places where this is happening you cannot see, but they do exist!
If left unchecked, warm air escapes and then physics kicks in!
+ Positive Pressure at the Top
- Negative Pressure Down Low
For every bit of warm air that leaves (positive pressure) it gets replaced (negative pressure) by cold air from the outside.
If you apply this basic concept to the different areas around your home, you may see signs that the problem is happening to you too.
In the diagrams above it gets a little clearer as to why this family was having an issue.
The rear addition included two cantilevers to add to the overall square footage. These features are sometimes susceptible to air leakage if not insulated right and can cause hot and cold spots around a home.
Watch how leaky this cantilever is during a whole house air leakage test (blower door test).
How we Seal and Insulate Cantilevers
Humid Basements - Tipping You Off to High Air Leakage
Basements can be major sources of energy loss by introducing warm humid air into the house in summer and cold dry air in the winter.
Sealing the air leakage around the top of the foundation wall in a Colonial style home is beneficial.
Sealing the Top (Attic) of a Colonial
With this powerful information about air movement, the first thing to do is look for ways to seal gaps at the TOP of your home.
Major sources of air leakage at the top of a typical Colonial style house include:
- HVAC Chase
- Recessed Lights
- Tops of 2nd Floor Walls
- Attic Access Points
- Electrical Wiring Holes
An chase is a pathway behind walls that HVAC takes to get where it needs to go. These conduits are built into the home and should be somewhat inconspicuous. They house plumbing, ducts and chimneys. They are often responsible for a big temperature variance between floors.
Air is omni-present within the six sides of our buildings. Therefore, any open hole/gap at the attic floor (top floor ceiling) is a connection to the inside of your home.
Add pressure (stack effect) and air can escape really fast.
Don't be fooled anymore into thinking it is the windows that are causing your drafts and high energy bills.
Example of an Open Plumbing Chase (Bathroom Side)
Example of an Open Plumbing Chase (Attic Side)
The Importance of Properly Installed Insulation
There is a false sense of security many homeowners have about their insulation.
Many make the mistake of relying on seeing insulation in the normal places as a firm signal that their house is well-insulated.
Most often it is quite the opposite. Usually, insulation levels are severely insufficient and a lack of air sealing makes existing insulation R-values less than what is listed on the package.
Hot Second Floors During Summer Are a Tell-Tale Sign that Your Insulation is Weak
Hot summers were another reason this homeowner was fed up and decided to take the next step. On hot humid Maryland summer days, it was nearly impossible to cool the bedrooms down.
If this is happening to you, it is a sign that your insulation is not working well for you.
Most insulation has one job - slow the transfer of heat. With the sun beating on your roof, radiant heat surges into the attic. When left unchecked - guess where it goes?
Directly into your house!
The right amount of insulation is needed to improve the boundary and optimize your ability to slow the movement of the heat.
During the winter, the insulation will help to contain your warm air inside your living bubble. During the summer months, it will work to keep the warm air out.
Identifying Insulation Problems in the Attic
Take a look at the attic inspection from the same Colonial style home energy audit.
See first-hand how it had many gaps to seal and insulation was missing leading directly to the comfort problems this family faced.
Learn about the following at various points in the video:
0:00 Start the Attic Assessment
0:40 Discolored Insulation Meaning
2:28 Uninsulated Pair of Skylights in Attic
3:09 Bathroom is Connected to the Attic
5:53 Closer Look at Bathroom Exhaust Fan
7:02 A Close Up Look at an Attic Baffle
9:03 How We Air Seal an Attic
9:21 See a Properly Insulated Skylight
9:47 Attic Hatch Treatment Process
10:50 Cantilever Blocking & Insulation Photos
Knee Wall Complexities
Colonial style homes that were built in the late 80's and beyond sometimes feature sloped ceilings and multiple skylights. These raised areas of the ceiling create walls in the attic that need to be properly insulated. Often times, they are not.
Gravity takes over with vertical attic knee walls and insulation is often times pulling away or completely falling.
Knee walls are created when the bedroom or hallway ceiling raises up and an adjacent space has a traditional 8' flat ceiling.
When improperly insulated or as in some cases, not insulated at all, knee walls tend to lead to hot summers on upper floors of Colonial style houses.
Where Can You Begin When it Comes to Insulating Your Colonial Home?
A really great way to not get overwhelmed when it comes to improving insulation is to focus on the low hanging fruit.
When you seal and insulate in the right places, it can actually go a really long way towards better comfort and controlled energy bills.
Tightening up your Colonial style home is not an all or nothing type of approach, rather it can be methodical and targeted to yield the best results.
I have over 2000 energy audits under my belt in Maryland. I enjoy teaching what I know to help guide homeowners towards better comfort & energy efficiency. It took me a while to figure things out. I can show you in a few hours.
The Future of Maryland Home Remodeling
The Inflation Reduction Act includes several incentivized programs to promote energy efficiency and combat climate change.
A big part of the bill gives rebates to homeowners who make the right energy-efficient upgrades to their homes.
Don't mistake this program for a rebate on windows and doors!
Even the President does not fully understand Home Performance, yet!
WATCH: Understanding how Maryland's current Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Program reports work will give you good insight.
Whole house solutions look to seal your house so your HVAC works less - saving you energy.
How Maryland Homeowners Will Benefit
This provision of the bill incorporated elements of legislation that Maryland lawmakers voted for called “HOPE for HOMES.”
U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen said there are “tremendous savings” in using energy more efficiently.
He pointed to the biggest hold up to a homeowner making improvements in their home to lower energy usage is the up-front cost.
Sometimes the up-front costs overshadow the savings gained over time and the 2022 bill makes getting the work done more attractive and affordable.
Under the Inflation Reduction Act, many homeowners will be eligible to recoup up to 50% of energy improvement costs — up to a maximum rebate of $4,000. Lower-income homeowners could be eligible for more generous rebates of up to 80% of costs, a maximum of $8,000.
INFLATION REDUCTION ACT SNAPSHOT SUMMARY: courtesy of Energy Circle
Rebates & Training Grants
Maryland residents can expect two major rebate program roll outs, better tax incentives and training dollars for local contractors to learn the key principles in order to keep up with demand.
2 MAJOR REBATE PROGRAMS FOR MARYLAND HOMEOWNERS
$4.3 Billion for HOMES (Home Owner Managing Energy Savings) Rebate Program
Rebates up to $4,000 for home energy efficiency retrofits with modeled energy savings of 35% or more (or $2,000 for 20-34% energy savings)
Additional rebates up to $8,000 available for low and moderate-income homeowners
Rebates cannot be combined with other federal grants or rebates
$4.5 Billion for High-Efficiency Electric Home Rebate Program
Rebates for low and moderate-income homeowners for electric system/appliance purchases and energy efficiency upgrades
Maximum rebate of $14,000; individual rebates are as follows:
Heat pump water heaters: $1,750
Heat pump HVAC systems: $8,000
Electric stoves: $840
Heat pump clothes dryers: $840
Electrical panel upgrades: $4,000
Insulation, air sealing, and ventilation: $1,600
Electric wiring: $2,500
Rebates cannot be combined with other federal grants or rebates
More immediately, the new bill makes changes to tax credits for energy efficiency upgrades.
25C Tax Credit - Energy Efficiency Home Improvements (The Nonbusiness Energy Property Tax Credit)
Credit revived and made retroactive for 2022 (at original 10%). It went away and it is back!
Starting in 2023, the credit increases to 30% of total installation costs through 2032
The current lifetime cap of $500 will be replaced by cap of $600 per measure, with $1,200 annual total limit (exceptions listed below)
Eligible services and home improvements include:
Heat pumps and heat pump water heaters ($2,000 credit)
Insulation and air sealing
Energy audits ($150 credit)
Energy-efficient HVAC systems (including furnaces, boilers, and central AC)
Electrical panel upgrades
Energy-efficient windows and doors ($500 credit for doors)
Roofs are no longer eligible
FOR MARYLAND CONTRACTORS
The fact that there is a provision to train contractors is a strong indicator.
There is going to be a huge need for home improvement professionals to cross from other trades into home performance.
Just look at this report about the growing need for energy auditors and other professionals that will need to learn more about home performance - likely just to keep doing their own craft.
- Window people
- Siding people
- Roofing people
$200 Million for State-Based Home Energy Efficiency Contractor Training Grants
Training for contractors involved in installation of home energy efficiency and electrification improvements
Funding through September 2031
What is not clear as of yet is how these newly introduced funding and program parameters will fit into Maryland's current Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® Program which already offers incentives to Maryland homowners that make the right energy efficient upgrades to their attics, basements and crawl spaces.
Subscribe to my blog for updates and they piece things together.
Home performance work makes the difference in energy savings and better home comfort.
What is lurking in your attic?
Getting a home energy audit is one of those things that many do not fully comprehend the benefits until the assessment is complete. At that time, a well trained energy consultant will be able to walk you around your home and illuminate issues that you have likely been walking right past for many weeks, months or in some cases YEARS! Don't wait any longer and empower yourself TODAY to make your home more efficient, sustainable and comfortable.
At the completion of an energy audit I can feel the gratitude and appreciation flowing from my customers. I know that I have enlightened them on some level. Learning about some of the opportunities that houses with similar styles/build types will help you see the connection between the value of the energy audit and how it can help educate you and set you on the right path towards better comfort and energy efficiency...