Believe it or not, the most common type of insulation in today's homes was discovered by accident.
In 1932, Dale Kleist was working with two pieces of molten glass in an attempt to create a seal that was vacuum-tight. But when a jet of high-pressure air accidentally struck a portion of the glass, the result was a series of fine fibers that were stronger than steel. The new material was later named fiberglass.
More than eight decades later, fiberglass insulation has been refined into more user-friendly configurations, and other methods of home insulation have been invented as well. But which one of these options is ideal for a particular home? And how much insulation is needed?
How much insulation is enough… or too much?
Home insulation is measured in R-value, which denotes how resistant the material is to heat flow. The federal government recommends installing attic insulation with an R-value anywhere from R25 to R60 depending on where you live.
Naturally, it is important to check local building codes to see if they call for a minimum level of insulation in your home. Aside from that, the proper amount of insulation largely depends on what the homeowner is trying to accomplish.
After all, there are significant diminishing returns when it comes to adding insulation, meaning that the more insulation that is installed, the smaller the additional heat-trapping efficiency is. If the attic, walls and/or floors are not insulated at all, then there are substantial benefits from putting in insulation. However, that may not be the case if the home is already insulated.
If the goal is a net-zero energy home, then more insulation is usually better. Otherwise, it may be prudent to choose a level of insulation that results in comfort for the home's occupants – or perhaps the most budget-friendly option if money is tight.
Types of insulation products
As previously mentioned, there are several kinds of insulation on the market today. Here is a quick synopsis of each:
- Fiberglass rolls or blankets. It is the most cost-effective insulation solution and the easiest for homeowners to install. But, it can irritate skin, lose its effectiveness if it gets wet and must be cut carefully to fit around vents, windows and other openings.
- Rigid foam. These pre-cut sheets have about the same R-value as fiberglass, but are easier to handle. However, they cost a little more, must still be cut to accommodate vents and windows, and usually must be covered with another material to meet building codes because it is flammable.
- Blown-in cellulose. This greener insulation alternative can be applied with a pneumatic blowing tool, which allows it to affix itself into nooks and crannies. But, it can settle over time and become less effective; plus, it is more expensive and must be installed by a professional.
- Spray foam. It is applied much like cellulose, but the porous substance actually expands into cracks and openings for a tighter seal. However, this is by far the most expensive approach, and it often must be installed by a pro.
Insulating your home yourself
For those wishing to install fiberglass or rigid foam insulation by themselves, it is essential to obtain safety glasses, work gloves, and a dust mask before proceeding. Here's a quick step-by-step guide:
- Use a utility knife to cut open the packaging.
- While on a safe, flat surface (not tile, carpet or wood), find the unfaced side of the insulation batt. Cut each piece so that it is about an inch wider than the space where it will fit.
- Gently push the cut insulation into the cavity so that it fits snugly. If building codes allow it, the insulation flanges can be stapled to the face or insides of the wall or ceiling joists.
- With rigid foam, cut the sheets to the proper size using a table saw, circular saw or sturdy box cutter. Make sure the pieces fit perfectly inside the cavity.
- Press each piece into the cavity, letting the joists hold them in place.
- Use caulk to seal the edges around the foam sheets.
- Cover the insulation with gypsum board, drywall or another material so that the foam does not present a fire hazard.
Insulation has come a long way from the straw and tapestries that were used during medieval times. However, there is not any need to overspend on insulation products. Instead, it is essential to choose the right material and make sure it is installed properly so that it meets the homeowner's needs. When this happens, the residents of the home will be comfortable and warm – and might even save money on their energy bills.