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Home Insulation: The Key to Comfort

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When colder weather approaches, it's a good idea to reevaluate the condition of your home's insulation and determine if it's got what it takes to keep your family warm and your energy costs low. According to the Department of Energy, “heating and cooling account for 50 to 70% of the energy used in the average American home”. Thus, updating or improving your home insulation can significantly cut your energy bills, as well as help maintain the temperature of your home during both the winter and summer months.

It's a fact that heat naturally gravitates to cooler areas. In the winter months, this means heat will try to escape your home; in the summer, heat will try to get inside an air-conditioned home. By adequately insulating your home's floors, walls and ceilings, you can prevent heat loss in the winter and protect against hot air penetration in the summer. To ensure you aren't left feeling cold this winter, read on to learn more about choosing and installing home insulation.

Types of Home Insulation

The main types of home insulation used today include blanket, loose-fill, foam, rigid and reflective insulation. Each insulation type has individual methods of installation, is comprised of specific materials, and is ideal for insulating certain areas of your home—all of these factors will be relevant to your insulation needs and goals. Below we explore each type in further detail.

Blanket Insulation

One of the most common forms of insulation, blanket insulation, is available in "batts" or "rolls" and is popular for its flexible qualities as well as its availability in many different fiber materials and sizes. Blanket insulation is usually made from:

  • Fiberglass
  • Plastic fibers
  • Cotton fibers
  • Sheep's wool fibers
  • Mineral (rock) wool fibers

Blanket insulation is also suitable to install in most spaces, including above-ground and basement wall studs, floor joists, attic or ceiling joists, and even the joists around doors and windows. Sometimes the blanket rolls or batts have a "facing" on them to create a barrier, which is designed to further protect against any air seepage through the material. Some types of blanket insulation even come with flame-resistant facings, which can especially be helpful in areas where the insulation is left exposed, like in the basement or attic.

Loose-Fill Insulation

Loose-fill insulation refers to insulation that has been broken down into smaller pieces or particles. This insulation is known for its ability to successfully mold to all spaces no matter their size, shape or existing finish work. For this reason, loose-fill insulation is ideal to use in atypical spaces where installing other forms of insulation is difficult or impossible. Loose-fill insulation is usually made of one of these materials:

  • Cellulose
  • Fiberglass
  • Mineral (rock) wool

Blown cellulose is often called one of the "greenest" insulation material choices. It's made of at least 75% recycled newspaper, it reportedly doesn't affect a home's indoor air quality, and it requires less energy to make than fiberglass or rock wool.

Fiberglass loose-fill insulation is comprised of about 40% recycled materials, and is mostly made up of silica, a readily available substance. However, it's also known to require a great deal of energy to manufacture fiberglass, and it can contain formaldehyde.

Another "green" loose-fill insulation material, mineral wool is composed of 75-90% recycled materials, it is made from very abundant materials, and it doesn't require any additional flame retardants.

Foam Insulation

Liquid foam insulation can be either foamed-in-place or the sprayed-foam variety. It is ideal for insulating wall cavities, it can be used in the attic or the basement, and it is strongly resistant to fire and air leakage. In some cases, liquid foam insulation can also eliminate the need for extra sealant components like caulking, which can reduce total labor costs and construction time. The top foam insulation materials are:

  • Polyisocyanurate
  • Polyurethane
  • Phenolic
  • Cementitious

Different foam insulation materials have different pros and cons concerning their functionality and quality. Some liquid foam varieties have gotten a bad rap because they can contain some toxic substances like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) or hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). However, according to, HCFCs are supposed to be phased out by 2010.

The foam insulation variety that's been linked to a high amount of HCFCs and even hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) is polystyrene, which isn't mentioned in the above list. Of those listed, polyurethane and polyisocyanurate both don't include HCFCs, but they are made primarily from petrochemicals and aren't recyclable. On the positive side, polyurethane foam significantly prevents air leakage and doesn't settle, and polyisocyanurate reportedly won't affect indoor air quality.

Due to the specific experience required to correctly spray and/or blow in foam insulation, homeowners are advised to have a professional insulation contractor perform the installation for them. They can also answer more of your questions about which type of liquid foam insulation will be best for your home.

Rigid Insulation

Rigid fiber board insulation is best suited for use in duct systems and areas that must withstand high temperatures on a frequent basis. Made up of resin-bonded glass fibers, rigid board insulation usually has an aluminum barrier to prevent air loss, and even a water vapor retarder to prevent moisture penetration or saturation. Because rigid insulation is installed in duct systems and can require cement finishing or possibly even welding work, it's recommended that rigid board insulation only be installed by a professional HVAC contractor.

Reflective Insulation

This type of home insulation is called such because it is constructed of reflective aluminum foils. The foils are then reinforced with a backing of plastic film, cardboard, kraft paper or polyethylene bubbles. Reflective insulation is most commonly installed in floor joists, wall studs and attics. Additionally, this insulation method can be very affordable, and it effectively "reflects" downward heat flow.

When a single reflective piece is used, primarily in the attic, the insulation is known as a radiant barrier. This is another form of insulation that homeowners primarily use to reduce the amount of radiant heat that's transferred through the roofing materials to become trapped in attic spaces. Again, a home contractor with experience in reflective insulation is a recommended hire for completing this job successfully.

Using R-Values to Rate Home Insulation

Once you and/or your home contractor have determined the type of insulation you will need for your project, you can further evaluate which insulation material to use by comparing R-values. A material's R-value is its "resistance to heat flow," and this is calculated by the insulation material's composition, thickness and density. Basically, the greater a material's R-value, the greater its insulating capabilities will be.

Generally speaking, polyurethane and polyisocyanurate have higher R-values than cellulose, fiberglass and mineral wool. By discussing the different R-values of material choices, and evaluating them in relation to the insulated areas in question, homeowners and local contractors can select the most appropriate insulation type for the project.

Installing New Home Insulation

Once you've chosen the type of insulation and the insulation material you will be installing in your home, it's wise to enlist the help of a local insulation contractor. Not only can they make additional project recommendations that will be helpful and worthwhile to you, they will ensure that the insulation installation goes smoothly and that it's performed correctly—which will save you on added costs incurred for future repairs from DIY mistakes.

SignatureContractors will even help you receive up to 3 free project estimates from local home contractors, so you can choose the professional who offers exactly the affordable, quality services that you need!

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