Insulation provides resistance to heat flow and by extension, lowers your heating and cooling costs. Furthermore, it helps make your home a comfortable temperature year round. There are a few different types of insulation, each offering their own advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we will be discussing how insulation works, and the four best types to suit a homeowner’s different needs and requirements.
How Insulation Works
To understand how insulation works, one needs to understand heat flow, which is comprised of three simple mechanisms: conduction, convection and radiation. Conduction is how heat moves through materials. Convection is the way it circulates through liquids and gases. Radiation heat travels in a straight line and heats anything solid in its path that absorbs its energy.
The most common insulation materials essentially work by slowing conductive heat flow. Radiant barriers and reflective insulation systems work by reducing radiant heat gain. Irrespective of the mechanism, heat flows from warmer to cooler until there is no more difference in temperature. In winter, that means heat flows directly from a heated living space to adjacent unheated rooms. This lost heat is then forced to be replaced by your heating system, which greatly increases your utility bills. Here are four different types of insulation that can help to keep your house consistently warm in winter and help to reduce expensive utility bills.
Fiberglass insulation is commonly used in two different types of insulation: blanket which comes in batts and rolls, and loose fill. It is comprised of plastic reinforced by tiny glass fibers. The composition of fiberglass insulation gives it extra strength while also improving its insulation capabilities.
- Can be done DIY (in some cases)
- Suited for spaces that are relatively free from obstructions
- When in contact with the skin, small particles can lodge in pores, causing itchiness, rashes and irritation
- Still allows for some air flow, which can cause high energy bills and draughty rooms
- Fiberglass can trap allergens, dust, and moisture, which can sometimes lead to mold growth
Cellulose insulation can either be loose-fill or blow-in. It can also be used in either new construction or existing homes. Cellulose insulation is typically placed in enclosed existing walls, new walls and unfinished attic floors.
- Cellulose is one of the eco-friendlier options
- It is relatively inexpensive
- It provides resistance to mold, pests, and fire
- Cellulose needs to be kept dry as it easily absorbs water
- If cellulose insulation absorbs water, the chemical fire treatment is destroyed
- Cellulose is much heavier than fiberglass
Rigid insulation is another popular insulation choice. The most common materials used in rigid insulation are: polyisocyanurate, expanded polystyrene, bead board, EPS, XPS, rigid fiberglass and phenolic foam boards.
- Rigid insulation provides effective thermal comfort all year round
- Air moves around rigid insulation, not through it, which makes it a good choice for air sealing your home
- It lasts longer than loose fill insulation and maintains its form and properties
- The thermal comfort and durability of rigid insulation comes with a costly price
- Rigid fiberglass can be hard to find and is not always readily available
- Some of the materials used in rigid insulation may degrade when exposed to sunlight
There are a few different types of foam insulation, but one of the most common types is polyurethane foam, which is sprayed into ceilings and walls. It quickly expands and forms an air tight seal. You can use it to insulate a new home or add it to the insulation of an existing one. It is the ideal insulation to use when dealing with small crevices and cracks.
- Foam insulation expands naturally after applying it, which helps seal off any crack or crevices
- It does not wear and tear as easily as normal fiberglass insulation
- Foam insulation keeps away pests, mold and mildew
- Due to its energy efficiency and durability, it can be more expensive than other options
- Can be difficult to apply and is a job best left to professional insulation installers
- Even when carried out by professionals, foam insulation is tricky to install and it is easy to miss the target