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What Is Insulation and What Are the Types of Home Insulation?August 4th, 2023 by
Is your home hot in the summer and cold in the winter? Are your heating and cooling bills really high? While the problem could be your HVAC system, you might need better insulation in your home. Insulation is a material that limits the transfer of heat or cold through your home’s exterior.
When properly installed, insulation helps block outside air from entering your home. It also prevents your inside air from escaping. The result is a more comfortable home with lower energy bills.
From the basics of what insulation is to the key types of insulation, here is everything you need to know about why home insulation is important.
What Is Home Insulation?
Home insulation is any number of different materials that reduce the transfer of heat or cold between the inside and outside of your house. In most cases, insulation is installed in the walls and attic.
However, the efficiency and type of insulation varies based on where you live in the country. For example, homes in traditionally cold-weather climates typically get higher efficiency insulation to keep your home warmer in the winter.
That said, some new construction in warm-weather climates are using similar insulation to block out higher heat levels during summer months.
Whether you are trying to keep out the heat or the cold, the goal of home insulation is to keep you comfortable and lower your energy bills.
There are several types of home insulation, including fiberglass, cellulose, spray foam, and rigid foam boards. Each material has its own insulating properties and is best used for specific purposes or in certain climates.
In addition to the type, insulation also has a strength or durability rating called the R-value. Listed as the letter R plus a number, for example R-30, the R-value estimates the material’s resistance to heat flow.
Values range from R-13 to R-60. The higher number, the more efficient the insulation. The recommended R-value depends on your local climate conditions and building codes.
Advantages of Insulating Your Home
Insulating your home offers several key advantages that often make the investment worthwhile.
- Energy Savings: Proper insulation reduces the transfer of heat between the inside and outside of your home. As a result, you will see lower heating and cooling bills. Over time, the money saved on heating and cooling costs will offset the initial investment in new insulation.
- Improved Comfort: The added insulation with help keep the temperature more consistent throughout your home. It will also help eliminate drafts and improve your overall comfort.
- Noise Reduction: Insulation can help reduce noise from outside or even between rooms within your home. This can lead to a quieter and more peaceful living environment.
- Moisture Control: Some types of insulation also act as moisture barriers, helping to prevent condensation and moisture-related problems like mold and mildew growth.
- Increased Home Value: An energy-efficient home with proper insulation is often more attractive to potential buyers and can increase the resale value of your property.
- Less Strain on HVAC Systems: Insulation reduces the workload on your heating and cooling systems by helping to maintain a stable indoor temperature. This can extend the lifespan of your HVAC equipment and reduce maintenance costs.
Where Is Insulation Installed?
You can install insulation throughout your home, but it is most commonly installed in the following locations:
- Attic: Attic insulation is one of the most effective ways to improve energy efficiency. Heat rises, so insulating the attic helps prevent warm air from escaping during the winter and keeps hot air out during the summer. Insulation in the attic usually includes insulation in better the rafters and joists, as well as radiant barriers. These barriers help block thermal energy from entering through the roof. It may also include insulation in the attic floor as additional protection.
- Walls: Insulating exterior walls helps to maintain a consistent indoor temperature and reduce heat loss or gain through the building envelope. There are several methods for insulating walls, including blown-in insulation, batts, or rigid foam boards.
- Crawl Spaces: Insulating the crawl space beneath your home can help prevent drafts and reduce heat loss through the floor. It also helps control moisture and humidity levels, which can prevent structural damage and mold growth.
- Basement: Insulating basement walls or ceilings can help make the space more comfortable and energy-efficient. This is especially important in unfinished basements or areas used as living spaces.
- Floors: Insulating floors above unheated spaces like garages or crawl spaces can help maintain a more comfortable indoor environment and prevent heat loss.
- Doors and Windows: While not traditional insulation, weatherstripping and caulking around doors and windows are important for sealing gaps and preventing drafts.
- Garage: Insulating the walls and garage door of an attached garage can help regulate temperatures in the garage and reduce the impact on adjacent living spaces.
Although less common, but you can also add insulation around ductwork, pipes and water heaters, around recessed lighting, and inside of electrical outlets and switches.
Where you should insulate your home depends on the climate, the age of your home, and other factors. If you are thinking about adding insulation, talk with one of our local Certified Best Pick pros in your area. They will recommend the best insulation strategy for your home.
What Are the Common Types of Insulation?
There are four main insulation types and your home might use all four depending on the age, location, and construction method.
When it comes to home insulation, you probably picture fiberglass insulation because it has a distinctive pink color. Fiberglass insulation is made from spun glass fibers and is highly effective, affordable, and easy to install.
Fiberglass insulation is most commonly sold as either rolls or pre-cut sheets called batts. The rolls are bats fit between wall studs, ceiling joists, or floor joists, making DIY installation easy and quick.
Fiberglass Loose-fill insulation consists of loose, fluffy fibers that can be blown or poured into cavities, making it suitable for attics and hard-to-reach areas. While just as effective, you cannot install this type of fiberglass insulation on your own.
Another installation option is rigid boards. Rigid fiberglass insulation boards are often for insulating foundations and exterior walls, especially in areas prone to high humidity and moisture levels. Installation is slightly more difficult than batts or rolls, but you can still install rigid boards yourself.
Aside from the type of fiberglass insulation you choose, remember to get the appropriate R-value for your project.
Advantages of Fiberglass Installation:
- One of the most affordable and effective types of insulation
- Naturally resistant to fires, mold, and moisture when properly installed
- Always wear gloves, long sleeves, and a dust mask during installation, as the fibers can irritate your skin and lungs
- Compressing the material or leaving gaps between the surface and the insulation will reduce its effectiveness
Cellulose (Blown-In Insulation)
Also called blown-in insulation, cellulose insulation is made from a mix of recycle paper products like newspaper and cardboard. The paper is shredded or ground and then treated to resist fires, mold, and pests.
Cellulose insulation is a versatile and effective choice for improving your energy efficiency. It is known for its environmentally friendly attributes, fire resistance, and sound-absorbing properties. The choice between cellulose insulation and other materials often depends on the specific needs and requirements of new construction or to upgrade an existing home.
Cellulose insulation comes in three main forms:
- Loose-Fill: Cellulose loose-fill insulation consists of loose, fluffy fibers that can be blown into wall cavities, attic spaces, or other areas. This is a common form for retrofitting existing structures.
- Sprayed: Cellulose insulation can also be mixed with water and sprayed onto surfaces. This is often used in new construction or for adding insulation to irregularly shaped or hard-to-reach spaces.
- Batts: While less common, batts made from compressed cellulose fibers are also available for use in walls or ceilings.
Cellulose insulation is typically installed by professionals, especially for sprayed or blown applications. It requires specialized equipment to ensure proper distribution and density. DIY installation is possible with loose-fill cellulose in some cases, but it can be challenging to achieve the same level of coverage and density as professional installations.
Advantages of Cellulose Insulation:
- Eco-friendly because it primarily consists of recycled paper products
- Naturally resistant to fires, mold, and pests when properly installed
- It is sensitive to moisture, so it’s important to protect it from water intrusion
- Loose-fill cellulose can settle or compress over time, reducing the overall effectiveness of the insulation
Spray Foam (Expanding Foam Insulation)
Spray foam insulation is a type of insulation material that is applied as a liquid and then expands into a foam that fills gaps, seals cracks, and provides effective thermal insulation. It is known for its superior insulating properties and ability to create an airtight seal.
Spray foam insulation is a highly effective choice for both thermal and air sealing purposes. It is particularly well-suited for areas where creating an airtight seal is essential for energy efficiency and moisture control.
Spray foam insulation is applied using specialized equipment by trained professionals. The liquid mixture is sprayed onto surfaces, where it quickly expands to fill voids, gaps, and spaces. The insulation adheres to most surfaces, creating a continuous and airtight barrier when properly installed.
Spray foam insulation comes in two main forms:
- Open-Cell: Open-cell spray foam is less dense and has a spongy texture. It is an excellent insulator and provides effective sound dampening. It is typically used in interior applications, such as wall cavities and ceilings.
- Closed-Cell: Closed-cell spray foam is denser and more rigid. It has a higher R-value and acts as a moisture barrier. It is often used in exterior applications, such as roofing, and in areas prone to moisture.
Advantages of Spray Foam Insulation:
- Provides one of the highest R-values per inch of any insulation material
- Creates an airtight seal, which can significantly reduce heating and cooling costs
- Closed-cell spray foam also acts as a moisture barrier
- It can only be installed by trained professionals due to the specialized equipment and potential health and safety considerations
- While it offers superior insulation, it is more expensive that other options
Form Boards (Rigid Foam Insulation)
Foam board insulation, also known as rigid foam insulation, is a type of insulation material that comes in rigid panels or boards. It is used to provide thermal insulation in homes and is known for its high insulating value, moisture resistance, and versatility.
It is commonly used in new construction and retrofitting existing structures to improve energy efficiency, maintain comfortable indoor temperatures, and reduce heating and cooling costs.
Foam board insulation is typically made from one of three main types of materials:
- Polystyrene: This type of foam board insulation is available in two forms: expanded polystyrene (EPS) and extruded polystyrene (XPS). EPS is a white, lightweight material, while XPS is denser and typically comes in pink or blue panels.
- Polyisocyanurate (Polyiso): Polyiso foam board is known for its high R-value and is often used in roofing applications.
- Polyurethane: Polyurethane foam board is less common but offers excellent insulation properties.
Foam board insulation is available in various thicknesses and sizes, with common sizes being 4×8 feet or 4×10 feet panels. It may have a foil or plastic facing on one or both sides to improve its performance as a moisture and vapor barrier.
It is relatively easy to install and you can cut boards to fit the desired dimensions. It is typically attached to walls, roofs, or floors using construction adhesive, screws, or both. Seams and gaps are often sealed with special tape or adhesive to prevent air leaks and improve thermal efficiency.
Advantages of Foam Board Insulation:
- Provides excellent thermal resistance and is effective at reducing heat transfer
- Most boards are resistant to moisture and do not absorb water, making them suitable for applications in damp or wet environments
- Extremely durable and can withstand exposure to the elements
- While it offers excellent insulation, it is more expensive that other options
- The fire resistance varies depending on the type of board and may require additional fireproofing measures in certain applications
- Some types of foam board insulation, such as XPS, can have environmental concerns due to the use of certain chemicals or processing methods
If you are ready to get started with upgrading your home insulation, Best Pick Reports is here to help. With listings to pre-screened insulation pros across the country, we are the fast, free way to choose a reliable pro. Get started by entering your zip code to find an insulation company in your area.