Covering Your Attic Stairs

One of the most overlooked areas for leakage in your ceiling is your attic access. While “overlooked” should probably more appropriately stated as “homeowners don’t know how to correct,” the outcome is the same. Homeowners live with the attic access being leaky.

Your stairs cover a small area, typically around 8 square feet, but there can be a large amount of leakage around the opening if they don’t fit correctly, and this is 8 square feet of little to no insulation. It’s an area that is most typically unconsciously perceived as an uncomfortable area – but most homeowners don’t know why.

Also, most homeowners don’t realize that they can purchase or build an item called a battic cover that will seal and insulate their access stairs. A purchased battic cover typically consists of a cover that can be lifted or unzipped, and possibly insulation. Several companies make these items out of a reflective material that gives the added benefit of a radiant barrier. Typical costs are around $100. Some can be found for less, but they usually don’t have insulation included.

You can also make one using rigid foam board. This is relatively inexpensive and easy to work with. The cover should be made so that it sets inside the framing for the stairs and allows for clearance of side hinges and folded stairs when it closes. Insulation can also be added to this to beef up the inherent R-value of the material. If preferred, a homeowner could also add a radiant barrier to the exterior of the surface or construct it out of foil-backed foam board. I usually recommend ½” board, but your stairs may allow for more. This can all be built for around $50 unless you want to add the radiant barrier afterwards.

So how does a homeowner choose which one to do? It depends on you. Both products require some amount of skill, as the purchased cover still has to be installed. However, the built cover is relatively simple to construct and can be done by someone with moderate to little construction skills. Payback can be a big factor in choosing. Payback will vary by location, but for an area of moderate climate, such as central North Carolina (and assuming R-30 insulation is used), you will see a return of about 1 to 3.5 years, depending on what you use to heat your home, gas, or electricity. Current pricing and efficiencies of the various fuels result in a longer payback for heat pumps. If you live in a colder climate, like Maine, then you’ll see a payback of 0.5 to 2 years.

Set your thermostat to proper temperatures.

Each degree to lower or raise your thermostat can save you 3% in cost! It’s recommended that you set your thermostat to 68 degrees in winter and 78 in the summer. You can increase your savings by getting a programmable thermostat.

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