What Type of Insulation Should I Choose for My Home and Why?

wall insulation

Importance of Insulation

While almost everyone would agree that applying insulation doesn’t rank very high on the “Fun Ways to Spend a Saturday” list, homeowners recognize just how important quality insulation is to protecting their home and providing a comfortable environment to their family. That being said, insulation technologies are evolving and there are a number of different ways to weatherproof your home besides the itchy, fiberglass product of the past. Homeowners need to know the range of insulation options that are available in today’s market so that they can make an educated decision when selecting the best product for their climate, home, and budget.

Fiberglass Batts

The type of insulation that most homeowners are familiar with are the fiberglass batts sold in compressed bundles in home improvement stores. The insulation looks soft and fluffy, but anybody who has ever worked with the stuff knows how itchy and irritating it can be. That being said, this insulation is very effective as it traps air in between the tiny fibers of the material, preventing drastic temperature swings in your home. Homeowners often decide to deal with the itchiness of fiberglass batts during installation because this product is the least expensive form of insulation in addition to being the easiest to install. For DIYers, fiberglass batts remain the best method of insulating your house.

Loose Fill Insulation

Often called blown-in insulation, filling the ceilings and attic of your home with loose fill insulation is becoming an increasingly popular choice. DIYers can rent a blower from their local home & garden store, but a professional drywall company will provide the best coverage and application methods. The insulation material consists of small chunks of fiberglass or foam and it is light enough to be installed on top of ceiling sheetrock. Environmentally conscious homeowners may prefer loose fill insulation because of the fact that it's made of recycled material. With this product (as with fiberglass batts) the insulation process involves irritation to the eyes and lungs and if you’re planning to replace a ceiling or wall of sheetrock down the line the blown in insulation is quite messy. Homeowners who are planning a remodel in the near future should wait and use loose-fill insulation once their home renovations are complete.

Cotton or Denim Batts

Cotton or 'blue-jean' insulation combines the ease of installation of fiberglass batts without the itchiness and irritation associated with their installation. Blue jean insulation is attractive to environmentally conscious homeowners because the product is made from recyclable material. Other benefits include being formaldehyde-free, sound absorbing, and that it effectively retains heat. One of the main drawbacks is that it costs about three times as much as fiberglass batts. The denim insulation manufacturing process has been around for over 35 years, but one company maintains the patent which means denim batts are somewhat hard to come by.

Foam Board Insulation

An insulation type that is becoming increasingly popular is foam board. The foam comes in sheets similar to plywood (4' X 8' most commonly) in thicknesses from ½" to 2". The material is very light and easy to install but must be cut down for placement between studs. Full foam sheets are very popular for placing on the outside of a house and when combined with interior fiberglass or loose fill insulation this method creates a dual barrier. Foam is also conveniently placed in parts of the home where moisture could potentially be an issue (such as garages or basements) and foam boards can be removed and replaced during a remodel as the thicker material barely ages or wears, making it a popular choice for eco-friendly home remodeling.

Spray Foam Insulation

There are two types of spray foam insulation that homeowners should look into for their home. The first is the simple canisters that are found in home & garden stores. This insulation is designed to be used by homeowners to seal cracks and holes in a home's foundation, siding, window trim and other areas that are privy to warm air escaping and cool air entering. The second type is professionally applied to completely cover the interior walls of a house. The installer applies the foam in a liquid form which then expands to create a superior air barrier. The labor and materials will cost the homeowner significantly more money but the R value of spray foam is up to twice as effective as fiberglass batts. Professionally installed spray foam also creates a more secure seal around pipes which must be cut out with foam boards.

Structured Insulation Panels

While most insulating processes can be done by removing old sheetrock and gaining access to the interior or a wall or ceiling, there are a couple that involve rebuilding the walls altogether. One such process (most frequently used in new construction) involves the use of structured insulation panels (SIP's). To best describe the product, imagine two pieces of plywood with a foam core built right into the middle. Building a house with SIP's is the same as using plywood, only the material is much thicker and has better insulating properties. Obviously redoing a house with SIP's is quite a process but they work great for new construction and they are a great choice if you’re considering an addition to your home.

Insulating Concrete Forms

Using Insulating Concrete Forms (ICF's) is also an increasingly popular insulation method for new home building. This process involves stacking two forms to create an interior and exterior wall. The section between those two walls is then filled with concrete, making a very heavy-duty insulation barrier. ICF's have a number of benefits including the fact that they are more energy efficient, reduce the number of leaks (they virtually never occur) and that ICF’s offer a superior level of sound absorption. Additionally ICF’s increase indoor air quality, offer 4-6 hours of fire resistance and they are up to 10 times sturdier than similar wood building techniques.

As one can imagine, this process is more costly and works best in new home construction, but if you invest in insulating concrete forms the energy savings will surely pay for your investment over time.

To give a definitive answer to the question of what insulation you should use requires analyzing a number of factors:

  • Are you going to do the work yourself or hire a professional drywall company? (DIY limits what type of insulation can be efficiently installed)
  • What is your budget? (fiberglass is the least expensive and each type goes up from there)
  • Will you be doing any remodeling soon? (use an insulation that can be removed and replaced if you’re planning additional renovations)
  • What is your climate? (extreme hot and cold climates require heavy-duty insulation)

It's also important to remember that insulating your home represents an up-front expense but investing a little more money can save you money on your utility bill for years to come.

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