man on stairs of attic hatch
Photo: Karim Shamsi-Basha
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An Attic Hatch that's not Airtight

The problem: Little more than a thin sheet of plywood (so that it can easily be pushed up and out of the way), an uninsulated hatch can suck as much treated air out of living quarters as a fireplace chimney.

How to spot it: With all windows and doors closed, turn on the air conditioner or furnace and do the incense-stick test around the hatch; watch for smoke seeping between the access panel and the wood trim frame it rests on.

How to stop it: Secure rigid foam insulation to the back side of the hatch with duct tape, and affix foam tape around the edges of the panel to create a gasketlike seal. For pull-down stairs, add an insulated fabric housing, such as the Attic Tent (starting at $200; Secured to the attic-side framing with staples, the tent has a zippered hatch for easy attic access.

The payoff: An airtight hatch leading to a well-insulated attic can save you 30 percent on your heating bill.
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