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Should I insulate the underside of my roof or the ceiling/attic floor?
Ceilings/attic floors are usually insulate because of the ease of piling up cheap insulation. Recessed lights, outside walls, sloped or tray ceilings and knee walls all create non-uniform thermal "cap" on the building and result in voids in the insulation. The real-life R-value of an insulated ceiling is very often less than the claimed R-value.
Ducts are often located in the attic, which exposes the coolest/warmest air in the house to the hottest/coldest environment in the house(depending on the season). This does not create a very energy efficient situation. As much as 10% of heat of AC can be lost by placing ducts in a unconditioned attic.
From an energy standpoint, ducts and air handlers should be located within the conditioned space. This reduces heat transfer to the outside and reduces some concern of duct leakage. Recently, building researchers proposed making crawl spaces into unvented, conditioned plenums, which is now accepted by code. More recently, building researchers proposed making attics into conditioned space by eliminating ventilation and insulating the underside of the roof rather than the ceiling/attic floor. As a building researcher, I fully support both concepts.


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