Insulation Products

Learn about the different types of insulation typically used in residential construction.

What Kind of Insulation Will Be In the Home?

foam insulation creates an air barrier

foam insulation creates an air barrier

Figure C -- Spray Foam Insulation

There are five products that are commonly used in a home insulating system:

Fiberglass — a thermal insulator composed of tiny glass fibers, which is perfect for walls. It usually comes in the form of batts, which are pre-cut pieces of fiberglass that are designed to fit directly into the stud bays of your walls. Because of their pre-cut sizes, fiberglass batts make for a tight fit that's perfect for preventing any heat loss or air leakage.

Tip: If you do work with fiberglass insulation, be sure to wear work gloves, a long sleeve shirt, long pants, dust mask and safety goggles.

Cellulose — This type of insulation is another thermal (like fiberglass) insulator that's perfect for floors and walls, however, it can be used in almost any part of your home. Made from recycled newspaper, cellulose insulation is often preferred by those with environmental concerns. During the production process fire retardants are added, and then it's compressed, packaged and ready to go. Cellulose insulation does cost more than fiberglass, but it can be more energy efficient, which can save you money in the long run.

Did You Know? Thomas Jefferson actually used a form of cellulose insulation in Montecello more than 200 years ago, so it's been around a long time.

Spray Foam — Foam insulation is primarily used to create an air barrier for your home. This means it will do a great job at filling the tiny cracks and gaps that can create air leakage. The foam, which is applied as a liquid, actually expands to fill in the gaps and holes. One of the best locations for spray foam is around windows. Because of its ability to adhere to hard-to-reach places, foam insulation is more effective as an air barrier than fiberglass or cellulose insulation.

Note: Fiberglass, cellulose and foam are all three are great thermal insulators, but they work best on the inside of your home. The next two insulators work best on the outside of your home.

Rigid Boards — This fourth form of thermal insulation can be composed of either foam or fiberglass and can be used in many applications — both inside or outside the home. Rigid boards (figure D) come in thicknesses of 1/2" up to a 1-1/2" and are generally used in the exterior of the studs, whether they're wood-frame or steel-frame buildings.

Because of their durability, rigid foam boards can provide quality insulation over a long period of time while also providing protection against moisture. The biggest advantage of rigid foam is that it will stay consistent and its moisture properties. It ranks extremely high when it comes to keeping moisture out of a house.

In addition to providing insulation, rigid boards are also effective at protecting your home's foundation from water.

Vapor Barriers — These are plastic materials that are used to literally "wrap" your home. For this reason, they are also extremely effective at keeping moisture at bay. A vapor barrier keeps the moisture from coming through the wall, getting into the house so the walls won't get damp.

These are five common insulators that will protect your home from heat loss, air leakage and moisture damage. Keep in mind that all of the insulation in your home is part of a system, which means your builder may use a combination of these five choices to fully insulate your new home.

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