Home Insulation Uncovered – Insulation Types and Installation

 When thinking about renovating their homes, homeowners may imagine changing wall colors, expanding room sizes or upgrading appliances and fixtures. However, unless people take inventory of the less glamorous components of their house, such as structure, plumbing, heating and cooling, and home insulation, other improvements may be for naught.

A home insulation project certainly doesn’t offer the wow factor of a kitchen remodel, but insulation serves a vital function in the house that helps keep people comfortable and reduces energy consumption. Insulation is typically placed in areas where air escapes, such as between the stud cavities inside the walls and in the attic, and serves to slow and reduce heat transfer.

The U.S. Department of Energy says between 50 and 70 percent of the energy used in homes is for heating and cooling. By improving home insulation, homeowners can make their homes more comfortable, consistent and efficient. In fact, the ENERGY STAR program overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says homeowners stand to save an average of 15 percent on heating and cooling costs by adding proper insulation. To do so, homeowners can take a crash course in home insulation and find the products that fit their needs.

Blanket Batts and Rolls

Blanket batts and rolls typically are constructed with fiberglass, so proper safety gear, such as a mask and gloves, is needed when handling them. Installing this type of home insulation is relatively easy since the materials are designed to fit the standard width between studs, rafters, and floor joists.

Loose Fill

Loose fill is usually made of fiberglass or cellulose (recycled paper fiber). It is blown or sprayed into place with pneumatic equipment. Loose fill can be ideal for hard-to-reach areas in attics or inside wall cavities. It’s good for adding home insulation to irregularly shaped areas. Since it requires special equipment, this is a job best left to professionals.

Sprayed Foam

Spraying blown fiberglass insulation between attic trusses.

Sprayed foam is just as the name implies, a foam made from polyurethane, polyisocyanurate, cementitious, or other materials that are applied by a spray container. DIYers who need only small applications can use canned products . Large quantities are pressure-sprayed by professionals.

Foam Board/Rigid Foam Panels

Ideal for unfinished walls, such as basement or foundation walls, floors and ceilings, these are boards of polyurethane or polystyrene. Foam boards tend to reduce energy consumption more effectively than other types of home insulation.

Homeowners considering upgrading their home insulation or amending existing insulation should do their homework on the type of insulation that will be most effective for their homes. 

Understanding Home Insulation R-Values

Home Insulation recommendations are based on certain factors that coordinate with regional climate zones to increase energy efficiency. These factors are known as R-values. The R in R-value stands for “resistance,” and refers to how certain products resist the flow of heat through walls, floors, and ceilings. Products should reduce heat escape so heat is kept on the right side of the wall. In summer this means outdoors, in winter it means indoors. R-values relate not only to insulation, but also to walls, windows, and other barriers. R-values also coordinate to the type, thickness, and density of the material being used. The higher the R-value, the more resistant to heat the product is. The U.S. Department of Energy coordinates R-value to climate zones 1 through 7 (1: Tip of Florida; 7: Canadian border). A higher R-value is needed in Zone 7 and a lower R-value is necessary in Zone 1. Those embarking on home improvement projects that involve choosing between R-values are urged to speak with a home insulation professional or to visit the Department of Energy website (www.energy.gov) to determine which R-Value is ideal for their homes.