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Attic Ventilation: It’s Not As Complicated As You’re Making It

Submitted By: Ed Fritz


Proper attic ventilation is a simple and effective way to improve your home’s energy efficiency, especially in hot climates. That is, it can be if you don’t over-think it. The key is to remember that SIMPLE and EFFECTIVE go together – surprisingly, the more complicated you make your attic ventilation system, the less effective it will be. So before you get carried away with all the different options for attic ventilation (“I’ll take three of each!”), take a moment and learn just how it all works.

Why is attic ventilation so important? The simple answer is that air in an improperly ventilated attic has nowhere to go, causing it to become stagnant and increase in temperature. As this hot air fills your attic, it heats up the insulation and the ductwork that is supposed to be carrying cool air throughout your house. Air in a well-ventilated attic stays cooler and, consequently, keeps your home cooler with less effort and energy.

Here’s the simplest way to think of it: attic ventilation works like a chimney for your entire home. How does a chimney work? Well, it has a hole in the bottom and a hole in the top, and…that’s about it. Pretty simple, right? Ventilating your attic works on the same principles, and is essentially no more complicated: a hole in the bottom where air comes in, and a hole in the top where air goes out. That’s it. Really!

The holes in the bottom are usually soffit vents, and if you’re like 95% of homeowners your soffit vents are probably a mess – clogged, blocked, painted over, or entirely too small. Air will not leave the attic unless air enters, so check your soffit vents and clean them every couple of years. Try using a dry nylon car wheel brush to clean the vents – something as simple as this has the potential to lower attic temperature as much as 20 degrees.

The holes in the top of your attic are generally ridge vents, wind turbines, static vents or power fans. This is where people get overly-excited and risk undermining the entire attic ventilation system by overdoing the exhaust vents. If you want the air in your attic to move in the bottom and out the top – and trust me, that’s what you want – then you must provide the air with a definite path. Adding an abundance of exhaust vents will, essentially, confuse the air. Air must have a clear destination and will follow the path of least resistance. If you have too many exhaust vents, you’ll find that the most powerful vent will dominate, turning the less powerful exhaust vents into intake vents that will take the place of the soffit vents. This can happen if you mix different types of exhaust vents or if you place a ridge vent on every ridge. The air that should be drawn from the soffit vents will instead come from the less powerful exhaust vents or the ridge vents about halfway up the roof, and you will have air flow only in the top part of your attic.

So how do you ensure proper attic ventilation? Keep it simple! Think of your attic as a chimney: air enters from the bottom through the soffit vents, and exits the top through the exhaust vents. Stick with one type of exhaust vent, and make sure that all exhaust vents are installed within just a few feet of each other at the top of the attic. This will keep the air flowing throughout the attic, rather than just at the top. Combine proper ventilation with a radiant barrier to drop surface temperatures of your attic insulation, and you will have an attic that is cooler during summer weather and drier in the winter months. Keep it simple and you’ll be just fine.

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