Today we’re talking about a vital component to our home’s performance—insulation! It keeps our homes warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and can help improve our home’s energy efficiency.
When you start to look into it, there’s so much more to insulation than just being the pink stuff we see between each stud in the wall. There are a dozen different types of insulation you can use in your home, and they all have their advantages, disadvantages, and installation techniques. But the end result is all the same: keep outside air out and inside air in.
Insulation is also a fundamental element in any home trying to reduce energy consumption. 90% of single residences in the U.S. do not have adequate insulation. This is not surprising considering not all insulation products are created equal. Different types of insulation exist for various purposes, but using the wrong type can lead to wasted time and money. When done correctly, the EPA estimates homeowners can save a minimum of 15 percent on their total energy bills. For a typical homeowners these amounts amount to nearly $200 a year!
Now before you learn any more about insulation, you’ll want to understand what R-value means. In simple terms, R-value is the capacity in which insulation can resist heat coming through. So, the higher the R-value, the more insulating power it has. R-value does not necessarily mean its thickness, but just how well that insulation can keep out heat flow, and it helps determine how much insulation you need for any given amount of space.
Spray Foam Insulation
Most homeowners are familiar with spray foam insulation. It’s likely in your attic, crawl space, or around any door frames, especially in older homes where gaps and leaks have formed. Gaps and leaks are an excellent use case for spray foam insulation. It is intended to help add insulation in hard-to-reach areas of existing insulation or to seal leaks or gaps in areas at risk of air leaks.
It’s made of liquid polyurethane which is sprayed into the wall cavity or intended space, and after it spreads out in its foam state, it hardens and seals that area. It comes in two different forms, open cell and closed cell, which is important because they actually have different R-values. Open-cell foam is lighter and has an R-value of just 3.7 per inch, while closed-cell foam is much denser with an R-value of 6.2 per inch. Either one will work great to boost the R-value of your existing insulation and especially works great for those smaller areas you wish to seal quickly and easily.
Keep in mind that spraying larger areas with spray foam insulation requires the assistance of a professional. The larger the area, the more high-pressure spray you may need, making it more difficult to aim and get the insulation in the right place. To avoid a big mess and any screw-ups, call a professional insulation team.
Foam Board or Rigid Board Insulation
Foam board insulation is the stiff foam boards that are installed between studs in unfinished walls. Particularly, this would be installed in your foundation or basement walls and any floors or ceilings when they’re built. This type of insulation is essential to limiting heat conduction throughout your home’s structure.
Foam board insulation is offered in multiple varieties, but the most common are Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), Extruded Polystyrene, and Polyiso (Polyisocyanurate).
Expanded Polystyrene (EPS)
EPS is the cheapest type of foam board and is actually the same material as your disposable coffee cup. With an R-value of 4, EPS can be a cost effective option of insulating your home.
Odds are, you have worked with this type of insulation before. Extruded Polystyrene is the rigid pink or blue panels that you’ll find at Home Depot and Menards. With an R-value of 5, Extruded Polystyrene is a great choice for insulating the foundation of your home.
If you are looking for the heavy duty stuff, this is it. Polyiso is a very dense and expensive foam board with an R-value of 6. Available in a variety of thicknesses and sometimes foil-facing, Polyiso is a premium insulation for attic spaces and house sheathing underneath siding.
Regardless of the type you go with, they are all easily installed by cutting into appropriately sized sections to fit into the floor, ceiling, or wall needing insulating. Often times, they come in a standard size which can make it large projects easier. In general, foam board insulation can also be added to increase R-value in unvented attic spaces or anywhere you think is drafty or requires a bit more help. With an R-value ranging from 4 to 6.5 per inch, it works very well at reducing energy consumption in your home, and you’ll probably see lower bills when you replace your insulation.
Reflective or radiant barrier insulation works a little differently and isn’t actually measured by R-values. Best for hotter climates, reflective insulation works by, you guessed it, reflecting heat away from your home. It does this by using a reflective or radiant barrier (typically a type of aluminum foil), to bounce any direct heat away. It is very DIY-friendly and installed between the joists and beams in the attic, where most of that heat enters your home. While reflective insulation is one of the easiest to install yourself, it is limited to use in warmer climates as it has minimal thermal insulating qualities.
Blanket batts and rolls are quite similar to foam boards, but they are made of fiberglass and are much more flexible than rigid foam boards. It’s probably one of the most common DIY-friendly and affordable options for homeowners. However, the one key thing to note is the fiberglass is highly irritant to skin, eyes, and lungs. Protective gear like masks, goggles, and gloves must be worn if you ever install or even touch the fiberglass batts.
The R-value of blanket insulation is around 2.9 to 3.8 per inch of thickness, but higher quality and denser fiberglass rolls can be purchased to up the R-value to nearly 4.5 per inch. It’s imperative to cut blanket batts to fit between the studs when you’re installing. Attempting to squeeze it into an area can actually significantly affect its R-value and insulation performance.
Loose-fill insulation is one of the most popular types, and you’ve probably seen it in many homes. It has a low R-value at just 0.44 per inch, but that doesn’t mean you should discount it. Loose-fill works to insulate by blocking air from reaching outside or escaping inside your home — simply put, this type of insulation is great at sealing leaks and cracks.
The loose-fill material can be blown into spaces like attics, windowsills, or even your walls with a handheld blower you purchase separately. It’s easy to install this on your own, and it works best in hard-to-reach places where the foam board wouldn’t fit well without having to cut it.
Fiber insulation is a type of loose-fill that’s made from recycled materials like wool, wood fibers, or cotton. The R-value for fiberboard insulation is 0.79 to 0.99 per inch, and it can work great in attics where the airflow isn’t quite as high because of its density, so it fills up the desired space much more than other types.
The only thing to consider with this type of insulation is the installation — it needs to be stuffed into cavity walls or window/door frames, which can be difficult and time-consuming for a novice homeowner. However, if you have the patience and expertise, then fiber insulation could work great in your home!
Concrete Block Insulation
Concrete block insulation is a newer type of home energy-saving material that’s gaining popularity. It works by filling the air gaps between between foam insulation as you stack them up on top of each other. While concrete block insulation. is effective, it can be difficult to install and requires professional help when installing in windows or doors because not all window frames have enough space for both boards.
Structural insulation is the best option when you want to insulate your walls and floors. It’s also referred to as “in-wall” or “in-floor” insulation because it lays between studs, joists, rafters, and other framing members of a structure that create an interior wall or floor space — this type can be installed by a professional or yourself.
This type of insulation comes in different thicknesses and is made from materials like polystyrene, XPS foam boards, rock wool insulating batts, mineral batting (made from recycled glass), cellulose fiberboard bats, etc., so it’s versatile and easy to work with when installing.
Blown-in insulation is one of the most common types, and it’s a good choice if you’re looking for a DIY-friendly insulation project. It can be done with or without professional help, depending on what type of equipment you have available to install.
This type works by blowing fiberglass fibers between walls or floors in spaces where there are gaps or holes that need to be filled. It’s important to wear a mask and gloves when installing this type of insulation because fiberglass can have toxic fumes if it isn’t installed correctly, and you should never use an open flame on blown-in insulation — which could produce deadly carbon monoxide gas.
What is the Best Type of Insulation for Your Home?
Your home’s insulation and its overall performance go hand in hand. Without proper insulation, you could see drastic fluctuations in your energy bills, push your HVAC system to work harder (which can reduce its life), and prevent you from maintaining a comfortable temperature in your own home.
Now you might be wondering, which type is best for your home. The unfortunate truth is it depends. Often times, a properly insulated home will utilize multiple types of insulation. The good news is, you can always call in an expert to find the best solution for your home.
At First American Roofing, we strive to improve our customer’s home performance by looking at the home as a whole working system, with insulation being just a small part of that. To get a whole home analysis to find a solution to your insulation issues, contact us here!