What’s The Best Way To Remove Insulation From An Attic?

For most homeowners, attic insulation is something they often overlook until things get messy. Removing old insulation from the attic isn’t hard but you’ll want to go about it the right way.

I’ll cover the ins-and-outs to know here.

What’s the Best Way To Remove Insulation From an Attic?

whats the best way to remove insulation from an attic

Removing your attic insulation will depend on the type you have: blown cellulose insulation or fiberglass batt insulation. Long story short, the best way will be to use a commercial vacuum and a few basic tools and supplies.

Safety and Precautions when working in an attic (important!)

I can’t make this point strongly enough: your attic wasn’t designed or built for anyone to be in it without knowing exactly how to move around carefully. If you’re not careful you CAN get hurt or do damage to a ceiling, drywall, or other parts of your home.

Trust me – I’ve accidentally stepped on a ceiling and ended up having to repair a ceiling section and spackle, too.

  • Always walk along the floor joists & cross member beams. If you put any weight on the ceiling drywall below the joists there’s an extremely high chance your leg and foot will break right through it and you can even fall through & have an injury. ALWAYS keep your eyes on the floor when walking and be 100% sure you’re stepping on the floor joists.
  • Attics are cramped and you can get poked or cut. It’s easy to hit your head or even worse, get a puncture wound from a nail sticking out. Nails are commonly sticking out both the roof and lumber used to build the attic. Avoid bumping your head on protruding nails on the roof overhead. Metal plates used to join beams together where they meet can cut your hand as well if you’re not careful as the metal can have sharp edges.
  • Attics are dark and you’ll almost always need more lighting. Use a flashlight, headlight, or work light to illuminate the attic. It’ll not only help you get the job done but also keep you safer because you’ll see dangerous things like nails, rafters that you can’t stand on, electrical wiring, or ceiling drywall.
  • There’s plenty of insulation fibers, dust, and dirt so you’ll need the right gear. Wear protective clothing, a mask, goggles, and gloves to avoid dust and contaminants. You should expect to get dirty and especially to need to position yourself in tight spaces so comfortable, flexible clothing is a must.

Protective gear you’ll need

I can’t recommend enough using the right safety gear to protect your skin, eyes, and lungs & throat. Working with insulation for a long time really isn’t so healthy and at the very least you can end up miserably itchy once you’re done.

Insulation fiber can be small enough to inhale, not just a skin irritant (although that too really is bothersome).

  • Gloves – Attics might have dirt or hazardous materials that are not safe to touch with bare hands. With gloves, homeowners can shield their hands from any dirt or unsafe materials. Gloves that work best in such situations are the rubber-coated ones.
  • Mask – Attics accumulate a lot of dust and mold over the years. Use a 95-rated mask to protect their lungs from dust and molds.
  • Eye Protection – Dust and mold can be a nuisance to the eyes. With suitable eye protection such as goggles, it’s easy to keep eyes safe from dust and mold. The best eye protection should have an anti-fog coating.
  • Clothing – No one wants to dirty their day-to-day attires with dust when removing insulation from an attic. Moreover, regular clothes don’t protect one from contamination and irritation from the insulation. Full-body coveralls or a mechanic’s jumpsuit are good ways to keep you safe from skin contamination and irritation.
  • Hat/hardhat – If you don’t have hooded coveralls a hard hat can be handy. A hard hat avoids injuries from banging heads on the rooftops. It also protects one’s head from getting dirty due to mold and dust. Don’t have a hardhat? Even a baseball cap can help some to protect both your head and your hair somewhat from things above you as well as fibers.
  • Flashlight – Attics are usually dark and a flashlight is almost a must in nearly all cases – not just for general visibility but also to see into areas in between or underneath. Be sure to get a flashlight or headlight to illuminate your workspace.
TIP: When it comes to having enough light an LED headlight that straps to your head is great as it leaves your hands free. As a bonus there’s no flashlight to accidentally drop into the insulation to search for.

Supplies and equipment you’ll need for attic insulation removal

supplies and equipment youll need for attic insulation removal

Even though truly heavy-duty, commercial-grade equipment isn’t really necessary to do the job it will not only make it easier but also give you the best results. 

For your attic insulation removal job you’ll need the right equipment and supplies depending on the type of insulation you’ll be removing. Attics are usually insulated with blown cellulose insulation or fiberglass batt insulation; sometimes both in fact.

Usually brown or gray in color, blown cellulose insulation falls apart when you pick it up. In most cases fiberglass batt insulation is pink or yellow but white or brown is also available. It’s kind of a thick mat of material around 2 feet wide by 4 feet long with a thickness of 4 inches to 12 inches.

Fiberglass Batt Insulation or Blown Cellulose Removal Supplies and Equipment

  • A 23-horsepower, commercial-grade vacuum that removes insulation (up to 300 lbs, optional)
    • Vacuum Hoses, 4 inch – 10 inch size / 150 Feet
    • Metal connectors for the hoses
    • Industrial 6 ft x 4 ft, 100 cubic ft vacuum bags (4-6 bags, these are about 350 lbs when packed with old/contaminated insulation)
    • Gas container filled and ready
  • Ladder – 6 to 10 feet tall
  • Rake or a broom and good dustpan (*when not using a commercial vacuum)
  • Shop vacuum with HEPA filter (*when not using a commercial vacuum)
  • 50 gallon waste bags, industrial or contractor strength (*when not using a commercial vacuum)
  • Dropcloths or tarps for covering your walls and floor
  • Tape for the floor and wall coverings (duct tape is great, but you can even use painter’s tape or many other kinds if that’s already handy)
  • Dumpster or large garbage drop-off you have access to

How to remove attic insulation

how to remove attic insulation

Here’s where it gets interesting, you could say. Now that you’re all set and ready to get started, the rest is just a matter of actually doing a little bit of basic work.

Before you know it you’ll be done with great results and safely work through the job!

Steps for removing blown cellulose insulation

  1. Get your equipment and supplies set up on your front lawn, patio or deck, driveway, or garage (whatever makes more sense and will be easier to access with the minimum of hassle). (NOTE: You’ll want to be able to get in and out without problems especially when you’re carrying bags full of the old insulation you took out.)
  2. Get your work site and home ready.
    1. Make a clear path from your attic opening to the front door.
    2. Cover your home furnishings, furniture, floor, and walls along the direct path you’ll be moving in with your drop cloths or tarps using the tape you have.
    3. Get your ladder set up and ready underneath the entrance to your attic. Your ladder should be very stable and not wobbling when you begin standing on it. (Tip: use elastic straps to help secure it and keep you safe.)
  3. Set up your commercial vacuum cleaner and run the long vacuum hose into the attic, ready to use.
  4. Put the HEPA filtered shop vacuum, waste bags, dustpans, and rakes or brooms in your attic. (*when not using a commercial vacuum)
  5. Put on your work clothing I recommended and personal protective equipment (safety gear): gloves, breathing mask, and eye protection if you have it.
  6. Carefully climb into the attic, only standing on joists, cross member beams, or boards where you are confident you have a safe, weight-bearing surface to stand on.
  7. Start up the vacuum. Have a helper start the vacuum and monitor it while it’s working.
  8. Vacuum the blown cellulose insulation a little bit at a time from the attic floor and gaps where you find it.
  9. Use your rake or broom to gather the insulation into the dustpan and dump it into one of the empty waste bags. (*when not using a commercial vacuum)
  10. If there’s any remaining insulation, use the shop vacuum to get it up. Make sure the attic floor is free of insulation.
  11. You’re likely to get very warm if the attic isn’t cool or it’s warm out. For comfort, homeowners should take breaks every 15-30 minutes as needed.
  12. Keep going until it’s all finished.
  13. Throw the waste bags full of insulation into the dumpster outside or wherever you’ve found for it.
  14. Remove all supplies and equipment from the attic.
  15. Remove the protective material from home equipment, floor, and walls.
  16. Clena up everything: put away your tools, supplies, and be sure there isn’t any stray insulation left anywhere.

Steps for Removing Fiberglass Insulation

Cleaning fiberglass insulation out is basically the same as for blown cellulose but you won’t need a rake, broom, or dustpan in this case.

  1. Get your equipment and supplies set up on your front lawn, patio or deck, driveway, or garage (whatever makes more sense and will be easier to access with the minimum of hassle). (NOTE: You’ll want to be able to get in and out without problems especially when you’re carrying bags full of the old insulation you took out.)
  2. Get your work site and home ready.
    1. Make a clear path from your attic opening to the front door.
    2. Cover your home furnishings, furniture, floor, and walls along the direct path you’ll be moving in with your drop cloths or tarps using the tape you have.
    3. Get your ladder set up and ready underneath the entrance to your attic. Your ladder should be very stable and not wobbling when you begin standing on it. (Tip: use elastic straps to help secure it and keep you safe.)
  3. Set up your commercial vacuum cleaner and run the long vacuum hose into the attic, ready to use.
  4. Put the HEPA filtered shop vacuum, waste bags, dustpans, and rakes or brooms in your attic. (*when not using a commercial vacuum)
  5. Put on your work clothing I recommended and personal protective equipment (safety gear): gloves, breathing mask, and eye protection if you have it.
  6. Carefully climb into the attic, only standing on joists, cross member beams, or boards where you are confident you have a safe, weight-bearing surface to stand on.
  7. Roll up each section of insulation by hand and put it into a waste bag for disposal later.
  8. Start up the vacuum. Have a helper start the vacuum and monitor it while it’s working.
  9. Clean the attic floor using the commercial vacuum cleaner. If there’s any remaining insulation, use the shop vacuum to get it up. Make sure the attic floor is free of insulation.
  10. Alternatively, use your shop vacuum to clean the attic floor. (*when not using a commercial vacuum)
  11. You’re likely to get very warm if the attic isn’t cool or it’s warm out. For comfort, homeowners should take breaks every 15-30 minutes as needed.
  12. Keep going until it’s all finished.
  13. Throw the waste bags full of insulation into the dumpster outside or wherever you’ve found for it.
  14. Remove all supplies and equipment from the attic.
  15. Remove the protective material from home equipment, floor, and walls.
  16. Clena up everything: put away your tools, supplies, and be sure there isn’t any stray insulation left anywhere.

Should You Remove Old Attic Insulation?

should you remove old attic insulation

You should remove old attic insulation because it’s ineffective. Old insulation can lose its energy-saving properties over time so you’ll need to replace it to keep your energy costs down.

There are some other cases where you’ll need remove and replace at least part of your old attic insulation:

  • Mold – If allowed to stay, mold and wet insulation can cause structural problems.
  • Rodent infestation/contamination – Rodents might leave urine and droppings in the insulation. Urine and droppings are highly toxic and potentially hazardous due to diseases that can be transmitted.
  • Damaged or altered insulation – If the attic insulation is damaged or altered it might be ineffective and inefficient, causing your home heating or cooling costs to go up.

How Often Should Insulation Be Replaced?

how often should insulation be replaced

Effective attic insulation should last for 10-15 years. The best way to know if attic insulation is in good condition is to inspect it regularly.

While insulation can last that long, various factors affect its longevity. For example, the climate in the area, type of insulation, mold, rodent infestation, level of ventilation, and altered insulation will affect the insulation’s lifespan.

While I’m sure it seems like a big hassle or yet another expense to pay for, replacing it keeps everyone comfortable and reduces energy bills in the long run.

How Long Does It Take To Remove Insulation?

how long does it take to remove insulation

Attic insulation removal takes between 4-18 hours. However, the amount of time can vary depending on the size of the attic in square feet, type of insulation, debris amount, weather, leg space, and obstructions.

The best way (well, should I say the easiest?) to remove insulation is to hire a professional team with the right equipment. An experienced team can take about 4-6 hours to remove the entire insulation.

When doing it on their own you can expect it to take anywhere from 6 to 18 hours.

How Much Does It Cost to Remove Attic Insulation?

how much does it cost to remove attic insulation

When doing it yourself, the cost of removing insulation from 1,500 square feet can range from $1,000-$1,500 with everything included. Expect to spend at least a few hundred dollars even with cost-cutting.

Pro insulation contractors can range from $2,000 to $3,000. It’ll definitely vary from home to home especially based on the attic size and what they’re dealing with, so you might want to get a few quotes at least.

Should You Pay a Professional Instead?

should you pay a professional instead

Paying for insulation service can be a good idea if you don’t know how to remove insulation – especially considering how many people have never even really seen theirs before or aren’t used to working in an attic. You’ll want to be sure and check what type you have in your home.

There’s another really good reason to pay a professional to do the work: attics are also risky places to walk around. The amount of damage you could potentially do to your home (and the resulting repair bill) is a risk to consider. Experienced contractors are way more comfortable and efficient working in spaces like those.

Contractors are also required to have insurance so if they somehow accidentally break anything the cost will be covered.

How Much Does Insulation Removal Cost?

Typically it costs between $1-$2 per square foot to remove old attic insulation. Removing 1,500 square feet of attic might cost between $1,500 and $3,000.

The actual amount one will pay for insulation removal will depend on the size inside you’re working with.