How Does a Radiant Barrier Work as Home Insulation Against Sacramento’s Summer Sun?

It’s almost summer, arguably Northern California’s favorite season of the year. While our state has plenty to offer year-round, the sunny days and warm temperatures that dominate much of the summer months make it the perfect place to enjoy a host of outdoor activities. But after enjoying all that warm weather outdoors, most of us want to cool off inside.

Summer heat can put a lot of stress on your air conditioner if you haven’t insulated your home properly. Luckily, there are a lot of ways to keep your home cool without overworking your unit in the process. And one great way to reduce the heat gain in your home is by installing a radiant barrier. But how does a radiant barrier work as part of your home’s insulation against the elements?

Radiant barriers are just what they sound like—barriers made out of a material that blocks heat from the sun. In a place like sunny California, having a cooling system and adequate insulation to reduce heat from creeping into your house is essential for enjoying your home year round. And following a few tips for correctly installing a radiant barrier will help keep your home—and your energy bill—cool and comfortable during Sacramento’s sunniest months.

How Does a Radiant Barrier Work?

radiant barrier home insulationRadiant barriers have a lot in common with baking. If you’ve ever baked a pie, you know that sometimes you have to put aluminum foil around the edges to keep it from burning. This works because aluminum foil reflects the heat from the oven off of the crust, allowing it to cook more slowly.

Radiant barriers are best used in hot, sunny climates that experience a lot of heat gain from the sun, like our Mediterranean climate here in Sacramento.

A radiant barrier installed on your roof keeps the air in your attic from “cooking,” you could say, by reflecting the sun’s rays away from your home. Radiant barriers are best used in hot, sunny climates that experience a lot of heat gain from the sun, like our Mediterranean climate here in Sacramento.

To reflect heat, radiant barriers are typically made of aluminum foil. Aluminum foil is the best type of material for radiant heat barriers because it:

  • Reflects heat: Aluminum foil has a reflective property that allows it to reflect radiant heat. As those hot rays from the sun hit it, they’re reflected back out and away from your attic, minimizing or eliminating the heat that passes through your roof and into your home.
  • Doesn’t radiate heat: Aluminum is a type of soft metal, and typically you think of metals as easy conductors of heat. But, in fact, aluminum actually gives off very little heat that it absorbs. This is why you can pick a piece of foil off a hot dish fairly soon after it has been in the oven. While the aluminum may have absorbed the heat, it does not emit it into the air around it.

How to Install a Radiant Barrier That Works

Most of the time, you have to know how to use something properly for it to be effective. If you buy an umbrella but don’t open it when it’s raining, it’s not very useful. The same can be said for a radiant barrier. It’s important to install it correctly for it to keep heat out of your home.

Installing a radiant barrier that works involves rolling the sheets out along a surface and stapling it down. It’s also important to completely cover a surface to ensure that it is fully protected by the barrier. It sounds like a simple process, but there are some things to keep in mind. Some tips for installing an attic radiant barrier are:

  • Don’t install near wiring: Because radiant barrier material is conductive, it should be installed away from any wiring or electrical devices to avoid conducting electricity.
  • Don’t install on top of insulation: Installing radiant barriers on top of insulation should be avoided to prevent moisture from being trapped between the two materials.
  • Do install under roof tiles: Where you install a radiant barrier is just as important as how you install it. Radiant barriers work best when installed under roof tiles so that the foil faces down in between the rafters and doesn’t accumulate as much dust. An inch or so of the barrier should also be draped to allow for air movement.

Why can’t I install it directly on my roof, you may ask? Because this will instead conduct heat through your roof shingles. A radiant barrier needs air to circulate around at least one side of it so it can disperse the heat that it’s reflecting off of its surface. If it’s sandwiched between tiles and roofing materials, it won’t be able to deflect the heat and will instead transfer it through the roof, defeating the whole purpose of using it in the first place. Because of this, installing a radiant barrier can be complicated and, unless you’re an experienced roofer, this job is likely best left to a professional.

The Benefits of a Radiant Barrier for Your Sacramento Home

Installing a radiant barrier in your attic is kind of like wearing a white hat to the beach. If you’re hanging out in the sun, a white hat will help to keep you cool by reflecting some of the sun’s radiant heat away from your body. Radiant barriers do the same for your house. And just like your body, it’s best to have that reflective surface at the top. But in addition to keeping you cool, radiant barriers can benefit your home in other ways as well, such as:

  • Increased comfort: Radiant barriers are capable of reflecting up to 97% of radiant heat from an attic when installed on a rooftop. This drastically reduces the amount of heat that accumulates in your top most floor. This allows the rooms in your home, especially those on the top floors that tend to be warmer, to stay cool longer because that heat is not trying to push its way in from your attic.
  • Longer lifespan for air conditioners: In addition to allowing it to work under optimal conditions, a radiant barrier can also prevent the conductive metal of ductwork and your air conditioner from gaining heat directly. Air conditioners that have to compensate for direct heating of components and ductwork tend to run longer and thus tend to require more repairs and eventually early replacement. But when your ductwork and air conditioner are protected from gaining heat, your air conditioner only has to work to maintain space temperatures in your home.

Summer is just around the corner and while you may be thinking about your next vacation, don’t forget to consider the most energy efficient ways for cooling your house this summer, too. Summer cooling bills can often account for the majority of yearly energy usage in sunny places like Sacramento. That’s why we have to take extra measures during summer months to ensure that we have the best possible insulation in our homes to keep out the heat.

A great way to accomplish this is by installing a radiant barrier in your attic to reflect heat away from your house. With another hot California summer on it’s way, you’ll want to have that radiant barrier installed not only to keep your home cooler, but also to keep your energy bills low when the temperatures rise.

Don’t wait until summer is here to prepare your home for beating the heat. Call the professionals at Bell Brothers to find out about installing a radiant barrier in your home today.

Image courtesy Unsplash user Vasile Tiplea