Q. I use the attic floor for storage. When I recently went up there, I noticed there is no insulation or weatherstripping on the cover into the attic. Will I save enough energy to make it worthwhile to insulate and seal it?
A. When most builders construct a house, they usually just frame the attic access opening in a closet and put a piece of plywood or sheathing over it. Even if the opening framing was carefully installed, the plywood cover will not rest flush and seal well around the entire perimeter.
Since it is hidden in the ceiling of a closet, homeowners, unless they go up into the attic, don't give this area much thought. Actually, it can be a significant source of energy waste from your house year-round. You may not be able to feel indoor conditioned air leaking around it, but you will be able to feel how cold or hot it is winter or summer, respectively.
The energy loss is particularly significant during winter. Warm air is less dense than cold air so it naturally rises. This air leaks out of your house through any gap it can find. Since the air at the ceiling is the warmest, leaks through attic access entrance covers, recessed lights, etc. are common.
Also, there is little insulation value to the cover. A piece of plywood may have an insulation value of about R-0.5 compared to the rest of ceiling at about R-30 or greater. Even though the access cover may cover only eight square feet, without any insulation, it can lose much heat during winter. During summer heat from the hot roof radiates down through it to your room.
It will payback the small cost to insulate and seal it. The simplest method is to glue a piece of old fiberglass batt insulation to the top side of it. Use insulation with a vapor barrier facing. Spread some adhesive on top of the cover and place the vapor barrier down against it.
Purchase a roll of foam weatherstripping at your home center store. Feel the various types of foam available and select a soft one. You want the cover to settle down and compress it for a good seal. Durability is not a major concern because the cover is not removed often and there is little chance of wear or damage.
If you have a large attic access opening or one with pull-down stairs or a ladder, the best option is to purchase an insulated cover. The simplest design is a large heavy-duty cardboard box. You attach your own insulation and place it over the opening from beneath as you exit the attic.
A specially designed zippered insulated cover is easy to install and open and close. For a good seal, it attaches to the attic floor. Another design is a rigid foam domed cover to fit over folding stairs. The foam is lightweight and easy to lift when you enter the attic.
The following companies offer attic entrance products: Atticap, (888) 292-2229, draftcap.com; Battic Door, (508) 320-9082, batticdoor.com; Calvert Stairs, (866) 477-8455, calvertusa.com; InsulSure, (877) 660-5640, insulsure.com; and SP Partners, (203) 322-0009, rainbowatticstairs.com.
Q. My steam iron does not work as well as it used to and it sometimes makes brown streaks on the clothes. It takes longer to do the ironing, which I imagine wastes electricity. Should I buy a new one?
A. The steam holes are probably clogged. Pour an even mixture of vinegar and water into the iron. Set the iron to steam and hold it horizontal in the air. The steam solution should remove most deposits.
After the iron cools down, wipe the faceplate with a cloth dampened with dishwashing detergent, alcohol or baking soda. If it has a nonstick heating surface, rub it with some folded wax paper.
• Write to James Dulley at 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244, or visit dulley.com.