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How to Select the Right Insulation for Your Home Insulation Project

By April 10, 2014 Insulation
Spray foam being applied to a vaulted ceiling

By Mark Eichinger

Properly insulating your home is important. Insulation helps keep the heat in during the winter and slows the flow of heat into your home during the summer. A properly insulated house will be warmer in the winter and cooler in summer, creating a more comfortable environment for you and your family all year round. (Insulation will also help cut back your energy bill!)

When you research what type of insulation you should install in your home, you’ll find that there are three things to consider: insulation material, insulation type and insulation location/application. There are four popular types of insulation – and they all have pros and cons.

Blanket Insulation

Blanket insulation is the most common type of insulation and comes in batts or rolls.  The batts and rolls are available in varying widths and thicknesses. The most common material used in blanket insulation is fiberglass. Different varieties of blanket insulation have a facing added to create an air and/or vapor barrier. Common facing materials include kraft paper, vinyl sheeting and aluminum foil.

The biggest selling point for blanket insulation is that a homeowner can install the batts themselves. Depending on your home insulation project, installing blanket insulation can be a relatively quick and easy process, but there are things you need to watch out for. The biggest drawback for installing blanket insulation yourself is that you need protection from the tiny fiberglass particles. When installing blanket insulation be sure to wear a mask and something to protect your skin and clothing from those tiny fiberglass fibers, which can be harmful if they get into your lungs and can irritate your skin.

If you have a non-uniform space, installing blanket insulation can be difficult. Fitting blanket insulation around wiring and plumbing can be time-consuming and can reduce the effectiveness of the insulation. The best place to use this type of insulation is on unfinished walls (including foundation walls), floors and ceilings.

Spray Foam Insulation

Spray foam insulation is a common application of liquid foam insulation materials. Spraying liquid foam insulation is the most common way, but it can also be injected, poured or foamed in place. The most common material in spray foam insulation is polyurethane. Spray foam insulation installation typically costs more than blanket insulation. However, the higher R-value (a measure of insulation’s ability to reduce the rate of heat flow) associated with sprayed in foam can cut weatherizing costs and save you money over the life of the insulation.

The biggest selling point of spray foam insulation is that it fits into the cracks, crevices or gaps of the installation cavity or space. This helps prevent moisture buildup (which decreases mold and mildew), makes it difficult for pests to find a place to live in your home and once it’s cured, it won’t shift, settle or fall out of place.

The biggest drawback of spray foam is the installation. Installing spray foam insulation usually requires a professional. If you do it yourself and incorrectly install the spray foam, it will require extensive cleanup and will compromise the integrity of your home structure. Spray foam insulation is more expensive than other types of insulation. Spray foam installation is perfect for insulating existing finished areas, around obstructions, unfinished attic floors and enclosed existing walls.

Rigid Foam Insulation

Rigid foam insulation (also known as rigid panels) can be used to insulate virtually every area of your home. On a cost per R-value basis, rigid foam is more expensive and more difficult to install than blanket insulation. The main advantage of rigid foam insulation is the relatively high R-value for limited thickness. Rigid foam provides continuous insulation coverage and provides an air and moisture seal that blanket insulation doesn’t provide. Installing rigid foam insulation is easier than spray foam. Rigid foam can easily be cut to size with a knife. The biggest drawback of rigid foam is its inflexibility. The rigidity makes it difficult to install in small or irregular areas. It’s best used in unfinished walls, floors, ceilings and unvented low-slope roofs.

Loose Fill Insulation

Loose fill insulation is made up of small particles of fiber, foam or other materials. Like spray foam, loose fill insulation conforms to the installation area. The most common materials used are cellulose, fiberglass or mineral wool.

The biggest advantage of loose fill insulation is that it can be installed in irregularly shaped areas and cavities. Loose fill insulations are one of the few types of insulations that can be installed with limited disturbance to existing finishes. The biggest drawback is its tendency to settle over time causing a decrease in R-value. Another drawback is its weight. Too much loose fill insulation can cause a dry wall to sag.

Since every area of the country has a different climate, make sure to check with your local insulation expert for advice. When choosing an insulation specialist, take into account their experience in the insulation industry. If they know the industry, they’ll be able to provide you with insight into your specific insulation project and what will provide you with the greatest long-term benefit to your home.