The Dangers and Risks of Attic Voids

Whatever the shape or size of a particular home, it’s technically a “box” – with walls, a roof, and a floor. Insulation professionals refer to it as a “building envelope” – and it essentially separates us from the elements. Importantly, it provides a defense from winter cold and summer heat. In the top most portion of the home, the attic provides unique protection from the elements. But even when insulated, “attic voids” may exist – poorly insulated/sealed or empty spaces that provide little to no protection or defense.   

Attic voids can be quite puzzling.  For the most part, they are hidden – throughout the insulation; surrounding a chimney; even around electric wiring and plumbing.  Wherever voids are located in the attic and roof cavity, it’s problematic. Attic voids directly compromise a home’s capacity to block heat, air conditioning, and moisture.  They simply allow for air to leak – heat rises and escapes; cold air from the outside creeps in; and unwanted moisture is permitted to accumulate.

In older homes, especially where attic insulation has been sitting around for many years, voids are widespread. The truth is, airflow, air leakage, and energy efficiency were not as understood or prioritized like today. Here, it becomes a good option to have a comprehensive attic inspection where attic voids can be identified and assessed. It’s also a good opportunity to have an expert insulation contractor make recommendations on possible remedies and additional upgrades.

In terms of resolving attic voids, the main aim is to effectively fill the empty spaces using various materials to insulate and weatherize. The idea, of course, is to prevent undesirable airflow and air leakage throughout the “building envelope”. Properly expedited, insulation and weatherization stops energy wastage, while saving money on heating and cooling bills throughout the seasons. On the flip side – poorly installed insulation and attic voids is a sure formula for high utility bills.

In a “building envelope”, air will move through even the smallest attic voids, not to mention the more expansive ones. This is where sealing is most important, whether it’s a gap in the installed insulation or a joint space where roofing meets the attic floor. For an experienced contractor, the ideal remedy is spray foam insulation – an application that will “find” and seal even the smallest opening. This type of insulation approach totally minimizes airflow, while stopping air leakage.

Sometimes, attic voids can be damaging, beyond the loss of heating and cooling. Empty spaces in the attic provide a comfortable haven for pests, insects and animals.  All of these will eventually compromise the integrity of any installed insulation, and after time, the void will grow bigger. Here again, a comprehensive assessment of the attic is valuable. Areas that need attention can be identified, insulation improvements can be suggested, and remedies can be proposed for voids.

Contrary to many DIY enthusiasts, topping up insulation material to patch-up attic voids is both simplistic and superficial. This is work for a professional, who understands the importance of sealing the attic tight, enhancing the insulation so it performs, and properly ventilating the space to ensure balanced air circulation. Otherwise, it’s a “band-aid” solution with short term results.