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What Are the Best Tips for Removing Attic Insulation?

By Sandi Johnson
Updated May 16, 2024
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Removing attic insulation is a common task. It may often be required due to contamination by rodents and other damage, home remodeling projects, or in an effort to upgrade the energy efficiency of a home. When done by a homeowner, there are certain tips and precautions to consider before removing attic insulation. First, the homeowner must determine the type of insulation in place and if any special removal procedures are required. If safe to remove without special equipment, then typically the best tips include wearing protective clothing and ensuring particles do not enter the main living areas of the home.

Certain types of insulation, depending on local regulations, require a professional with specific credentials and equipment. Asbestos, for example, is one type of insulation that requires special handling. Due to its carcinogenic nature, many governments regulate removing insulation that contains asbestos. Special equipment, containment measures, and handling procedures are required, necessitating professional removal for the safety of residents and neighbors.

Traditional fiberglass insulation, usually in the form of rolls or loose, blown-in clumps, can usually be removed by a homeowner. When removing insulation made of fiberglass, it is important to wear protective clothing. Long-sleeve shirts with collars, long pants, boots, gloves, face masks, and protective eyewear can prevent overexposure to fiberglass particles. These particles are irritating to the skin and lungs and can cause a rash or coughing.

Rolls of fiberglass insulation can typically be rolled up and placed in large garbage bags for easy removal. Making sure to keep the paper side on the outside, each piece can be rolled into a tight ball and compressed to make room for multiple pieces in one bag. Careful and gentle handling, as well as keeping attic doors and vents closed, helps prevent particles from circulating into living areas. Gloves prevent contact with contaminants such as rodent droppings or mold.

In the case of loose insulation — whether fiberglass or other materials such as paper — a vacuum designed for construction debris is the best option for removing attic insulation. As with rolled insulation, protective clothing is necessary to prevent inhalation or skin irritation. Vacuums with a high capacity help improve removal times and can sometimes be rented at home improvement centers, hardware stores, or equipment rental companies. The vacuum canister should be removed to an outdoor area for dumping, again to prevent particles from entering living areas.

Disposal of materials is another consideration when removing attic insulation. Most waste management and residential garbage collection services will not process old insulation. Arrangements may need to be made to transport debris to a collection site, prior to removing attic insulation.

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Discussion Comments
By Drentel — On Jan 30, 2015

I have a neighbor who just learned that he has to remove all of his old blow-in insulation. He thought since he was using spray insulation this time and would be applying it to the walls and the ceiling in the attic, he could keep the existing insulation, which is on the floor of the attic. The reason the old insulation has to be removed is because the attic is not vented, and this means the the two types of insulation can't be there for safety reasons.

By Feryll — On Jan 30, 2015

@Animandel - I'm not sure anyone is actively seeking out old attic insulation to recycle. Like you, I wanted to choose an insulation that is environmentally friendly. There is old cellulose in our attic at the moment, and we are going to remove this, and put in new cellulose made from old newspapers. After reading this article, I think we can use the big wet and dry shop vac we have to remove the old insulation.

However, I read that the old cellulose cannot be recycled, which surprised me. The newspaper cellulose is considered green because it is originally made from old newspapers. After the first reuse, the paper has no more lives, and has to be disposed of.

By Animandel — On Jan 29, 2015

We are removing our fiberglass insulation batts in the attic for another type of blown-in insulation. There are several reasons that we chose the fiberglass batts, but now we are changing insulation because we are concerned by some of the recent reports about the dangers of fiberglass insulation.

One of the reasons we chose fiberglass was because we were told that it could be recycled when we needed to replace it with new insulation. I have now learned that while it is true you can recycle the fiberglass insulation, it is virtually impossible to do so. In fact, finding a place to dispose of the stuff at all is hard enough. No one wants the old insulation, and there appears to be only one or two places in the United States that recycle the stuff.

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