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Q & A: What is the best way to insulate our attic when no soffit vents are present?

Question by Kate: What is the best way to insulate our attic when no soffit vents are present?
Our 1929 Chicago bungalow, like many of the homes in our area, has no soffit vents, only the original concentric exhaust vents closer to the ridge. From the outside the soffit vents appear to be there because whoever sided over the original wood put the vent pieces in the siding. However, inside the attic it is clear by the design of the house they don’t exist. The roof trusses are notched to sit directly on the top of the wood top plate. I found this out after I purchased baffles that I wanted to install at the soffit vent locations prior to insulating. Now, it doesn’t appear that there is a reason/place to install them. Of course, my main concern is ice damming and here is what I am considering doing, can you tell me please your opinions on my plan (any any other ideas you may have).

The attic floor is original to the home and goes all the way to the wall top plate (sits about 1/2 inch below). Therefore, rather than blowing in cellulose (we intend to use this as storage space), I am thinking holes should be drilled in the floor (every 16″) and cellulose packed inside the joist cavities under the floor. Finally I am considering adding a radiant barrier (solar guard, etc.) to the roof decking. However, since that soffit area is unvented, will the radiant barrier make ice damming worse down below? My dad and I are waffling on this because we figure it both reflects the sun’s heat out as well as keeping any boiler-heated air in (though hopefully with the cellulose, we’ll be keeping most of that out). Any/all ideas welcome.

It’s confusing and I have no experience in this area. It’s a 1-yr. old roof and I don’t want to wreck it!
Yes, David N., I was also wondering if a heating cable on the bottom 2′ or so of shingles would be the answer…? I’m trying to find a “set it and forget it” solution. 🙂

Best answer:

Answer by David N
It snows a lot in Chicago. The roof may have been designed to use house heat to prevent ice buildup. That isn’t energy efficient but in 1929 that may not have been an issue.

You need the opinion of a licensed roofer who has “been there and done that” and knows what works and what doesn’t. It may be possible to add a heating cable and then blow in insulation and not have ice buildup.

A heating cable would be less work than a sock or salting.

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One Response to Q & A: What is the best way to insulate our attic when no soffit vents are present?

  1. Joe

    I’m going to support “David N”‘s answer. You need to talk to a local roofer, who’s been working in the neighborhood forever: in your climate, on houses of similar age.

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