Climate control in down-Maine attic

Q. Fifteen years ago we winterized our home here on the Maine coast. We have an attic furnace, and the heating bills are staggering. Upon the advice of a builder, I removed the insulation between the rafters and put it between the ceiling joists. This leaves the attic very cold. Should I replace the insulation between the rafters? Should I close the attic vents in the winter? Is there a danger of fire by having a furnace in the attic? In the summertime the attic gets extrememly hot, and I am concerned about some things that are stored up there. What thoughts do you have to improve the situation? Frances Hook East Boothbay, Maine

A. Keep the insulation in the area between the ceiling joists where it now is. If the insulation is adequate in thickness and insulation value, this thermal barrier will prevent heat loss from below in the living area. The same thing happens in reverse in the summer. Ceiling insulation prevents the warmth of the attic from migrating into the living space below.

Blocking the attic louvers in the winter would be of little help, and it might promote condensation. You do not want excess moisture in the attic.

By all means keep the attic vents open in the summer. Install an exhaust fan or gravity louvers, should condensation appear in the attic.

Obviously, some household goods stored in an unheated main attic could suffer damage in the wintertime. Similarly, some other household goods could be damaged by the extreme heat and humidity of summer.

About all you can do is be selective in what you put in the attic.

Attic furnaces are quite common. Some building codes require them to be enclosed in a fire-resistant cubicle. Check with our local building department. You should also ask the fire chief to inspect the installation to see if it is safe.

No doubt your supply and return air ducts to and from the living quarters are wrapped in adequate insulation. If not, you are losing a lot of heat from those unwrapped ducts.

So your fuel bills are staggering? Welcome to the club.

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