How to Heat and Cool an Attic

Heating and cooling an attic space

Depending on the style of your home, your attic space might not be something that you give a lot of thought to, unless you utilize that space for storage or for living. If this is the case, or you’re looking to expand into this space, it’s important to provide the proper heating or cooling system so that the temperature stays consistent and comfortable, and you prevent damage to any items being stored in that space.

When you start to include your attic space as part of your home’s conditioned “envelope”, you not only increase the square footage both in terms of home space but also in conditioned air requirements. If your existing central unit or other system isn’t adequately sized, you’ll need to determine the best methods for addressing the issue and figuring out the best way to cool and heat your attic.

Factors to Heating and Cooling an Attic

Your climate zone, roofing material, whether or not the insulation is airtight, and a host of other things all contribute to what will be your best options heating and cooling.

While it might seem like a complicated process to maintain a live-able and beneficial temperature in your attic space, it doesn’t have to be. By simply taking some time and making an effort to understand a little bit more about how your attic and home were designed and built, what climate zone you reside in, and how you’ll be utilizing the space, you’ll be able to narrow down the best options for you.

Here are some factors to be aware of before you determine your course of action for heating and cooling:

Insulation

Whether or not the attic was intended to be used for storage or a living space to begin with, it needs to have been properly insulated. Insulation provides a barrier between your home and the outside world and influences so much surrounding the regulation of temperature. You could spend a great deal of money trying to heat and cool your home, but if the attic isn’t properly insulated it could be working against you. Make sure you have the proper amount of attic insulation for your region. Calculating how much insulation you need will involve making sure you know the zone where you live. The United States is divided into 8 zones, and each zone requires a different thickness of insulation.

Ventilation

Ventilation also plays a huge role in the regulation of your home’s temperature. A properly ventilated attic will automatically move hot air through and out, not keep it trapped inside. Attic ventilation systems also work together with your insulation. The type of ventilation, or roof vent, that you’ll need depends on your home’s construction and the details surrounding your attic.

Roofing

In the case of warmer climates, keeping your attic cool also helps protect your roof, saves you energy, and affects your ability to manage the temperature in the rest of your home. A possible way of preventing a build-up of hot air in your attic is installing reflective roofing. It won’t solve the issue, but it can go a long way towards improving the attic temperature. Dark roofing material absorbs light energy and increases the temperature, while lighter, more reflective roofing materials will deflect more of the heat and prevent high attic temperatures.

How to Cool an Attic

Here are some tips on different ways to keep your attic cool during those warm months.

  • Windows play a part in regulating the temperature of your attic space. Keeping them covered in the summer will block sunlight and excess heat, while allowing the sun to stream through in the winter will provide heat. Make sure the windows are properly sealed and caulked so that no drafts get through.
  • Attic fans are a great place to start to cool your attic. Fans work by pulling the hot air out of your home and transferring it to the outside, but you need to make sure the attic is airtight to prevent cooled air from also being pulled from the rest of your home. There are two types of attic fans. Roof fans are installed much like a skylight, and gabled wall fans work best for roofing with existing gable vents. If no gable vents exist, you can easily have a professional come out and cut the properly-sized hole. Professional installation for any attic fan type is recommended, as using extension cords to provide attic fans with power is not a good idea. If you’d prefer not to use electricity, solar attic fans that are powered from solar panels are another option.
  • Ridge and soffit vents are also helpful for venting hot air and keeping an attic cool, but you’ll need a little extra help as this method alone probably won’t remove enough heat to keep the space comfortable enough to live in. Ridge vents are a small opening in the ridge of the roof and a soffit vent is a small vent installed under the roof eaves.
  • If proper insulation, venting, and fans combined aren’t enough to keep your attic a cool and comfortable temperature in a hot climate, installing a single zone mini split would be helpful. Mini splits are a great way to regulate the temperature in one room without raising your electric bills significantly, and allow you to control the temperature independent of the other heating or cooling sources in your home. They’re easy to install, and some can both heat and cool a room, so they’re perfect for climates with warm summers and cold winters. If your home has an existing multi-zone mini split, that’s also an option.
  • A window air conditioning unit is also a good option for cooling an attic. They’re easy to install, portable, and can be removed for winter or cooler seasons. In very warm climates, they will be effective as long as your attic space is properly insulated against the elements.
  • If you only want to cool the room while it’s in use or occasionally as needed, portable AC units are reasonably priced and easy to use. Using a portable A/C unit for extended periods of time (i.e., running for several days at a time) is not recommended, so be sure to use them as they’re intended, which is a supplemental cooling source.

How to Heat an Attic

Here are some tips on keeping your attic warm during cold months.

  • Once again, proper heat retention can only be obtained with proper insulation and an airtight room. Making sure your attic is properly insulated against the elements and having drafty windows caulked or covered is going to help immensely with heat retention. If the windows are small, and sunlight exposure is minimal, it might be worth installing temporary plastic films over each window. This prevents cold air from entering and hot air from escaping. It might not be the prettiest method, but it does help drastically improve room temperature.
  • As mentioned in the cooling section, mini split systems with heat pumps are an excellent way to achieve and maintain ambient temperature in your attic space throughout the winter time. They’re easy to install and can be operated independently of your central heating or A/C system. They’re cost-effective and efficient, and only require a few simple steps when installed by a professional. Again, if you already have a multi-zone mini split system in your home, look into the possibility of extending the use of this system into your attic.
  • If you already have a central heating system, consider having your internal ductwork extended to your attic space. This will involve having a professional come and install vents and ductwork, but if you’re planning on using your attic space regularly, this will be well-worth the effort.
  • Electric fireplaces make a great and very easy heat option if you’re planning to use your attic space as an optional living area. They can be turned off and on whenever needed, and there’s nothing to install! Simply plug it in and turn it on. As with portable and space heaters, you’ll want to make sure you have an electrical source within the attic because the use of extension cords is not recommended. It’s also not recommended to leave on these fireplaces for an extended period of time. If there is going to be someone living in the attic, there should be another source of heat beyond the fireplace that is more long-term. If your home is equipped with propane or gas capabilities, a vent-free wall heater would be a great option.
  • Space heaters are great supplemental heat sources, however, keep in mind that the use of extension cords isn’t recommended for these, especially if they’re run from another floor. Make sure you have an electrical source in the attic, and only use the space heater when you or someone else is physically present in the space to prevent a risk of fire. This is also not a long-term option.

Next Steps

Keeping your attic space an ambient temperature during cold or heat is worth the research and effort. Fortunately, Total Home Supply has a variety of heating or cooling methods that will help you utilize your attic space and/or expand your storage or living quarters. Visit our site to browse our wide selection of heating and cooling options.

Mickey Luongo

Mickey is the resident heating and air conditioning expert.

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