Are you experiencing high utility costs during the cold winter months? You’re not alone. In your mind you run through the various reasons why and how you can save money. The natural train of thought might lead you down the path of turning the heat down and wearing more layers of clothing, turning lights off more frequently, washing clothes in cold water only, changing light bulbs with more efficient ones and perhaps even as far as to look into replacing your furnace with a newer high efficient unit. But for some reason your utility bills do not decrease and you look to the heavens in frustration and except your fate of “that’s just the way it is”. However what if that wasn’t the way it had to be. Subconsciously as you look up to the heavens you are actually looking in the right direction. No I’m not talking about divine intervention, I’m talking about the space above your ceiling, a space that you never think twice about, your attic space.
As home builders and industry professionals became more educated over the years they have slowly made changes to the Building Code to increase the energy efficiency of homes. But what about these older homes, 20+ years that were built to this older less efficient code? No matter how efficient your furnace is, if you don’t have sufficient insulation in your attic space you will always be paying a premium to heat your home. The house itself acts as a whole, a team is only as good as its weakest link, so the path to energy efficiency in older homes is a process. However you have to start somewhere and the logical thing to do would be to follow the science, Building Science. Heat rises. Everyone knows that right? It’s absolutely true. Heat does rise. However heat can move up, down, or sideways, depending on the situation. What the laws of thermodynamics tell us is that heat moves from areas of higher temperature to areas of lower temperature. In the building science of air movement it is easy to get confused. Warm air rises when it's surrounded by cold air because of its lower density. Heat is a component of that, but density is the main factor that causes the air movement here.
This phenomenon is referred to as stack effect. Two factors affect how much stack effect a building experiences:
- Temperature difference between inside and out (because density depend on temperature)
- Height of building
Homes are not vacuum chambers, they leak. The low density air inside the house will move up and out into the cold, dense winter air when given the chance. If you are skeptical grab a ladder, open your attic hatch on a cold day when your home is warm. If you climb up into the attic and put your face over the hole you’ll feel the stack effect pushing lots of warm air into the attic. So in winter the warm, low density air inside your house wants to rise, if it can. Having less insulation in your attic space is only making it easier for this warm, dense air to escape your home.
One of the first things I recommend to a homeowner is to have an energy efficiency evaluation done on your home to see where you can best make improvements. And more often than not the first place to start in the process of energy efficiency is upgrading your attic insulation. This can be costly, however there are currently rebates available through LiveSmart BC which will help compensate the work and the cost of the evaluation, however these rebates are running out so the time to do this is now.
The first step is to contact a certified energy advisor like myself to start a discussion about what your concerns and goals are. Then the advisor can assess your home and give you a detailed plan on how to improve the efficiency. This plan is not something that needs to be done all at once, it is a guideline which will itemize each upgrade. But upgrade #1 will be attic insulation to stop that heat from escaping.