Basic Forms of Thermal Insulation:

BLANKETS, in the form of batts or rolls, are flexible products made from mineral fibers. They are available in widths suited to standard spacings of wall studs and attic or floor joists. Continuous rolls can be hand-cut and trimmed to fit. 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.

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Figure 51

BLOWN-IN loose-fill insulation includes loose fibers or fiber pellets that are blown into building cavities or attics using special pneumatic equipment. Another form includes fibers that are co-sprayed with an adhesive to make them resistant to settling. The blown-in material can provide additional resistance to air infiltration if the insulation is sufficiently dense.

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Figure 52

FOAMED-IN-PLACE polyurethane foam insulation can be applied by a professional applicator using special equipment to meter, mix, and spray into place. Polyurethane foam can also help to reduce air leaks.

RIGID INSULATION is made from fibrous materials or plastic foams and is pressed or extruded into board-like forms and molded pipe-coverings. These provide thermal and acoustical insulation, strength with low weight, and coverage with few heat loss paths. Such boards may be faced with a reflective foil that reduces heat flow when next to an air space.

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Figure 53

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 sometimes used in buildings to reduce summer heat gain and winter heat loss. They are more effective in hot climates than in cool climates. All radiant barriers must have a low emittance (0.1 or less) and high reflectance (0.9 or more).

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Figure 54


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 or 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 foamed-in-place polyurethane foam. Figure 49 provides a concise summary of appropriate applications for the various types of thermal insulation.

It is important to know that 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.

In cold climates, some low-density loose-fill insulation allows air to circulate between the top of your ceiling and the attic. This air circulation can decrease the effective thermal resistance of the insulation and may be significant for regions with more than 5000 heating degree days, or north of a line running from New York to   Pittsburgh to St. Louis to Topeka to Santa Fe to Reno and up to Portland, Oregon. You can eliminate this air circulation by covering the loose-fill insulation with a blanket insulation product or with a higher density loose-fill insulation.

No matter what kind of insulation you buy, check the information on the product label to make sure that the product is suitable for the intended application. A good insulation label should have a clearly stated R-value, and information about health and safety issues. An informative label should state:

  • The type of insulation material;

  • The R-value (measured at 75F);

  • The types of spaces that can be insulated;

  • Safety precautions in application and use, including any fire-hazard related restrictions;

  • The quantity in the package;

  • The name and address of the manufacturer or distributor.

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