Whether you are removing loose fill attic insulation for replacement with new insulation, changing insulation types, or are removing insulation because of water or wildlife damage, doing it safely is the first step.
Prepping the Area
The first step in loose fill attic insulation removal is determining what type of insulation you’ll be working with. Use a test kit to determine if the insulation is comprised of asbestos. Older homes and buildings may have this type of insulation installed. It has a grey paper-like appearance and is extremely harmful to your health. If the test proves positive for asbestos, abort the project and call in a professional service to remove the insulation. Do not do this on your own.
It’s important to keep loose insulation in the attic during the removal process. You don’t want pieces of damaged, moldy, or mildewed insulation settling throughout the house. To prevent this, close all of the interior doors. For walkthrough areas, place a sheet of plastic over the opening and secure with tape.
To maneuver around the attic safely, lay large planks at least 6 inches wide across the joists. With these in place, you’ll be able to walk around the attic while removing the insulation.
Place a large tarp wherever you plan to unload the filled garbage bags. The path leading from the attic to the outside tarp area where you’ll place the garbage bags prior to disposal should be unobstructed. You want to handle the bags as quickly as possible and with minimal interaction, so keep the path clear.
If you choose to use a wet-dry vacuum, you’ll need garbage bags to dump the vacuum canister into. After vacuuming all of the loose insulation and emptying it into garbage bags, you’ll want to thoroughly vacuum all of the attic joists. This extra step removes all the tiny pieces of insulation that can infiltrate the air.
When you’re ready to vacuum the joists, start the process at the farthest end and work your way backwards to the attic exit. You don’t want to be stuck in the corner while stirring up the air with old or damaged insulation or dust from dried rodent fecal matter. Even with a dust mask or respirator, keep exposure to insulation at a minimum.
Another option for loose insulation removal is to rent a HEPA filtered industrial vacuum. These high-powered vacuums do two jobs. First, the machine sucks up the loose insulation. The second step is the routing of the insulation through the hose and directly into a trash container or large bags located outside. The long hose can be easily placed through an attic window or vent so the majority of the vacuuming process takes place outside. This lessens the exposure and handling of contaminated insulation.
An added advantage of an industrial strength vacuum is that the amount of time to complete the removal process takes less time than when using a wet-dry vacuum. The industrial vacuum takes the insulation and routes it directly to a trash container outside, resulting in a faster, more efficient removal process. With a wet-vac, you will need to come in contact with insulation dust frequently each time you need to empty the vacuum’s canister. Once the canister is emptied and reattached, the garbage bag must be manually transported to the tarp area, adding even more time to the project.
You’ve heard the old adage “dress for success.” In the case of loose attic insulation removal, “dress for safety” is at the top of the list. From the beginning to the last step of the removal process, keep yourself safe by wearing safety equipment. This includes protective long sleeve outerwear, long pants, safety goggles, gloves, dust mask, and a respirator.
Contact your city’s waste management center for instructions on disposing the bags. There may be a dump site or bags can be placed with regular household trash.