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Must attic ventilation be preserved in energy retrofits?

William Rose (Applied Research Institute, College of Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois, USA)

International Journal of Building Pathology and Adaptation

ISSN: 2398-4708

Article publication date: 9 May 2019

Issue publication date: 31 July 2019




The addition of thermal insulation into attics along with air-tightening of the ceiling plane is a common first step in making homes more energy efficient. Attic ventilation was introduced decades ago on the assumption that air leakage across the ceiling was inevitable and not correctible – this was before the era of spray-applied foams. Often attic ventilation is provided at roof eaves, and ensuring good insulation in their location is critical to avoid cold corners in the rooms below. So may vents be blocked in the course of energy retrofits? The paper aims to discuss this issue.


This study consists of a simple spreadsheet model of attic performance. The model is built using material from ASHRAE Handbook Fundamentals and ASHRAE Standards. It includes: Glaser calculations for temperature, vapor pressure and vapor pressure excess; radiation exchange – solar and sky; buoyancy flow assumption for leakage from indoors; wind flow assumption for leakage from outdoors; and change in attic air RH as assumed indicator of change in sheathing moisture performance.


The model results show that lowered moisture contributions across air-tightened ceilings may compensate effectively for added insulation (which lowers the attic air temperature) and reduced moisture dilution from attic ventilation.


These results provide support for the policy of allowing attic ventilation reductions that are proportionate to ceiling air leakage reductions as part of weatherization efforts. Given the limitations of the model, continued field observations remain critical.



Rose, W. (2019), "Must attic ventilation be preserved in energy retrofits?", International Journal of Building Pathology and Adaptation, Vol. 37 No. 4, pp. 461-472.



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