What kinds of insulation are available?

The best type of insulation for your home will depend upon several factors, including what part of the home you are insulating.
Whether you are installing additional insulation to your existing home or selecting insulation for a new home, you will be confronted by a dizzying array of choices. The best type for your home will depend upon several factors, including what part of the home you are insulating, the size of the area to be insulated, and the accessibility of the area. To further complicate your choices, in some instances more than one type of insulation may be used in a single area.

The list below covers the main types of insulation available. Once you have familiarized yourself with the terminology, your best bet is to contact a professional insulation installer to help guide you through the maze of options.

Types of Insulation

Blankets: Sold as batts or rolls, blankets are precut sections of insulation. Available in standard sizes, they can be cut to fit non-standard areas. Materials commonly used include fiberglass and mineral wool.

Blown-in/Loose-fill: Loose fiber or fiber pellets that are blown into the space using pneumatic equipment. Typically made from cellulose, fiberglass, or mineral wool, this option is ideal for small or hard-to-reach areas.

Rigid Board: Purchased in sheets or molded pipe coverings, these boards are often made of fiberglass or plastic foam. This is a lightweight option often used for basement walls and flat roofs. As the name implies, rigid board insulation isn't flexible, making it prone to breakage if not installed correctly.

Spray Foam: Dispensed as liquid foam, this material quickly expands to fill the area to be insulated and hardens as it cures. An advantage of spray foam is that it forms an airtight barrier.

Reflective: Made from aluminum foils with a variety of backings, this insulation is best for reducing downward heat flow. When a single reflective surface is used alone and faces an open space, such as an attic, it is called a radiant barrier.

Common Insulation Materials

The type of material is one of the variables that determine the R-value, which measures the resistance to heat flow. The other variables are density and thickness. The higher the R-value, the greater the level of insulation. Some of the common materials used for insulation are described below.

Fiberglass: consisting of sand and fine glass fibers, this is one of the most common types of insulation materials. Fiberglass dries quickly, making it a good choice for damp areas prone to condensation.

Cellulose: made from shredded, recycled newsprint that is treated with a fire retardant to reduce its combustibility. Cellulose is non-toxic, making it an environmentally-friendly choice.

Mineral Wool: refers to either rock wool (made from natural minerals) or slag wool (made from blast furnace slag)

Natural Fiber: includes cotton, sheep's wool, straw, and hemp.

Plastic Fiber: typically made from recycled plastic milk bottles, plastic fiber is treated with a fire retardant so that it won't burn, but it will melt when exposed to flame.

As you can see, selecting the correct insulation requires a thorough understanding of the different methods of installation, available materials, and structural requirements. Consult with a professional insulation installer to save a lot of time, mess, and money.

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