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Insulation Types

Insulation Product Types

Some types of insulation require professional installation, and others you can install yourself. You should consider the several forms of insulation available, their R-values, and the thickness needed. The type of insulation you use will be determined by the nature of the spaces in the house that you plan to insulate. For example, since you cannot conveniently "pour" insulation into an overhead space, blankets, spray-foam, board products, or reflective systems are used between the joists of an unfinished basement ceiling. The most economical way to fill closed cavities in finished walls is with blown-in insulation applied with pneumatic equipment or with sprayed-in-place foam insulation.

The different forms of insulation can be used together. For example, you can add batt or roll insulation over loose-fill insulation, or vice-versa. Usually, material of higher density (weight per unit volume) should not be placed on top of lower density insulation that is easily compressed. Doing so will reduce the thickness of the material underneath and thereby lower its R-value. There is one exception to this general rule: When attic temperatures drop below 0°F, some low-density, fiberglass, loose-fill insulation installations may allow air to circulate between the top of your ceiling and the attic, decreasing the effectiveness of the insulation. You can eliminate this air circulation by covering the low-density, loose-fill insulation with a blanket insulation product or with a higher density loose-fill insulation.

Blankets, in the form of batts or rolls, are flexible products made from mineral fibers, including fiberglass or rock wool. They are available in widths suited to standard spacings of wall studs and attic or floor joists. They must be hand-cut and trimmed to fit wherever the joist spacing is non-standard (such as near windows, doors, or corners), or where there are obstructions in the walls (such as wires, electrical outlet boxes, or pipes). Batts can be installed by homeowners or professionals. They are available with or without vapor-retarder facings. Batts with a special flame-resistant facing are available in various widths for basement walls where the insulation will be left exposed.
Blown-in loose-fill insulation includes cellulose, fiberglass, or rock wool in the form of loose fibers or fiber pellets that are blown using pneumatic equipment, usually by professional installers. This form of insulation can be used in wall cavities. It is also appropriate for unfinished attic floors, for irregularly shaped areas, and for filling in around obstructions.
In the open wall cavities of a new house, cellulose and fiberglass fibers can also be sprayed after mixing the fibers with an adhesive or foam to make them resistant to settling.
Foam insulation can be applied by a professional using special equipment to meter, mix, and spray the foam into place. Polyisocyanurate and polyurethane foam insulation can be produced in two forms: open-cell and closed-cell. In general, open-celled foam allows water vapor to move through the material more easily than closed-cell foam. However, open-celled foams usually have a lower R-value for a given thickness compared to closed-cell foams. So, some of the closed-cell foams are able to provide a greater R-value where space is limited.
Rigid insulation is made from fibrous materials or plastic foams and is produced in board-like forms and molded pipe coverings. These provide full coverage with few heat loss paths and are often able to provide a greater R-value where space is limited. Such boards may be faced with a reflective foil that reduces heat flow when next to an air space. Rigid insulation is often used for foundations and as an insulative wall sheathing.
Reflective insulation systems are fabricated from aluminum foils with a variety of backings such as kraft paper, plastic film, polyethylene bubbles, or cardboard. The resistance to heat flow depends on the heat flow direction, and this type of insulation is most effective in reducing downward heat flow. Reflective systems are typically located between roof rafters, floor joists, or wall studs. If a single reflective surface is used alone and faces an open space, such as an attic, it is called a radiant barrier.

Radiant barriers are installed in buildings to reduce summer heat gain and winter heat loss. In new buildings, you can select foil-faced wood products for your roof sheathing (installed with the foil facing down into the attic) or other locations to provide the radiant barrier as an integral part of the structure. For existing buildings, the radiant barrier is typically fastened across the bottom of joists, as shown in this drawing. All radiant barriers must have a low emittance (0.1 or less) and high reflectance (0.9 or more).