Installing quality insulation in your home prevents the transfer of heat into or out of your home. This ensures comfortable indoor temperatures year-round and even keeps energy costs down. Unfortunately, according to The North American Insulation Manufacturers Association, nearly 90% of single-family homes in the US are not equipped with sufficient insulation.
While many homes do have insulated attics and finished basements, older houses may require additional insulation in exterior walls to improve their home energy efficiency. Ultimately, the optimal type and amount of insulation for your home depends on the type of space you are insulating and the regional climate of where you live. Knowing about the different types of insulation options enables you to make a strategic choice for your home.
Measuring the Effectiveness of Insulation
The effectiveness of an insulation material is measured with an R-value. Typically, higher R-values represent thicker and denser insulation materials while lower number R-values indicate lighter materials. A higher R-value does not automatically mean a better insulation material option for your home. Houses in warmer and drier climates actually benefit more from lower R-value insulation materials while homes exposed to cooler and wetter conditions often require a higher R-value.
Types of Materials Used for Insulation
The three most common types of insulation are foam, cellulose, and fiberglass. Foam insulations, such as foam board, spray foam, and rigid foam, are made of a plastic or cement base. Cellulose materials, usually in the form of loose-fill, blown-in insulation, stem from recycled paper products. And fiberglass insulation, such as batt and roll, is made from glass. Aside from these three materials, mineral wool, denim, and other natural fibers provide additional eco-friendly insulation options.
Foam insulation can be broken down into two main types: foam board and spray foam.
Foam boards are rigid panels made of polystyrene, polyisocyanurate or polyurethane. They can be attached to unfinished walls and floors to provide insulation at a relatively high R-value (approximately R-3.6 per inch). When used on the interior, foam board insulation must be covered with gypsum board in order to meet building code standards for fire safety. Exterior uses of foam board insulation should also be covered with weather-proof facing to prevent deterioration. Foam board insulation is generally installed and covered by professionals.
Spray foam may be made of a plastic base similar to foam board or a cement-based material. This type of insulation is ideal for reaching enclosed existing walls and other difficult to reach areas because it expands and fills in gaps as it hardens. Spray foam insulation is also a strategic option for sealing around doors and windows because it sets rapidly and can be trimmed, painted, or stained for aesthetics. Depending on whether you work with open cell or closed cell foam, spray foam provides an R-value of between R-3.7 and R-6.2 per inch. Spray foam insulation is simple to use and can be a DIY project.
Cellulose insulation typically comes as a loose-fill insulation that should be done with the help of professionals. Loose-fill cellulose is installed by blowing it into place with special equipment. This type of insulation has an R-value of R-2.2 to R-3.8 per inch and is a great way to add insulation to already finished areas of your home. Cellulose insulation consists of recycled paper products, and so to meet fire safety standards this insulation is typically treated with borate.
Fiberglass is the most commonly used type of insulation and can be applied as batt and roll insulation or rigid fibrous fiberglass insulation.
Batt and Roll
Batt and roll insulation comes pre-cut to fit the standard spacing between wall studs. It is a type of blanket insulation that is installed in pieces over unfinished walls. Fiberglass batt and roll insulation can provide an R-value of R-2.9 to R-3.8 per inch and some high-density options provide as much as R-4.3 per inch thick. One of the most affordable insulation materials, fiberglass batt and roll comes with different facings, such as foil-kraft paper, to serve as an air barrier. Unlike foam board insulation, batt and roll insulation with fire-resistant facings can be left safely exposed, such as in an unfinished basement.
Rigid Fibrous Fiberglass
With the ability to withstand high temperatures, rigid fibrous fiberglass insulation is the only type that can be used on ducts in unconditioned spaces. This specialized type of insulation should be installed by specialized professionals, such as HVAC contractors.
Mineral wool comes in two varieties: rock wool and slag wool. Both options are man-made materials, but rock wool contains a combination of natural minerals, while slag wool includes a waste product of molten metal. Both rock and slag wools are fire-resistant and can be installed as loose-fill insulation or batt and roll.
Unlike fiberglass insulation, denim is a non-toxic and non-irritant material that comes from recycled jeans. Though it may be healthier for DIY-ers to handle, it tends to be more costly than fiberglass insulation.
Other Natural Fibers
Cotton, sheep’s wool and straw are eco-friendly alternatives to plastic-based insulations. These natural fibers are generally made of recycled materials and may need to be treated to be fire-resistant or for pest and mold prevention.
Consider Alternative Insulation
In addition to the insulation you put in your walls, installing windows and doors with effective insulation can contribute to lower energy bills and greater comfort. New windows are more insulative than ever before, and many brands produce their products with eco-friendly methods. In addition, new windows and doors can increase your home’s value. Trusted window brands include: Marvin, Andersen, Windsor, PGT Vinyl, YKK Vinyl, and Western Window Systems.
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