Since the heat of summer sneaks up on us more quickly these days, it seems, it’s important to make sure you’re prepared. You’ve stocked up on sunscreen, bought a new beach umbrella, and replaced last year’s flip flops, but have you checked your attic insulation? Your air conditioning unit may be in tip-top shape, but if the cool air doesn’t stay inside your house, you’re wasting money and energy.

What Kind of Insulation do you Have?

One word of warning: if you suspect that the insulation in your attic is made from vermiculite, don’t attempt any projects that will disturb your existing insulation. Vermiculite insulation may have asbestos and should only be handled by a professional.

Installing Fiberglass Batts

The exposed beams in the attic are a perfect place to add extra insulation. You already have insulation in your attic; isn’t that enough? Many homes could benefit from an additional blanket of insulation. Fiberglass batts are easy to install yourself. Use batts without a paper or foil layer so the air can circulate. Wearing protective clothing (long sleeves, a dust mask, eye protection, and gloves), place the batts at a 90-degree angle to the joists. This will prevent the batts you’re installing from putting pressure on the existing insulation.

Installing Loose-Fill Insulation

Loose-fill insulation is made from recycled waste materials–usually cellulose fiberglass or mineral wool. It can be installed in your attic using specialized machines that propel the insulation into the space. This is usually done by drilling holes between two studs in the outer wall. Although you can do this yourself if you have the proper equipment and instructions, it is a job best left to professionals.

Sealing Your Attic

You can install all the extra insulation you want, but it doesn’t prevent air from flowing out of your house. If there are air leaks in your attic, you will still lose valuable cold air in the summer. Remedy any air leaks before installing additional insulation. This can involve sealing the areas where duct exhaust fans lead to the outside, around the chimney and framing, and where gaps exist at the tops of interior walls. If you have an entrance to the attic in an air-conditioned part of your home, insulate and air seal the access to that part of the attic. Attic crawl spaces that line an upstairs room in your home should also be well-insulated.

Radiant Barriers

In some climates, a radiant barrier is an effective way to prevent extra heat from being trapped in your attic. In warmer areas of the country where the sun beats down on the roof for a large portion of the day, radiant barriers can keep energy costs down. They prevent heat from being transferred from the hot roof to the other surfaces in your attic, like air ducts. Radiant barriers are made from a reflective material such as foil or metal roof shingles and should be installed by a professional. When correctly installed, they can lower cooling costs by up to 10 percent.

We’re all feeling the crunch this summer: it’s hot, we’re in a drought, and the economy needs a boost. Instead of spending all of your hard-earned cash on cooling your home, try checking your insulation to determine whether you could improve its efficiency, keeping you cool and saving you money.