Insulation is a lot like a light bulb: you only think about it if it’s not working. If you feel like your house has been a tad chillier than it should be, it might be just about time to replace, or add to it.
Proper insulation ensures not only a warmer home in the coldest months of the year and a cooler home in the warmest months; it also means a significantly lower energy bill! There are a lot of options when choosing your insulation materials, and you should be sure to choose the best one for you. If you’re tired of bundling up and dropping that extra cash on heating, we’ve got your back.
We’ve gone through the different options of materials, thinking about cost, environmental impact, flammability, safety, and most importantly R-value (the rating at which a material resists heat transfer), to help you make your choice. Here is everything you need to know about the best materials for replacing your insulation!
Fiberglass is above and beyond the most common material used for insulation. If you’ve ever seen a building under construction, or even done work on your own home, you’ve most likely seen it. Woven together from incredibly thin strands of glass, fiberglass is able to effectively minimize heat transfer.
The main downside of fiberglass is the safety precautions you have to take when working with it. As it is made of finely woven glass, silica powders and tiny shards can form within it. Without proper safety equipment, this can result in damage to the eyes, lungs, skin, and other exposed areas. When handled safely, though, fiberglass is an excellent choice.
The R-value ranges from about three to four per inch, and it’s non-flammable. It is environmentally friendly and cost effective, as well, making it clear why it’s the most commonly used insulation material.
If you’re looking to go as green as possible, you should look into cellulose insulation. It is made with recycled materials, such as cardboard and newspapers, and comes in a loose, unbound form. Due to the ability to compact the material down, it can contain little to no oxygen within itself. The only problems you might face from it is the possibility of people in your household being allergic to the dust from the material or finding someone skilled enough to install it.
Still, cellulose is one of the best options for cold insulation. It has an R-value of about three to four, and the lack of oxygen in the material itself minimizes the potential fire damage. Altogether the low cost, environmental benefits, fire resistance, and efficacy of cellulose make it definitely worth consideration.
Maybe you live in a wetter climate and need something that can resist that added moisture? Insulation is no good if it’s soaked through. In that case, you might want to look into Polystyrene. Polystyrene is a waterproof foam insulation material, providing not only cold insulation, but sound insulation as well!
Polystyrene comes in two forms: expanded (EPS) and extruded (XEPS). The materials differ in performance and cost, so be sure to keep that in mind if you’re considering Polystyrene. EPS is the cheaper option, but offers only an R-value of four. XEPS is more expensive, but has an R-rating of five and a half. You may also recognize XEPS by its other name: Styrofoam! Who knew that all those packing peanuts could have been keeping your house insulated all this time?
Before committing to Polystyrene, you should know there are downsides. The foam is not entirely environmentally friendly, and the material itself is flammable. Before use, you would need to have the blocks coated in fireproofing agents. Also, because the material comes in blocks, there is the potential for gaps or imperfections, which can greatly reduce its effectiveness, if it isn’t installed correctly. All of this considered, it is still one of the best options for insulation.
Another great option is mineral wool. It is a versatile material, and the name itself actually refers to several different types of insulation. It can be made of recycled fiberglass, or it can be manufactured out of basalt. It could even be made out of the slag produced from steel mills! Most of the mineral wool found in the United States is of this type, called slag wool.
While not quite as cheap as pure fiberglass, it is still relatively cost effective. The recycled nature of the material means it can come in either bound batts or loose material, depending on what your job requires.
In general, mineral wools do not have any flame resistant additives, so it is not ideal for high heat environments. However, the material itself is not combustible and will not melt, making it relatively fire resistant all on its own. It only has an R-rating of about three to three and a half, but if you’re looking to combine it with another kind of material it can work phenomenally. The cost is manageable, it’s naturally flame resistant, and since it’s recycled it is a pretty environmentally friendly choice! Add the fact that the slag variety isn’t as potentially dangerous as fiberglass insulation to work with.
Most often, installing insulation isn’t a task for the casual handyman. This is a job best left to professionals, due to the attention to detail and delicacy required for the job. For example, if you decide to use fiberglass you want to be sure the people installing it know how to handle it without causing any damage to themselves or anyone else. Or, if you have chosen the polystyrene, you want to ensure that the gaps are all covered. Improper insulation installation can reduce the efficacy of insulation by up to fifty percent. Cracks, gaps, or other mistakes in installation of your insulation cause heat to leak out, no matter how small they are.
When you are ready to take the next step, don’t hesitate to reach out to your local professional lumberyard or contractor. They know what they are doing, and they are happy to help. Good luck, and happy heating!