Cash in the Attic, Savings in the Cellar

Frugality at Home: Part 5 – The Attic & The Cellar


Your attic might not be the most used room in the house, but it could be costing you a lot of money. These areas are often large, lofty and left forgotten about, with dollar bills wafting around and seeping out of the holes.

Yet with a little preparation your attic could help you save money on the running costs of your whole house. Insulating and ventilating your attic effectively could save up to 20% on your heating and cooling costs, and 10% of your total energy bill.

Insulation & Ventilation = More money on vacation!

  • Ensure adequate ventilation - This helps to prevent extremes of heat, while promoting energy efficiency and preventing mould and moisture in the attic. Adding a ridge vent helps keep the temperatures more stable.
  • Installing an attic radiant barrier gives you 3 benefits - It works like a reflective sun shade, preventing the attic from warming up too much on a hot day. This takes the strain off the air conditioning across the house. In the winter it helps stop heat from escaping, thus taking the pressure off the heating. There is also less expansion and contraction of the roof, thus increasing longevity of your roof.
  • Install additional attic insulation at right angles to the previous layer - You don’t have to use the same type of insulation – it’s fine to use batts or blankets over loose-fill, or vice versa. This helps cover the joists and plug any air leaks, while increasing depth. 270mm of insulation is the recommended thickness for optimum effect.
  • Never cover attic vents or recessed light fixtures with insulation - Allow a three-inch clearance around chimneys and flue pipes.  This prevents overheating by allowing air to circulate, and avoids the risk of fire.
  • Seal the attic access - The way into the attic is often overlooked and can act as a massive air leak. Secure insulation to the back of the hatch or door, and use weather-stripping to seal the opening.
  • Roof insulation - It’s a big investment but is should last for over 40 years. If your house has never been insulated, you could save $470 by adding insulation from scratch. Even topping up your insulation could see a saving of $50.

If on a frosty morning you look up at your roof, and the layer of ice is melting before your neighbours, chances are you have not adequately insulated your attic.

From the top to the bottom

If you own a cellar, you probably don’t give its running costs much thought. Yet have you considered how your cellar could be affecting the rest of the house? Whether you use it for additional storage, to house the water heater and air conditioner, or purely to allow those bottles of wine to mature, you may be surprised to learn that the upkeep of your cellar can have a dramatic effect on the energy costs of running your home.

  • Seal cellar air leaks - You can get what is known as the “chimney effect” with leaks in the cellar – outside air drawn in is enhanced by leaks in the attic. As hot air rises, more cold air is pulled in to replace it, which leaves your whole house feeling draughty, while increasing your energy bill. Finding the leaks can be a tricky process. There is likely to be air creeping in where wires and pipes come into the cellar, so look for these areas first. Someone may have attempted to fill them in before you, so look for old filler. Also look for sunlight, and feel for that draught or cold air coming through. Check the windows and doors as well, as these are likely to harbour some air leaks. Run your hand along the floorboards as well, as you may feel a few breaths here too.
  • Use pre-cast concrete foundation systems - Although this tip may only be possible if building from scratch, these systems help create a damp-proof basement and help lower energy costs. They are insulated as they are laid, and can help ward off heat loss, creating an energy efficient space.
  • Add pieces of batt insulation to the rim joists - This is the area along the top of the foundation where it meets the exterior walls. You might not be able to see any cracks in the rim joists, but seal up top and bottom to be sure. For small cracks use caulk, and for bigger areas, spray foam will do a more efficient job.
  • Blanket insulation - If your basement is unheated, install blanket insulation in between exposed floor joists. This could add up to $170 saving off your heating bill.
  • Replace your electric water heater - This is only viable if it is near its natural end—13 years is average. This then gives you the opportunity to switch to a hybrid heater which could lower your water-heating bills by more than $300 a year. But they’re usually taller and must be installed in a room that’s at least 12×12 feet with a 7-foot ceiling to capture enough heat from the air. You’ll also need to add a condensate pump to divert the water if there is not a floor drain already in place. They are quite expensive to install but you could see the savings after 4-5 years, depending on the model you choose.

Never under-estimate what is beneath your feet; by using your head, your pocket will reap the rewards.

Next on the list, Hallways and Landings.