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I'm renting a home with central heating and air conditioning in Oklahoma. It's really hot now (90 inside) so I have the A/C on all day but it's cold at night because the attic has no insulation and the owner isn't interested in installing any. I'm paying for A/C on all day for nothing.

What can I do to improve the situation?

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Unless there is a law which states houses must have insulation or that landlords must provide houses that are insulated there's not much you can do to compel the owner to have insulation installed.

From the perspective of the owner, the house is a business and insulation costs money. What return on money spent on insulation does the owner get? The owner could charge higher rent to cover the cost of insulation. Alternatively, the owner risks not being able to rent the property once it becomes widely known that the house does not have insulation.

There is also an element of potential negligence on your behalf. Did you ask whether the house was insulated before signing the rental contract? I would suggest you ask more questions about insulation, heating and cooling when looking at houses in the future, whether you rent or buy. Ask about the type of insulation and where the insulation is installed. Some newer houses have insulation in the external walls as well as the ceiling.

As to what you can do now, there are two options. Firstly, you could find somewhere else to live. Somewhere which has insulation and lower heating and cooling costs. The other option is to pay for the insulation yourself and try to recover the cost from the owner later. If the owner won't pay, you remove the insulation prior to you moving out and you take the insulation with you. In which case you look for a type of insulation that can easily be installed and removed. I don't know if they still exist, but some time ago it was possible to buy inflatable silver colored insulating cushions. They used to be about 1 inch thick when inflated.

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    Nice answer. Polyester insulation is nicer to handle than fibreglass, so would be more pleasant to remove and reinstall elsewhere. Wool insulation is also friendly to handle I understand, though it probably costs more (likely a problem in this case). – Highly Irregular Jul 27 '15 at 3:52
  • If my tenant installed something in a non-livable space like an attic, I'd hire a contractor to remove and bill the tenant for removal -- wouldn't trust them to walk around the attic (where there is no floor) without putting a foot through the ceiling below (which could be a liability risk for me). If I discovered self-installed insulation, I'd have it removed unless he could show that it meets code and doesn't have a vapor barrier that's going to lead to mold or moisture problems. But of course I already have adequate insulation. – Johnny Jul 27 '15 at 20:46
  • @Johnny: Depending on laws in different jurisdictions, unless the rental contract specifies which parts of the building the tenant has access to, the owner cannot prevent a tenant from accessing or using the attic. If there is any damage the tenant has a legal obligation to pay for repairs. Also, tenants have rights and they have the right to prevent a contractor from entering the premises while they have a valid rental contract. Being a landlord or a tenant can sometimes be a legal can worms. – Fred Jul 28 '15 at 3:09
  • In my area, the tenant cannot prohibit access to the unit for repairs (assuming adequate notice is given prior to entry), and if the tenant installed their own installation in the attic, I'd immediately tear it out since improper insulation can be a fire hazard (some insulation is flammable, or it can cover up wires and light cans not designed to be covered leading to overheating (knob and tube wiring in particular must never be covered), etc), and can lead to long term mold and wood rot damage if not installed with appropriate vapor barriers. Refusal to allow maintenance can lead to eviction. – Johnny Jul 28 '15 at 16:11
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Your best bet is to move.

Failing that, here are some ideas that may be able to help:

Do you need air conditioning?

It may be sufficient to augment air flow. A typical breezebox fan (2 foot square) will move between 3000 and 6000 cubic feet of air a minute. A 1000 square foot unit has about 8000 cubic feet, so you are getting an air change every 1-3 minutes. Note that to do this, the fan has to fit the opening snugly so air doesn't cheat and go back round. Easy to do with cardboard and duct tape.

Do you need to air condition all the time?

Since the house doesn't store coolth during the day, can you put the AC on a timer and turn it on an hour before you come home? Depending on the unit, you may be able to use a smart thermostat, and set it up to not start until 2 p.m. try to bring the house down to 95, then at 3, try to bring it down to 90, and at 4 down to 85. This way on not so hot days, it doesn't run as much.

Do you need to air condition everything?

Summer doesn't last forever. Is it reasonable to wall off all but one room, air condition that room and live there. Mind you my understanding is that Oklahoma winters aren't great either. This may be as simple as hanging shower curtains at doors, and putting phone books over certain ducts.

Temper the changes with thermal mass.

If you have access to the utilities you can do this:

Buy containers. Used barrels work well. Fill them with water in a basement room. You need significant numbers -- 20 barrels. You can stack them 2 high, so 18 barrels would fit in just over a 6 x 6 foot space. Fill them with water.

At night you pull in cold air run it past the barrels and send it back outside. In the day, your air conditioner pulls air from beside the barrels. Your AC then is at least starting with cooler air and doesn't have to work as hard.

Note that if you are in a humid climate the barrels with have condensation on them. Not a big issue of they are in the laundry room on a concrete floor with a drain. Bad idea if they are in a carpeted room. If the AC unit is outside, you may be able to keep the barrels outside too and do some form of clever ducting to guide the air.

Can you paint the roof white?

Here we can get waste paint form the recycle centre. After checking for lead they sort into water vs oil base, and then white, offwhite, and dark. The paint then is sold in 5 gallon pails for about $10/pail. If you have standard asphalt shingles, then you want oil base paint. On a day the roof is dry, roll on a coat of white paint. The paint won't stick that well. Probably have to repeat yearly.

Can you cool with water?

Can you set up an intermittent sprinkler system that keeps the surfaces that absorb all the heat damp. Irrigation companies will sell you a timer that can be set to run 10 seconds to several minutes at intervals of a few minutes to several hours. low pressure fog nozzles run a few gallons per hour each.

This will not make the house cool, but it may make it less hot, and reduce the load on the air conditioner.

Mist nozzles can make outside living more reasonable too.

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