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Attic project - Would like opinions

5587 Views 6 Replies 6 Participants Last post by  ccarlisle
This is a long OP because there is a lot of background info - I appreciate in advance everyone reading through it and offering their opinion and advice

We purchased/moved into our current home in June 2009. The house was built in 1962 and I live in a North suburb of Chicago IL about 15 minutes west of Lake Michigan. I am at a point where I need to address our attic situation and would like opinions on whether or not I am on target with what I believe the overall project should be (3 parts to it), as well as if any of the parts of the porject should be left to a profesional as opposed to me doing it.

Here's some back ground on the situation and attic pics as well.

During our pre purchase home inspection our inspector pointed out in his report that there were some issues with the insulation in our attic. Admittidly I have not been up in the attic since we moved in and have not done anythign about it. The main issue is that our second floor is constantly 10-15 degrees hotter or colder (season dependent) than the first floor. On top of that our bedroom is extremely warm in the summer - it never gets below 77 and is susally around 80-85 degrees when the temp outside is hot (85-90 or higher). I also now know that there is massive amounts of air leaks - especially from the 7 canned lights in our master bedroom. The reason I know is because this past winter I needed to replace a couple of the bulbs in the canned lights. When I was putting in the new bulbs I could feel the super cold air rushing in through the light fixture - obviosuly the light fixtures are not air sealed and I assume are causing a good portion of the issue with the temperature in our bedroom.

The other problem is that the access hatch to the attic is super small and located in the corner of my wifes closet - the insepctor we used said he barely got up there and he is smaller than I am so I am not 100% confident that it will be easy to get in and out of the attic using the current acces hatch.

After reading a lot of the threads on the forum about attic insulation and air sealing I have come to the conclusion that I have 3 parts to the overall attic project:
1. Install a new/bigger attic access door with a ladder in the hallway
2. Replace the canned lights with new air sealed canned lights as well as air seal the entire attic. Additionally add rafter air flow vents because from the pictures I have it seems like they have insulated over the soffit vents
3. Correct the insulation in the attic

What I would like to get opinions on is if I am on the right track as well as if any of these 3 projects should be given to a profesional to do - specifically the canned lights and the attic access door/ladder. I have posted the pics I got from the inspector at the bottom of this post

Project 1 - attic access door/ladder
I am not sure of the exact spacing between the attic joists so I am not sure if I will need to open up/re frame the area that the attic door will be installed in. Going with a worst case scenario that I will need to re-frame the joists do you think that is a DIY project or should I let a profesional handle the entire job of installing the new acces door and ladder? I have done some framing work but it was many years ago - from the research I have done it doesn't seem too hard to do but I wanted to get opinions on that -- if anyone cal tell the joist spacing from the pics I posted that would be awesome

project 2 - replacing canned lights and air sealing attic
I am mostly concerned with replacing the canned lights with air sealed fixtures. All of the electrical is already run and I have definitely replaced enough hard wired light fixtures that I am comfortable with disconnecting the electrical lines and connecting the new ones. The big thing is I have never specifically worked with canned light fixtures and am not sure if there is something unique about replacing the fixtures that would make it something I can't handle. Should I let an electrician replace the canned fixtures?
The air sealing part I feel comfortable with based on all of the articles I have read - is there anything about air sealing that would make you say to leave it to a profesional?

Project 3 - correct or replace the insulation in the attic
Once I have completed projects 1 & 2 the last part would be to correct the insulation. From what I have seen in the pics I am not confident tha the insulation was done correctly as there is what looks like a small amount of some sort of blown in insulation under unfaced fiberglass bats that were clearly added at a later time. Not to mention the many areas that are missing insulation altogther because whatever contractor the previous owners used to renovate the bathrooms clearly did not replace the insulation when they were done. -

My main question on insulation is if I need to rip it all out and just insulate as if the entire attice was uninsulated or try to use what's there and just add to it -- hopefully the pics will help with this question

Thanks again - I appreciate anyone who got through this very long post. Thanks in advance for your opinions and info

Here are the pics - they are not in any specific order and definitely are not of the entire attic but just what the inspector felt I needed to see

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· Registered
320 Posts
Replacing can lights is not hard. There is a junction box on them which you can pop off one of the side walls easily and have access (at least for halo ones). Go to the store and look at one, you'll see it's not much different than any other light. they have sliding bars that you nail to the joists (nails included). Just make sure you get an IC can which can come in to contact with insulation.

Not sure if it's worth pulling all the insulation out. Is your bedroom the room which doesn't have insulation (or less) over it? Some of the pictures makes it look like the pink fiberglass is laid out over the joists with little insulation below it. I would make sure theres insulation beneath it. It also appears you have insulation run all the way to the soffet and you do not want that. Make sure you have soffet vents and room for the air to flow. Of course i don't subscribe to the completely seal the attic theory. You'd expect to see the upstairs hotter as heat does rise, but you will notice a improvement when your attic is properly insulated. I have two out of three rooms with insulation properly done over them and one with nothing (going to be replacing the sealing soon). You can definitely feel a big difference when you walk through the doorway. I'm in south carolina with a tin roof so my attic gets considerably hot. I put up a radiant barrier stappled to the roof joists and then installed a gable vent. The manufacturer recommends setting its thermostat to come on at 105 degrees, but it never comes on unless i set it down in the 90s. Other than that, i have R-30 fiberglass placed between the joists. I removed everything that was up there when i moved in, but of course the pictures below are what I started with.


· Energy Saver
61 Posts
Hey WhataboutJ,

You are about to make your home so much more comfortable and energy efficient.

I'm glad you have some basic electrical skills because you're about to be in for a surprise. Replacing recessed lights is ridiculously easy! They have quick connect caps that accept multiple wires. You don't even have to twist wires.

Just make sure you spend a couple of extra bucks for the AIR TIGHT ones. Believe it or not, they sell IC rated lights with holes that allow for air to go right through. For $3 more you solve a major air leakage problem that you can cover with insulation.

· Energy Saver
61 Posts
Attic Stairs

Framing the attic hatch is not hard, although you will make quite a mess.

You'll need to transfer the load from the ceiling joists onto 2 temporary walls. One on each side of the opening you need to cut. Then you can safely cut into the ceiling joists without damaging your drywall or collapsing your ceiling onto your head.

The drop down stairway kits come in 2 or 3 sizes. Make sure you buy the kit before you cut the hole. It will give you the specific rough opening dimensions you need.

The directions and hardware for installing the stairway kit are easy to follow. At least from the Werner ladder kits I've installed. But you'll need a second pair of hands to safely install it.

I'll take a picture of mine later and post it so you can see the framing details.

· Registered
79 Posts
Make sure you choose a place with enough head height to swing a drop down ladder.

Buy two pieces of 2x4 long enough to bridge over five joists.
Place in position and fasten to the existing joists below with coach bolts.
Cut out the centre joist and then make good with more 2x4s fitted across the cut joist,

Install drop down ladder.

Sealed lights tend to get very hot and the lights burn out early.
Suggest you replace with pendent lights and block up holes.
And fit insulation over.
This will help keep the heat under control.

Air flow vents can be a mixed blessing. Where you are they probably will cost you a lot of money as they enable the wind to suck the air from your home.

The removal of the lights will make a great difference to your heating and cooling costs.
The fiberglass that you have is not very good.
Fiberglass being an open cell form of insulation, allows the warm air from your home to move through it and more important it allows the water vapor produced in your home to enter it, with the chance that it will freeze, then thaw making the fiberglass wet and useless. Also you cannot lay things on fiberglass as being compressed it no longer works as insulation. Glass is a reasonable conductor of heat.

A better product is sheet polystyrene, buy sheets of polystyrene and fit them between the joists, if you fill the spaces to the top, you will have warm rooms upstairs and probably warm feet downstairs. You can then place the existing insulation over the polystyrene, where it will remain dry.

All of the above you can do.

· Registered
1,889 Posts
Sheet polystyrene - unless it is covered by something like wallboard - isn't fire-rated and is unsuitable for this purpose...In northern climates, blown-in cellulose would be appropriate once the light are changed, once the air-sealing has been done and once channels have been created at the soffits (ie. baffles) for proper air circulation. You may need a ridge vent or something at the top to allow air to move.

Mostly DIY except for insulation (perhaps) and the ridge venting...
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