How can I make my attic studio more comfortable over the summer?
May 7, 2015 1:36 PM   Subscribe

I just moved into a new apartment and there's a huge open attic that's all mine. I'm in the process of turning it into studio space, but as a renter I can't make significant modifications. It's going to get very hot this summer and I'm worried it'll become unbearable. Has anyone used the rolls of radiant barrier foil? It sounds like a good solution, but dropping a bunch of cash on something that might be woo makes me nervous.

I have 2 good sized, north-west facing windows and I can get box fans to circulate the air, but I'm reticent to put in a ton of insulation in a place I don't own. There isn't any additional ventilation, so the windows are it for airflow through the space. I figure the radiant barrier will bounce back at least some of the summer heat and might even help a bit in winter.

Do you have other suggestions for making the space livable over a New England summer?
posted by Lighthammer to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Well, a window air conditioning unit will work; it will be $$ if there's no insulation but you can take it with you or sell it later.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 1:51 PM on May 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yup, I'd get a window AC unit with my money instead of spending it on upgrading a space I don't own. An AC unit will also help to dehumidify and protect your belongings from being damaged by moisture.
posted by quince at 1:54 PM on May 7, 2015

Buy at least 1 box fan. Buy a fan that will be pointed at you; that will cool you directly. Keep blinds or curtains drawn in the daytime, even indirect sun is warming. keep the cool air in in the morning, then work on getting air moving and warm air out in the afternoon. You might try using reflectix mounted on cardboard so it fits in the windows. Bubblewrap is easily sourced free, and will also help insulate the windows.
posted by theora55 at 2:00 PM on May 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

My instinct here is that the insulation might actually hurt you without the window A/C unit that others are suggesting. It all depends on where the heat is coming from, of course, but my experience with most attics is that they are actually hotter than the outside air during the summer. If this is the case, then what you want in the summer is an absence of insulation so that the heat in the attic can make it to the outside.

Once you get the inside of the attic cooler than the outside air (through, for example, the use of an A/C unit), then insulation can help you - it keeps the hot outside air out from your cooled inside space. But until you do that, you really want to encourage maximum heat exchange between the attic and the outside.

Of course, this type of heat exchange is not what you want in the winter, which is why the attic is insulated in the first place.
posted by Betelgeuse at 2:00 PM on May 7, 2015

Best answer: When I had an attic recording studio in New England during the summer I installed a window AC and ran some insulated duct work from the AC, over the rafters, and directed at the one spot I spent the most of my in (in front of the mixing desk).

Depending on the size of your attic, I would be surprised if an AC by itself really cooled the whole space down, especially if it's uninsulated. The duct work provided some much needed spot cooling, and made the whole enterprise bearable.
posted by grog at 2:10 PM on May 7, 2015

I'm not sure what type it is, but our attic is lined with a radiant barrier. It slows down the transfer of heat between the inside and outside quite well, so that if the house is cooled or warmed overnight it takes a decent amount of time for the house's mean temperature to rise (in summer) or fall (in winter). Which means, as the above commenters say, that any heat rising from the lower floors is going to collect in the attic and stay for a while if you don't have a way to cool the attic.

Our cell phone reception inside the house is absolutely dismal though, enough that we got a microcell from AT&T just to be able to make calls without stepping onto the porch, and we blame the barrier.
posted by telophase at 2:12 PM on May 7, 2015

Best answer: Are you living in this space or just want to make good use of it? Are you wanting to spend all day there (i.e. this is your home office), or just have it be comfortable in the evenings (this is where you come home from your day job and do studio things)? Boston isn't bad weather, there are usually only 2 weeks that it's above 90 and doesn't get below 70 at night. The rest of the time, it may be intolerably hot in the afternoons, but the mornings and evenings aren't bad, and overnights are great, so a really good fan that completely refreshes the air to get you down to outdoor temperatures will be almost sufficient. Even if you do an AC, you should also have a way of doing a mega air-exchange, otherwise your AC will be processing heat generated by the whole rest of the building, which will frequently be hotter than the outdoor temps.
posted by aimedwander at 2:16 PM on May 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Radiant barrier insulation isn't woo, though I can't say how cost-effective it would be given your situation. It reflects the infrared that radiates in from the hot roof tiles during the day, which reduces overall heating quite a bit. It does nothing for convected or conducted heat (you need regular trapped-air insulation for that) but on the inside of a roof (particularly a dark-colored roof) that's baking in the sun all day, radiant heat is a major factor and radiant barrier insulation will cut down on that significantly.

Whether it would be a good idea for you depends on how much it costs, how long you intend to stay in that apartment, how much sun the house gets, what color the roof is, electricity prices, etc. I tend to think that it's a more elegant solution than just blasting an AC all day (especially since this is a recording studio, where you presumably want things to be quiet) but YMMV. You may still need an air conditioner and/or fans (it's always a good idea to ventilate an attic anyway) but you'd need them less. It's easy to install, you just staple it to the rafters. If it's cheap enough for you, I'd do it.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:46 PM on May 7, 2015

During my divorce, my two sons and I occupied a single bedroom together at the home of relatives. We kept a lot of food in that room, like stacks of soda cases bought on sale and boxes of snack foods and the like. Over time, we found that if we removed all the cardboard boxes, the temperature in the room would drop by 5 degrees Fahrenheit.

The room had a thermometer in the window, so we were able to check the change in temperature. This was not just us imagining it. It was consistent and measurable. It was always a 5 degree drop. So we eventually made it a policy to always get rid of the cardboard boxes as soon as we brought groceries home. After that, we stopped having trouble keeping the room cool enough to sleep at night.
posted by Michele in California at 3:12 PM on May 7, 2015

Window ACs are loud, inefficient, and take up a ton of space if they're actually of decent capacity. Get a portable air conditioner. The wheelie kind.

Get the biggest one the circuit will support. Trust me, it's better to have more capacity than you think you need than less. Every time i got one that was "exactly" the right capacity for the room i wanted to put it in, it barely did anything. Especially in older places with meh insulation.

I've spent lots of time in rooms like this. Fuck fans, get AC. Even if it isn't that hot outside to really need ac "more than a few days a year" you want it. It can be 90f in that room when it's 68 outside. And no amount of just exchanging the air seems to help that much, and when you get enough airflow it's disruptive to hanging out in there anyways.

posted by emptythought at 4:07 PM on May 7, 2015

Response by poster: Thank you all. I think I'm going to go with fans and overnight air exchanges before trying the radiant barrier. It's not hugely expensive and sounds to have some pluses, but if fans can make it tolerable, I should go with the less expensive option.
posted by Lighthammer at 7:00 PM on May 7, 2015

On days when fans will work, you may want a pusher fan in one window and a puller fan in another window to exchange the inside air with outside air.
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:17 PM on May 7, 2015

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