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removing old attic insulation

The integrity of a home is quite invaluable because it often is one of the comforts we seek when returning from work or an extended period of travel.

What keeps a home standing strong and snug is often unseen and rarely thought about. It’s known as insulation, and it is the reason a home is kept warm during the winter, and cool all scorching summer long. This magical substance is a miracle and has improved the quality of homes for nearly a hundred years, but it is also a mystery for most.

Rarely does the “average Joe” know the in’s and out’s of attic home insulation, and even more so when to replace it. We usually just know it’s there and that’s enough for the majority. However, it is important to understand insulation in order to keep our cottages as cozy and comfortable as possible.

Here is the basic rundown on how insulation works and when to remove and replace your attic’s home insulation:

Insulation 101: What is Insulation?

According to the Department of Energy, insulation is a substance that provides resistance to heat flow. It’s simply not enough to have a few inches of plywood and stucco to keep a house or building thermostatically sound; it needs a little more help from additional layers.

This is where insulation plays its role: the more heat flow resistance your home has, the lower your heating and cooling will costs and the more consistent your internal temperature will be.

removing attic insulation

Insulation assists by adding more depth within the house to provide temperature lining without taking up much room or weight within the walls. The way this works is by adding a material that is slow to conducting heat, which means that the temperature around it will not physically affect it. In other words, the insulation creates a barrier that allows the internal cool air to stay separate from the warm external air and visa versa.

An insulating material’s resistance to conductive heat flow is measured by its thermal resistance, or R-Value. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating effectiveness, all of which depends on the material used, its thickness, and its density.

Different Insulation Types and Materials:

Such materials that are commonly used as home insulation because of their anti-conductive qualities are:

Fiberglass: Fiberglass is finely spun glass that threads together into a spongy matt. It is available in two forms: Blanket, either in batts or rolls, and loose-filled, which often looks like clumps of cotton that is blown into the desired area. Fiberglass is one of the most common forms of insulation in modern homes because of its high effectiveness, high R-value, and density. However, exposure and direct skin contact can lead to irritation and other risks.

Mineral Coated Wool: Mineral Coated Wool typically refers to two types of materials: Rock Wool or Slang Wool, which are both man-made materials that are byproducts from metal manufacturing. It usually contains on average 75% post-industrial recycled content and doesn’t require additional chemicals to make it fire resistant.

Plastic Fiber: Plastic Fiber is constructed from recycled plastic, typically milk jugs, that are shredded into thread like fibers that resemble closely to fiberglass. Plastic fiber is also highly dense but needs to be treated with a fire retardant so it does not catch fire as easily or melt under intense heat. It typically does not cause skin irritation as fiberglass often does upon exposure.

Natural Fibers: Natural Fibers include cotton, wool, straw, and hemp, which are all resources found and grown in nature. They are typically non-toxic, but can cost up to 20% more than fiberglass and all need to be treated with chemicals to become more resistant to moisture and fire. It also has one of the lowest R-values compared to the other synthetic materials, meaning more substance will need to be used to receive the same amount of coverage, density, and benefits.

removing attic insulation

When Should You Remove and Replace Insulation?

Regardless of the material used, most substances are still susceptible to weather, meaning it changes shape and effectiveness over time due to fluctuations in temperature, moister, and pests. Therefore, insulation needs to be replaced in order to maintain its integrity and effectiveness.

Though most insulation has a relatively long life, it is recommended to get the insulation replaced if the efficiency is not suitable, which is anything lower than an R-value of 30. An attic inspector, and most rodent control companies, can evaluate the quality of your insulation and give you the current R-value.

Even in homes with old or existing insulation, most refurbishing of insulation typically means adding more to what is already there in order to bring the attic up to an R-30 or R-38 rating. Old insulation may look dusty and be filled with various home debris, but it doesn’t mean it needs to be pre-placed unless its productivity is insufficient. There is also no harm in mixing various insulation material types together either.

It is highly recommended to replace insulation if it has been fire damaged, water damaged, or heavily infested with rodents. Since the insulation acts as a barrier, its job is to keep the internal home atmosphere constant. This means that when water, fire, or rodents damage the insulation, the material is trapping harmful fumes and other hazards within the structure.

During a fire, flames react with it’s surrounding and give off damaging chemicals that can be present months later, even after the affected areas have been treated. Water damage usually comes alongside mold and spore issues due to standing moisture and damp environments. Rodents carry diseases and expel other toxins through their feces that can be present even after the infestation has been treated and controlled. In all of these situations, the threats can be trapped within the fibrous material of insulation and can cause lasting damage to the home and the people who live within it. Therefore, it is essential to replace all affected insulation.

Keep in mind, however, that not all the insulation needs replacing. In a typical attic that has seen one of these three damages, only about 5% of the insulation material is disturbed and needs tending to. Many inspectors or pest control agencies can inspect your insulation and spot-check the areas that need to be replaced.

You can also check out this how to on removing attic insulation image by image thanks to /u/crouthamela on Reddit.

Insulation is a miraculous material, and hopefully now its presence is not quite a mystery to us. However, if you are in need of attic insulation inspection or need insulation removal and replacing, contact us at SOS Rodent Control. We go above and beyond simple rodent control by also inspecting and restoring affected areas, which includes home insulation.

If you have more comments or questions about what we can do to improve the sanctuary of your home, give us a call at (415) 539-0157, or connect with us through our through email. We look forward to meeting with you!

Photo credit: Dennis Schroeder, NREL, FSEC/IBACOS, Insta-Insulation