Top 5 Myths About Attic Ventilation Debunked

Misconceptions of attic ventilation and the best ways to help your attic breathe.

Few home improvement projects boggle the minds of homeowners as thoroughly as attic ventilation. The process has troubled so many for so long that even roofing contractors often get things wrong.

We’ve encountered countless homes with shoddy attics and roof assemblies that led to a world of problems, from energy loss to ice dams to mold—and all the angst coming with them.

Why does poor attic ventilation cause problems in 90 percent of US homes? Let’s settle the score once and for all by debunking the top five myths about attic ventilation.

Myth #1: More attic ventilation is better.

Size matters in attic ventilation. But that doesn’t mean bigger is always better. More important than size is balance — where the space for intake matches the space for exhaust. Both depend on the size of your attic and slope of your roof.

Why aim for precisely the right amount of attic ventilation? Because too little ventilation causes damaging moisture in the winter and decreased energy efficiency in the summer.

What’s just as bad (and sometimes, worse) is the fact that too much ventilation adds penetration points for water — or even wildfire — to enter your home. Any extra seams can also cause a blowout during a hurricane.

From computing your attic’s square footage to its total “net free area” (the amount of space for air to flow in or out), a certified contractor can pinpoint the perfect size ventilation system for your home.

Myth #2: Roof vents are for warmer weather.

Roof vents do make homes more energy-efficient in the summer. But other factors play a more important role. Shingle color, sun exposure and insulation—each of which can all be addressed through low-risk and cost-effective solutions—mean more to energy efficiency than ventilation.

And here’s another common misconception: roof vents actually do more in colder climates than in warmer ones.

Here’s the truth: in the colder months, your home needs an unvented roofing system and insulation to prevent condensation and the moisture damage that follows. Proper ventilation is critical in the winter, especially with too much heat in the attic and too much cold snow on top of the roof.

In warmer months, you don’t have to worry about condensation or the resulting water damage.

Myth #3: Roof vents release warm air and tax your heating system.

It’s a fact that heat rises. However, it’s a myth that heat rises into your attic, escapes through your vents and creates a drag on your heating system. The real culprit threatening the efficiency of your heating system is poor insulation—not your attic ventilation.

When poor insulation allows warm, moisture-laden air into your attic, condensation can build, deteriorate your insulation, and encourage wood rot. But unless your home happens to have insulation on the roofing deck and no ventilation at all, your furnace shouldn’t be heating your attic in the first place.

Myth #4: You can rely on the research.

Countless studies confirm the effectiveness of an optimized roof ventilation system. However, no lab setting can replicate real-world wind and weather behaviors. Regional differences only widen the gap—conditions in Texas can vary greatly from conditions in Ohio.

The art and science of roof ventilation belong in the hands of a certified contractor—not a homeowner searching Google for the latest research and DIY project tips. The latter is like diagnosing a skin rash on WebMD—the former is like visiting a doctor.

Myth #5: All roof vents get the job done.

On the contrary, some roof vents do hardly any good at all. Ridge vents without baffles preventing outside air from crossing over the vent may not ventilate your attic. Gable vents may circulate only a small percentage of air. Static, roof-line vents may cause leaks. Soffit vents may trap air at the top of your attic. Even the most effective ridge-and-soffit system can vary in effectiveness from roof to roof.

Just because you have roof vents doesn’t mean you have adequate attic ventilation. A certified contractor can help you find and fix any weaknesses putting the health of your attic ventilation system at risk.

Better breathing for your attic

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