What is the Best Home Insulation?

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When considering ways to make a home more energy efficient, most people think of using the TV less, or getting energy efficient appliances and lighting, or powering down their laptop instead of leaving it on idle with the screen-saver running. However, there is another way to make your house more energy efficient that is commonly overlooked: insulation.

Insulation for the Summer and Winter

Making sure your home has proper insulation can reduce your energy bill significantly. Insulation in your home provides a resistance to heat flow, which leads to lower heating and cooling costs. The way insulation can accomplish both heating and cooling effects can be explained by two simple principles:

  1. Blocking heat: In the summer, when the sun's rays are beating down on your home, the temperature in your attic can rise significantly. This heat will eventually seep into the rest of your house if your insulation is inadequate. If you find that your air-conditioner lacks the ability to keep your house at cool temperatures in the summertime, there may be a problem with your home's insulation, not your air-conditioner. Proper insulation is vital for keeping the heat out of your house.
  2. Trapping heat: During the winter season, proper insulation proves to be just as effective at keeping the heat in your house. With a properly insulated home, you can cut down on your gas bill since your heater will be able to heat the house more efficiently, and the insulation will be able to sustain warmer temperatures in the home for a long period of time.

Home Insulation Costs and R-Value

Insulation comes in various R-values, which is a value that indicates a type of insulation's resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the higher resistance to heat flow that type of insulation is capable of. If an area has multiple layers of insulation, the R-values of the layers are added together to determine the R-value of the entire installation.

The cost of insulation, whether it is being installed by a professional or not, varies considerably due to the various types of insulation available, the locations where the insulation would need to be installed, and the specific R-value needed to properly insulate that specific area. The higher the R-value of the insulation, the higher the price is for each square foot. Expect to pay over $10,000 for a complete insulation job done by a professional, or around $6,000 if you plan to do the job yourself. Again, the cost depends on many different factors. If you live in a warmer part of the country, the R-value of your insulation may not need to be as high as the insulation for homes in regions with colder climates.

If you find your insulation costs to be too steep, you can start your insulation project on the roof. A typical roof insulation project would cost somewhere between $1000 and $3,000. Going about your home insulation project in sections can spread the costs of a large insulation job.

Types of Insulation

Blanket: Batts and Rolls

Blanket insulation is probably the most common type of insulation and comes in the forms of batts, which is a section of insulation, and rolls. This type of insulation typically comes in the form of fiberglass, but can also be found in the form of mineral wool, plastic fibers and natural fibers like cotton or sheep's wool. Blanket insulation is suitable for most areas of your home, including unfinished walls, floors and ceilings. It is considered the cheapest form of insulation, and is highly recommended for do-it-yourself jobs.

Concrete Block Insulation

Concrete blocks that have been filled with polystyrene, polyiso or polyurethane are suitable for unfinished walls, like foundation walls, and new construction or major renovations. This type of insulation is difficult to install, and would require a professional or solid masonry skills.

Foam Board or Rigid Foam

Foam boards, also known as rigid foam, are boards made with polystyrene, polyiso or polyurethane. This form of insulation is suitable for most sections of your home, similar to blanket insulation. However, foam board insulation is a bit more complicated, and would usually require professional installation.

Insulating Concrete Forms (ICFs)

ICFs use foam boards or blocks for insulation, with the concrete being poured over the insulation materials. This form of insulation is installed as part of the building structure, making it suitable for unfinished walls like foundation walls. However, this type of home insulation is only meant to be used for new construction.

Loose-Fill

Loose-fill insulation is made of cellulose, fiberglass or mineral wool, and is blown into place using specialized equipment. The installation method used for loose-fill makes it suitable for adding insulation to areas where other types of insulation is hard to install like odd shaped areas and around obstructions.

Reflective System

Reflective insulation systems are made from the combination of aluminum foil and kraft paper, plastic film, polyethylene bubbles or cardboard. This form of insulation is good for unfinished walls, ceilings and floors, and is installed the same way blanket insulation is installed.

Rigid Fibrous or Fiber Insulation

This form of insulation is made of either fiberglass or mineral wool and is typically used to insulate air ducts. Installation requires a certified HVAC contractor since you are dealing with a home's heating, ventilating and air conditioning system.

Sprayed Foam and Foamed-In-Place

This type of insulation can be either sprayed, foamed-in-place, injected or poured, and is typically made of cementitious, phenolic, polyiso or polyurethane. Sprayed foam is similar to loose-fill since it is good for adding insulation to odd shaped areas, but is more costly than blanket insulation.

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)

SIPs are typically used in a structure's walls, ceilings, floors and roof. They are typically used in new construction, where the builders would connect these insulation panels together as they construct the home.

So What Is the Best Home Insulation?

For the average, do-it-yourself homeowner, the best type of insulation would be blanket insulation (batt insulation). It is very affordable and is the easiest to install without any type of professional experience or special equipment. However, there are many factors that need to be considered when selecting the right insulation for your home. Things like local climate, areas of the home that require insulation, and the R-value required for proper insulation are factors that will affect your decision. If you are unfamiliar with home insulation, talk to a professional who can help you determine the best home insulation for your needs.

Last Updated: July 22, 2011
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About Matthew Cenzon Matthew Cenzon has been writing for numerous publications since 2003, covering topics ranging from health and nutrition to the real estate industry. He is one of the contributing writers for IdealHomeGarden.com, and is a college graduate of the University of California, Riverside, with degrees in English and Asian literature. Matthew’s interest in interior design and home improvement stem from his background working in the residential real estate appraisal business for over five years, where he witnessed many of the Do's and Don'ts of home decor.

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