By Ken Sheinkopf
September 13, 2007
Q. I don't know if you've ever gotten questions about this, but I went up to our attic a couple of weeks ago to get some suitcases for our vacation and it was so hot that I couldn't even get into the storage area. Is there something wrong with our house and if so, what can we do about it?
A. Regardless of where you live, high summer temperatures can make an attic a very hot place. The big problem, though, isn't the fact that all this hot air is sitting up there. What you need to be concerned about even more is that if your attic doesn't have very good ventilation, there is only one place this hot air can go -- down into your house, where it will make the living space even more uncomfortable and boost your energy bills.
I do get a lot of questions about this, and most people writing them note that they don't have good attic ventilation. While features like continuous soffit vents and ridge vents are pretty standard on homes these days, many homes -- especially older ones -- just don't have adequate attic ventilation. I hear from many people who want to know how to have a radiant barrier installed or the best kind of shingles to use to block the sun's heat. While these strategies can be effective, the big job is to get the attic ventilated so the heat moves out before it moves downward into the insulation and then into the home.
I suggest you talk to some local contractors about ways to improve the ventilation in your attic. Lots of people tell me they are having success by installing a solar-power attic ventilator, which gets the air moving out without using electricity. Once you get better ventilation, that attic will cool off significantly and not only give you easier access to all the things you have stored up there, but will have less harmful effects on the pipes and building materials in the attic as well as keep the heat from building up and radiating into the living space below.
Q. Every week when I read the home section of my local newspaper, I keep seeing more and more articles about "green" homes. I know that this means homes that are energy-efficient and help the environment, but I'm not sure what this means in practical terms. Can you help me with this?
A. I think so. A green home is indeed one that fits well with its environment and offers many benefits -- in both economy and enjoyment -- to its occupants. While the definitions of a green home range considerably, let me give you a few ideas from an organization called Sustainable Sarasota, an arm of Sarasota County, Fla., government. They advise people planning to build a green home to consider the following:
- Choose a home site that meets your daily needs. Is it close to your workplace, shopping and schools? Is there mass transit? You can substitute long car trips with walking, biking and public transit.
- Maximize space efficiency by putting comfort and convenience without splurging on space for the home or the lot. If you want a lot of green space outdoors, try to live near a park rather than having a big back yard.
- Design with the sun in mind. Use landscaping and good home insulation to minimize heating and cooling needs.
- Use daylighting to enjoy soft, natural light. Good windows and skylights can be effective, along with shades and shutters to control the sun.
- Work with the local landscape and use native plantings that minimize the environmental impact.
- Put energy efficiency into the home in appliances, heating and cooling systems, and even the basic design.
- Look into the use of sustainably harvested and even recycled building materials.
- Finally, though you may know a lot about green design, work with an experienced architect and builder who have experience in these areas.