How to Choose the right insulation material for your home?
The full guide for making an effective decision
When it comes to insulation there are many material types and brands you can choose from and often times it can get very confusing, however choosing the right insulation for your home can be an easy decision once you get familiar with the basics.
After installing different insulation materials in over 7000 homes throughout the US, we learned that some materials could be perfect for one home structure but for others it can become a disaster over time. Our goal with this guide is that you will be able to make an effective decision choosing the right insulation for your home considering price, material type and thermal efficiency.
Is Your Attic Well Insulated?
The U.S. Department of Energy recommends homes in southern climates to have 13-14 inches (R-38) of insulation and 16-18 inches (R-49) in northern climates, however, according to the Insulation Institute, over 90% of homes in the United States are under-insulated.
This is rather unfortunate that local building codes only stipulate minimum performance standards, which are far below what home energy experts recognize as necessary today. That means that unless you’ve recently had an insulation upgrade, your attic is likely to have an inadequate amount of insulation and you are losing money dealing with uncomfortable, uneven temperature in your home.
Here are some of the places where you should insulate your home to get the most out of it.
Insulating the attic floor: You should cover the attic floor if you need to have a heated attic. If heating your attic isn’t necessary, insulation regulates the temperature in your home. Insulating your attic is more cost-effective than installing an HVAC system.
Insulating the pitched roof: If you plan on furnishing your attic, you should cover the pitched roof. Make sure you have an inner roof lining for useful insulation installation. This lining prevents moisture from entering into your home and destroying your insulation.
Insulating the attic access door: The attic access door is the door between the attic and the roof. Covering this part of the house protects your roof from damage in the long run. It also prevents the roof from allowing precipitation into the home.
Insulating exterior walls: You should insulate all of the exterior walls of your house, especially if you live in a colder climate. These walls include the ones between living spaces and unheated areas of the house. If these walls don’t have insulation, cold air will blow right through them.
Insulating band joists: Band joists make up the frame that holds up the foundation of your crawl space. You should insulate the band joists in unfinished attics. Insulate between and over floor joists to seal off living spaces below the attic.
Insulating floors above unheated garages: Most homeowners don’t insulate their garages because they use them for storage or to hold their cars. However, you should insulate the ceiling if there is living space above your garage. Seal all possible sources of air leakage to cut the spread of contaminants from the garage.
Insulating the foundation: Insulating the foundation protects your property from moisture problems and radon infiltration. You should insulate your foundation when you build a new construction home. Talk to your contractor about adding insulation to your foundation.
Insulating the basement: Adding insulation to the exterior walls of your basement makes your basement a more livable area. Insulate your unfinished basement for a comfortable atmosphere for the house.
Insulating the crawlspace: If you have an unventilated crawlspace, you should insulate the foundation walls. If you have a ventilated crawlspace, you should cover the floor. Make sure you seal every air leak to get the most out of your insulation.
If you live in a hot climate, you could also invest in a radiant barrier. This layering on your walls reflects heat instead of absorbing it in the summer.
Types Of Attic Insulation
Insulation is made out of different materials and is installed in various methods. The most popular materials installed in residential homes are batt insulation and blown insulation (loose fill).
When considering material type or method of installation we highly recommend to get an attic and crawl space inspection first because the structure of your home might require a specific method.
What is Batt Insulation?
Batt insulation is a pre-cut panel pre-cut panel that comes in different standard sizes and R-values. This insulation comes from directly from the manufacturer to follow general construction codes. Attic insulation batts are pieces of felt designed to fit between the framing of the home (usually 16 or 24 inches on center) . Depending on the climate of your area, you may need more than one layer to maximize energy savings.
Some batt insulation comes with paper or foil facing to control moisture issues, these are known as “faced” or “kraft” insulation. Faced insulation is commonly installed inside walls because the paper that absorbs the moisture is often flammable and therefore by code, in some cases, isn’t allowed to be installed in exposed walls, attics or crawl spaces.
Batts are sold in a variety of R-values (thickness) and depending on the climate of your area you may need more than one layer to maximize energy savings.
Batts insulation installation requires trained workers who can fit into the space you are trying to insulate. For homes with attics or crawl spaces that are inaccessible, batting insulation might not be a viable option and you will then need to consider blown insulation as an alternative. Blown insulation is applied by a specialized machine that “shoots” the insulation and therefore it will be easier for the material to settle in very small harder to reach areas.
Benefits Of Batt Insulation
Accessibility: Our customers need to have easy access to all of the unfinished parts of their home. The most critical systems are in these areas. If your HVAC or plumbing system malfunctions, you will need to call a professional. If you do not have easy access, it might take longer to fix. When comparing attic insulation batts vs. blown, batts are easier to install.
Easy to service: If you need to repair one of the systems in your attic, a professional will have to clean up some of the insulation to have better visibility. It will be impossible to bring the insulation back to its original state. Often, the service professional will leave your attic with uneven, damaged insulation. You may need an expert to complete the repair instead of trying to fix it yourself. With batt insulation, you can replace a small piece of the insulation instead of the whole wall.
Practical and durable: When comparing batt insulation vs. blown cellulose, keep in mind that batt insulation is a more effective thermal barrier. The thermal performance of loose fill insulation will not last for the life of the building. Most blown-in insulation materials will settle and lose R-value over time. Blown cellulose also tends to absorb water over time and will cause the insulation pieces to bond. Batt insulation is more moisture-resistant, so it will last longer.
Rodent activity: If you have had rodent activity in your attic or crawl space, batt insulation is more effective. Rodents can burrow in blown-in insulation, making it difficult to find them. With batt insulation, you can detect rodents and replace a small panel. You can make a baiting station and fill in access points to prevent rodents from coming into your home.
What Is Blown (Loose Fill) Insulation?
The term loose-fill insulation or blown-in insulation refers to the process of filling stud or joist cavities with insulation in the attic or walls. This process is done by a machine that mixes the material and shoots it through a hose creating an evenly insulated surface
Loose-fill insulation is essentially millions of insulation pieces who creates air pockets which assure better insulating power. Since the pieces are tiny and are blown everywhere it is possible to cover small areas with difficult access and therefore this method is known to be a fantastic thermal barrier.
Unlike batt insulation, blown insulation doesn’t come with a specific R value so the more material you blow the higher the R value. Insulation contractors usually use an insulation ruler to ensure the correct R-value has been installed.
What Is R-Value?
R-value is the industry standard for measuring the insulation’s resistance of heat/cool air flow traveling through it. The higher the R-Value of your insulation, the greater the resistance, however that is only one factor that determines the effectiveness of insulation, and only one aspect you should look at when making your decision on which insulation is best for your home. You can find the R-value of your insulation on the label. The total R-value of your attic is the product of the R-value and the square foot of your crawl space. Batt insulation and blown-in insulation both have varying R-values depending on the material
If we look at the primary purpose of insulation- it is used to block the movement of heat. Heat is a force that moves in and out of your home in 4 ways, but the only one measured by R-Value is Conduction. The other 3 ways we must consider are sun radiation, air infiltration, and convection.
Since your home is built outside, factors such as humidity, temperature shifts, and wind all come into play and directly affect the indoor air quality.
What Type Of Insulation Should I Get: Batts Or Blown?
It is important to understand that manufacturers and insulation contractors may not always give the best recommendation regarding which insulation you should install- that is simply because they are missing important details about the structure of your attic or crawl space. We recommend about 95% of our customers to install batt insulation and here is why:
1. Batt insulation is accessible and easy to service.
We believe our customers need to have easy access to all the unfinished parts of their home because the most important systems are located in these areas. These include your home’s HVAC, plumbing, central vacuum, air ducts, electrical wires, recessed lights etc.
If one of your systems malfunctions, you will need to call a professional and if you will not have easy access it might take longer to fix or in some cases will not be possible at all.
Some of the issues that can arise include the following:
- The HVAC system needs to be serviced and all the wires are covered with blown insulation.
- The dryer vent got disconnected
- One of the recessed lights stopped working and the electrician cannot locate it because it is covered with blown insulation.
Our best example is of a customer who called an HVAC company to replace his air ducts. It was almost impossible for the crew to see where to step since all the studs were covered with blown insulation and one of the guys ended up putting his feet on the sheetrock, losing his balance and falling through the attic floor straight down into the bedroom.
In other cases where you need to service one of the systems in your attic, a service professional will have to move/vacuum some of the blown-in insulation in order to have better visibility and complete his task. Once that has been done, it will be impossible to bring the insulation back to its original state, and in many cases the service professional will leave you attic with uneven, damaged insulation, lacking the R-value it previously had. Unfortunately for you as a homeowner, there is not much you can do to prevent it, because it will be crucial for the professional to complete the repair.
2. Batt insulation helps keep your attic storage friendly.
If you have a spacious attic you might want to store items like boxes, suitcases and Christmas decorations. Batt insulation will help you to keep your items clean, safe, and easily accessible.
3. Batt insulation is more effective over the life of the building.
It is true that blown-in insulation is considered to be more effective as a thermal barrier, however, this effectiveness is only temporary and will not last for the life of the building. Most blown-in insulation materials will settle and lose R-value over time. Cellulose, which is one of the most popular insulation materials used today, has the tendency to absorb water over time and will cause the insulation pieces to bond. This will have a direct negative effect on the effectiveness of the insulation.
4. Batt insulation is better for treating rodent activity (past or current).
If you have rodent activity we highly recommend you not to install blown-in insulation. It is easier for rodents like mice, rats, squirrels and raccoons to nest in blown insulation and its harder for you to identify and fix the issue. Blown-in insulation will make it harder to install a baiting station and find access points that are naturally created by rodents when trying to find shelter and warmth inside your attic insulation.
It will also be two times more difficult and expensive to treat blown-in insulation that was affected by rodents than treating batt insulation and this is why- let’s take a scenario in which only a small part of your insulation got damaged. With batt insulation it will be easy to identify and replace the damaged part. You can even do it yourself on a sunday. If rodents damaged your blown-in insulation its will be impossible to replace only a small part and you will be required to get professional help. You will need to hire a company who specializes in insulation removal and has a heavy-duty vacuum and insulation machine. In many cases you will end up replacing all of your attic’s insulation spending thousands of dollars.
What Is The Best Insulation Material?
When it comes to insulation materials we recommend that you consider only the ones that have been thoroughly tested in the United States. There are many new materials that claim to be eco-friendly, green and healthy for you but will not last for the life of the building. Bottom line – if it hasn’t been around for long and wasn’t tested over time we recommend you not to choose it.
The 4 insulation materials you should consider are Fiberglass, Cellulose, Mineral Wool (rockwool) and Polyurethane Spray Foam.
Fiberglass is by far one of the most thoroughly tested building materials and can be installed in the form of batt or blown-in insulation. Fiberglass is eco friendly, non-flammable, safe to install and maintains its thermal performance for the life of the building. One of our favorite brands for fiberglass insulation is Owens Corning (the pink panther insulation company). They have been in business since 1935 and are sold in almost all of the reputable home improvement retailers such as Home Depot and Lowes.
A great tip every homeowner should be aware of is that Owens Corning is a manufacturer that goes the extra mile- certifying licensed contractors, giving them periodical training and even visiting job sites as quality assurance making sure the insulation service is performed correctly. Hiring an Owens Corning Certified Energy Expert (CEE) is very important when selecting a contractor to perform insulation services for your home- it simply assures you that the job will be done correctly and to the highest standards.
The advantages of fiberglass are:
Green: Fiberglass is ecological, containing materials made from recycled glass spun into fibers.
Safe: This material is non-flammable and safe to install.
Durable: It also maintains its thermal performance for the life of the building. Whether you live in a warm or cold climate, fiberglass will protect your home.
Since fiberglass can settle over time, you will need more than one layer for most effectiveness. When comparing spray foam vs. batt insulation for soundproofing, fiberglass outperforms spray foam.
Cellulose insulation is one of the most popular materials for residential and commercial buildings. It is made out of recycled newspapers and is chemically treated with ammonium sulfate for fire resistance. Cellulose has a great thermal performance, however it is regulated as a fire hazard by the Consumer Product Safety Council (CPSC) because it is made out of shredded, recycled newspaper.
Tests conducted by the Bureau of Home Furnishings and Thermal Insulation have demonstrated that some cellulose samples failed the standard fire safety test only six months after installation.
It is also important to note that the installation process of cellulose is very messy. Cellulose is very dusty and during the installation process can be dangerous because it may leave residue behind (fiber, dust and chemicals) and can be an irritant.
To avoid dust as much as possible, prior to installation, make sure the working area is protected with a plastic tunnel and all the recessed lights are covered in order to prevent particles from entering the living space.
A few more facts to consider when choosing cellulose:
- Cellulose manufacturers agree that their products will settle over time so basically you will be losing R-value over time and will have to add more insulation in the future.
- Cellulose absorbs water and becomes heavy over time – high risk for cracks in the ceiling and drywall sagging.
- Cellulose is probably the cheapest insulation material available today.
Based on our experience, cellulose could be a good option for your attic because of the cheap price and the thermal benefits, however, when choosing this material make sure you are not allergic to ammonium sulfate and be ready to do some cleaning.
Mineral Wool (Rockwool) Insulation
Mineral wool is made out of natural rock and is widely used in Canada and Europe. It is made by melting down basalt stone and recycled slag from steel mills, then spinning it into fiber that can be formed into batts or boards.
Here are the pros and cons:
Price: Mineral wool batts cost more than fiberglass batts. As an example, the R-19 mineral wool costs about 90¢ per sq. ft. vs. 70¢ for fiberglass.
Fire resistance: Mineral wool withstands extreme heat better than other types of insulation. In a fire, the batts retain their shape and offer better protection against flame spread.
Water-resistance: Mineral wool insulation just like fiberglass insulation does not absorb water. This means that if your wall or roof leaks, the batts will be as good as new after they dry out. Cellulose on the other hand, will absorb water and as a result will need to be removed entirely and have new installation installed to restore the R-value.
Sound barrier: One of the greatest properties of mineral wool is that the material is great in blocking sound. Many contractors are using it as a barrier between floors or around the machine room in the basement for that reason mainly.
Polyurethane Spray Foam Insulation
Spray foam insulation uses 2 chemical compounds that expand when mixed together and simultaneously air seal and insulate the application area.
Spray foam is the most effective insulation available, however it is probably 2-3 times more expensive than the rest of the alternatives. If you consider to insulate your attic or crawlspace it will be hard to beat the quality of spray foam because it outperforms other insulation materials in terms of R-value, resistance to mold and moisture damage, durability, air sealing, and versatility.
Advantages of spray foam
- Best R-value per inch.
- Very effective in Stopping air leaks in addition to providing insulation value.
- Won’t compress, fall out of place or lose R-value.
- Closed-cell spray foam is waterproof & won’t support mold growth
Disadvantages of spray foam
- 2-3 times more expensive than fiberglass for the same R- value.
- If not installed professionally and chemicals are not mixed evenly the material might not “cure” which means you will not be able to stay in the house until that has been treated.
- You can not be at home during installation.
- High risk for damages – every drip of the material is irreversible since the foam is like glue.
Difference Between Open Cell and Closed Cell Spray Foam Insulation
There are two types of spray foam insulation: open-cell and closed-cell. Each has different features, pros and cons. A professional will help you determine the best foam for your needs.
Open-cell spray foam:
Open-cell foam is a very light material that is designed to break or pop as the foam expands before it sets, allowing pieces to be removed. Open cell foam is low density and can fill larger areas with less material, and it has an R-value of 3.5-4 per inch.
On a cost-per-R basis, open-cell is the more economical spray foam choice. However, it is not as effective as closed-cell spray foam.
Closed-cell spray foam:
Closed-cell spray foam is the most energy efficient insulation available today and it provides an R-value of 6-7 per inch. After being applied, the foam cures and hardens like a rock- providing great air sealing and building support.
Insulation Installation Tips
Make sure you seal off the air leaks and make any repairs to your attic before you apply insulation to your home. Illuminate dark corners so you can see in poorly lit areas. Work from the perimeter of the attic toward the door.
1. Remove old insulation before installing a new layer.
When you cover old insulation, it is only a matter of time until you will need to remove both. When taking this approach, your contractor may lay new insulation over rodents, exposed electrical wires, bacteria, mold and more. Many contractors make this mistake because they might not have the right equipment for insulation removal. Instead, you can use blown-in attic insulation to fill in any gaps in your insulation.
2. Hire a professional to remove and replace insulation.
A professional technician must remove and dispose of insulation with special gear. Unsafe removal of old insulation can release hazardous particles into your home. This issue can affect indoor air quality as well as the safety of your family members. Call a professional insulation removal contractor if you need to remove the insulation.
3. Wear protective gear when you’re working in the attic.
If you install the insulation yourself, make sure you use protective gear. You can get sick when entering an attic or crawl space without proper equipment. These unfinished areas of your home are vulnerable to toxic hazards. We recommend wearing eye protection goggles, coveralls, a half-face mask, a head-light and gloves.
4. Keep your hands off your skin and face.
Fiberglass and mineral wool can be itchy or even cause a mild rash. Regardless of the material, wear a dust mask, goggles, gloves and a long sleeve shirt. While working with insulation material, be careful not to touch your face. This protective gear will prevent skin irritation and allergic reactions from insulation particles. When you finish installing the insulation, make sure you shower. You need to remove all of the insulation material residue that could irritate your skin.
Insulating Your Attic Can Save You Money
Proper insulation and air-sealing techniques can save you up to 10 to 20% on your energy bill. Here is how having an energy-efficient attic can save you money:
Your HVAC system doesn’t have to work as hard: Insulation keeps warm air out in the summer and in during the winter. Poor insulation puts pressure on your HVAC system to regulate the temperature. If you live in a cold climate, you need insulation so you don’t overpay for energy.
Use less oil or gas: Installing enough insulation for your attic is more cost-effective than buying fuel for your furnace or upgrading your HVAC system. While you need to refill your oil tank once every few months, your insulation will last for several years before needing a replacement.
At Atticare, we can help you save money and protect the environment with better energy-efficiency in your home. Use our savings calculator to find out how much money you could save by insulating your attic.
Let Atticare Provide You With The Insulation You Need
If you are looking for high-quality insulation, look no further than with our team at Atticare. We will inspect your attic or crawl space to determine the effectiveness of your current insulation. We can answer any questions you may have about the quality of the different insulation materials.
If you are in New Jersey, the San Francisco Bay area or the Los Angeles area, contact us today for a free inspection and to find out more about our insulation services. You could also call us at 1-888-743-7243 for more information.