Home insulation tips and types

A significant portion of home energy costs is devoted to proper heating and cooling, and without adequate insulation you'll let excess energy and funds slip right through the walls. Before you make plans to insulate your home, find out which places need coverage the most and what types of materials are available to you.

What to Consider Beforehand

Proper maintenance of a home will allow you to regulate energy costs and control temperature and air quality. Before making plans, it is a good idea to approach home contractors for an energy audit, which will tell you how well your house is insulated and how it can be improved. It is usually more cost-effective to reinforce existing insulation with complementary materials.

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It is also important to consider ventilation needs and moisture control, both of which are affected by the type of insulation materials you use. For example, fiberglass insulation is an affordable fire-resistant material, but it is not water-resistant and may actually increase the moisture in your home.

Home insulation bridges the gap between heated and unheated spaces. Common areas requiring insulation include the walls and floors of attics, roofs and upper-level ceilings, exterior walls, heated basements and floors above unheated spaces like garages. For attic insulation, you will need a vapor barrier, as well, in order to reduce condensation. You can find detailed diagrams online or in hardware stores, and a contractor can help you map out the various areas you want to address.

All insulation materials are assigned "R-values," which measure heat-flow resistance. The location, construction and heating system of a house will determine the recommended minimum R-value, with higher values used in colder climates. Contractors' bids should offer information about the materials they intend to use and the corresponding R-values so that you can make easier comparisons between companies. They should also discuss any required preliminary work, such as air sealing, that will be necessary before the insulation can be installed.

Types of Home Insulation

The target area will determine what type of insulation is used and whether or not it will require an insulation contractor. The following list will help you get started choosing the right insulation for your project:

  • Batts/blankets. Sold in rolls or precut strips, batts and blankets are conveniently sized to fit wall studs and other standard spacings. Batts or blankets are easily adhered and may include additional reflective surfaces to block heat, making the installation ideal for a DIY project.
  • Loose-fill. A range of fiber materials can be expanded and subsequently blown or poured into spaces for wall, ceiling and attic insulation. Cellulose, rock wool and fiberglass are typically blown, while vermiculite and perlite loose-fill are poured.
  • Plastic foam. Plastic foam conveniently expands and conforms to the space where it is sprayed. Although fairly expensive, foam insulation spray is resistant to rot and can add strength to various areas, including walls and foundations. It is typically used by professionals to reinforce new homes, but requires additional protection to guard against infestation.
  • Rigid boards. These foam boards are made from various materials and used for roofing, siding and supporting foundations. They must be handled carefully, as they are potentially combustible and prone to infestation.
  • Reflective foil. Aluminum foil reflective insulation blocks heat in very warm climates and can be single or multi-layered, depending on the insulation requirements.

As with all major home improvement projects, always shop around for reliable contractors with impressive track records and compare estimates to find the best price. Home insulation projects can be a lengthy process when you take the time to cover all the bases, including sealing cracks and preventing moisture, but in the end, your home will be more comfortable and better prepared for seasonal changes.