Plates/Blocking at Top of Walls Adjoining Unconditioned Spaces

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Description

Most wall cavities are composed of a horizontal top plate, a horizontal bottom plate, and the vertical studs. When gypsum board and wall sheathing are caulked and fastened to the inside and exterior faces of these components, they create an air-tight six-sided wall cavity. If one element is missing from this assembly or is not adequately air sealed to the other elements, air will flow through the cavity, robbing any insulation present of its insulating value. Some wall designs have no top plate so the wall cavity is open to the area above, which may be an unconditioned attic. This opening can become a pathway for allowing unconditioned air from the attic to flow down into the wall cavity and conditioned air from the wall to flow up into the attic. The result is unwanted heat loss or heat gain, cold spots in walls, and an increased potential for moisture problems in the wall or attic.

Missing top plates can sometimes occur when a room of one ceiling height abuts a room of a taller ceiling height. They can also occur when buildings are designed with balloon framing. Designers should not specify balloon framing. If the house design includes varying ceiling heights, blocking should be specified where the top of the lower wall meets the side of the higher wall if no top plate is present. This blocking material could be rigid foam, plywood, OSB, or lumber that is cut to fit. Alternately, the open stud cavities can be filled with fiberglass batting that is rolled and tucked into the cavity opening then covered with spray foam.

How to Air Seal a Wall with a Missing Top Plate

  1. dentify missing top plates in adjoining walls with different ceiling heights.
  2. Select a rigid air-blocking material (rigid foam insulation, plywood, OSB, lumber). Cut into pieces to fit each stud bay. Wrap a thin piece of strapping around the board to hold it in position while you glue each end with caulk or spray foam. Pull the strap out and glue the remaining two sides.
  3. 3. Or, roll a piece of unfaced fiberglass batt insulation for each cavity. Pressure fit the fiberglass batt roll into the top of the stud cavity. Cover the top with spray foam to air seal the roll and hold it in place. 

The top plate is missing where the lower wall meets the upper wall


Figure 1 - Ceiling heights may vary within a house design, for example, the ceiling in a hallway or bathroom may be lower than the ceiling in an adjoining dining room or bedroom. Where a lower ceiling meets the wall of a room with a higher ceiling, the lower wall may be missing a top plate, creating an open air pathway from the stud cavities to the attic space. Reference

Fill in the hole left by the missing top plate with a rigid air blocking material or rolled batt insulation that is spray foamed in place

Figure 2 - Top plates may be missing where a lower ceiling meets the wall of a room with a higher ceiling. The open wall cavities should be closed off with an air-blocking material like rigid foam, plywood, or dimensional lumber that is cut to fit the stud cavity and sealed in place with caulk or spray foam or fiberglass batt insulation that is rolled and friction fit into place and air sealed with spray foam. Reference

How to Air Seal Open Wall Cavities in Balloon-Framed Walls

  1. Identify open wall cavities in balloon-framed walls. Note, balloon framed walls are walls that have no top plates so wall cavities are open from the bottom plate to the attic. This style of construction is not recommended.
  2. Roll a piece of fiberglass batt and stuff it into place at the top of the wall where the top plate is missing.
  3. Cover the roll of fiberglass batt with spray foam to air seal it in place.
  4. Fill the attic with additional insulation.

Balloon framing at a gable end wall allows air to flow from the attic down into the wall cavity
 
Figure 3 - Balloon framing at a gable end wall allows air to flow from the attic down into the wall cavity Reference

Roll a piece of fiberglass batt and stuff it into place at the top of the wall

 

Figure 4 - The space at the top of the wall can be filled with a piece of fiberglass batt that is rolled up and stuffed in place Reference

Cover the roll of fiberglass batt with spray foam to airseal it in place

 

Figure 5 - The fiberglass roll is covered with spray foam to air seal the top of the wall. The top plate of the wall under the rafter can also be spray foamed between the ceiling gypsum and the bottom side of the rafter insulation baffle. Then the area can be covered with blown insulation. Reference

 

Ensuring Success

Design homes so that all full-height walls have a continuous top plate. If the house plan has some area where a top plate cannot practically be included in the framing design, such as where a room with a lower ceiling height abuts a room with a higher ceiling height, indicate on the plans that air-blocking material should be installed, then inspect that it is properly installed and sealed in place with caulk or spray foam.

Scope

At top of walls adjoining unconditioned spaces, continuous top plates or sealed blocking using caulk, foam, or equivalent material

Air Sealing

At top of walls adjoining unconditioned spaces, continuous top plates or sealed blocking using caulk, foam, or equivalent material.

  1. Install a continuous top plate at all full height walls.
  2. Where there is no continuous top plate, install blocking and seal.

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Training

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Presentations

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Compliance

ENERGY STAR Version 3, (Rev. 07)

Thermal Enclosure Checklist, Air Sealing. Cracks in the building envelope fully sealed. At top of walls adjoining unconditioned spaces, continuous top plates or sealed blocking using caulk, foam, or equivalent material

DOE Challenge Home

Exhibit 1: Mandatory Requirements. Certified under ENERGY STAR Qualified Homes Version 3

2009 IECC

Table 402.4.2 Air Barrier and Insulation Inspection Component Criteria, Walls: Corners, headers, narrow framing cavities, and rim joists are insulated.* 

2009 IRC

Table N1102.4.2 Air Barrier and Insulation Inspection, Walls: Corners, headers, narrow framing cavities, and rim joists are insulated.* 

2012 IECC

Table R402.4.1.1 Air Barrier and Insulation Installation, Walls: Junction of foundation and wall sill plates, wall top plate and top of wall, sill plate and rim-band, and rim band and subfloor are sealed. Corners, headers, and rim joists making up the thermal envelope are insulated.* 

2012 IRC

Table N1102.4.1.1 Air Barrier and Insulation Installation, Walls: Junction of foundation and wall sill plates, wall top plate and top of wall, sill plate and rim-band, and rim band and subfloor are sealed. Corners, headers, and rim joists making up the thermal envelope are insulated.* 

*Due to copyright restrictions, exact code text is not provided.  For specific code text, refer to the applicable code.

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Case Studies

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References and Resources*

  1. Author(s): DOE
    Organization(s): DOE
    Publication Date: June 2013

    Standard requirements for DOE's Challenge Home national program certification.

  2. Author(s): EPA
    Organization(s): EPA
    Publication Date: June 2013

    Standard document containing the rater checklists and national program requirements for ENERGY STAR Certified Homes, Version 3 (Rev. 7).

  3. Author(s): Lstiburek
    Organization(s): BSC
    Publication Date: January 2010

    Fact sheet providing detailed information about air sealing attics.

  4. Author(s): Otis, Maxwell
    Organization(s): CARB, NREL
    Publication Date: June 2012

    Document providing an understanding of the importance of the different types of multifamily building attics and their unique challenges, and outlines strategies and materials used in air sealing them.

  5. Author(s): EPA
    Organization(s): EPA
    Publication Date: October 2011

    Guide describing details that serve as a visual reference for each of the line items in the Thermal Enclosure System Rater Checklist.

Last Updated: 08/15/2013

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