Attic Insulation 3 - Safety Measures

A worker installing blown-in insulating in an unfinished floor.

Now that you've read part 2 of this series and know the proper tools for adding attic insulation, it's time to learn about the proper safety practices for doing so. Safety is important when you work with any type of insulation. Here are some safety guidelines for your insulation installation and definitions of the materials you'll be using.

Safety Gear

A dust mask and goggles are necessary for work with all types of insulation or when sawing wood. Fully cover your body. If possible, wear long sleeves, a hood, long pants, and gloves. Insulating materials are skin irritants. When working outside on a roof, wear shoes or boots with rubber soles.

You should also wear a hardhat, since roofing nails may be sticking through the sheathing. There are usually exposed, rusty nails in an old attic. Speaking of which, if you are not allergic to tetanus shots, be sure yours is current.

Working in attics or other hot areas can cause loss of body salt by excessive sweating. Consider taking salt tablets and try to work early in the morning, before it gets too hot. Carry a spray container of cold water to spray on yourself and your fogged-up goggles.

Proper Procedures

To reduce fire hazards, keep the insulation clear (3 inches or so) from objects that transfer heat and install sheet metal baffles around recessed light fixtures, chimneys, and flues.

In older homes with possible frayed wires, do not allow the aluminum vapor barrier on the batt insulation to come in contact with the wire since it could short circuit. Some types of insulation are flammable. Check with your local building department and fire department for special application precautions or restrictions.

When working high on the outside of the house, rent scaffolding to provide a balanced, level working surface. When working on the roof, stay clear of power lines, secure extension ladders with safety hooks that clamp over the ridge, and delay your work until the roof is free from dampness caused by rain, frost, snow, or dew. Do not step through attic floor joists onto the ceiling of the room below. It will give way.

Always use the correct tool for the job. Be sure power tools are properly grounded. Watch power cord placement so that it does not interfere with the tool's operation.

Useful Definitions

Caulk—A pliable material, usually forced into a gap or crack with a gun or pressurized can, hardens into an effective seal against air and moisture infiltration.

Cellulose—Blown-in or loose, consists of rock wool, glass fiber, vermiculite, and/or perlite. Use this in floors, walls, and hard-to-reach places. This type of insulation is poured between joists or blown in with special equipment. It is best suited for use in irregular-shaped areas and is the best option for blowing into existing finished walls.

Fiberglass—Blankets or batts, a widely used insulator for walls, floors, ceilings, roofs, and attics. Fitted and stapled easily between studs, joists, and beams, it is well-suited for the do-it-yourselfer.

Flexi-vent—A waffle-like strip of plastic designed to allow air circulation to carry away moisture that could build up under insulation.

Foam—Extruded polystyrene, isocyanurate board, and fiberglass board. These rigid panels are used on unfinished walls, in new construction, or on basement and masonry walls or exterior surfaces. The panels are glued or cut to friction fit between studs, joists, or furring strips and must be covered with drywall or paneling for fire safety.

They offer a high insulating value for a relatively thin material, but are highly flammable, and some chemically based sprays or foams may discharge poisonous films over a period of time. Be sure to use a closed-cell, waterproof, rigid panel in exterior applications or in high moisture areas.

Furring—Strips of wood used to level out a surface prior to finishing.

Shims—Thin wedges of wood used to bring furring strips level with each other when used on an uneven wall.

Silicate compound—Made of glass and sand. It does not burn, release toxic fumes, or attract vermin. It comes in lightweight, easy-to-handle bags and should be used in the same manner as loose fill or cellulose.

Vapor barrier—Commonly a sheet of plastic attached over insulation to eliminate moisture infiltration and deterioration of insulation.

Now that you know what you're working with and how to stay safe around it, it's time to prepare for the job. Check out part 4 for the necessary info.