Having an adequately insulated home is vital to stay comfortable and keep your energy bills low. However, it can be difficult to know exactly what type of insulation to get and where you should insulate. To help, read our guide to everything you need to know about insulation.
What is Insulation?
Insulation is material that traps warmth inside a building when it’s cold outside and decreases the amount of heat entering the building when it is warm.
R-value measures the effectiveness of insulation. The higher the R-value, the more resistant insulation is to heat and cold flow, and the higher the performance.
Why is Insulation Important?
Lower Your Energy Bills
Suitably insulating your home can significantly lower your energy bills. Poorly insulated homes leak hot air in winter and cold air in winter. This leakage forces you to run your heating and cooling systems for longer to maintain a comfortable home temperature.
For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that homeowners can save 15% on their heating and cooling costs by correctly insulating attics, floors, crawl spaces, and basements.
Protect the Environment
In Canada, residential homes account for 12.7% of overall greenhouse gas emissions. Better insulating more homes would mean fewer fossil fuels burned for heating and cooling, protecting the environment.
Increased Comfort and Health Benefits
A well-insulated home keeps a consistent temperature throughout the year, which is more comfortable than constant fluctuations. Furthermore, good quality insulation reduces the amount of moisture inside. Excess moisture leads to dampness, which has several negative health implications, including allergic reactions, skin rashes, and asthma.
Where Should You Insulate?
The third thing that you should know about insulation is what parts of your home you should prioritize when insulating.
It is vital to insulate the attic since heat rises and will escape through it if it is not appropriately insulated. Doing so will significantly push up your energy bills. You will need to heat more to maintain a comfortable temperature.
As well as the attic, it is vital to ensure that your exterior walls are well insulated. Insulated exterior walls will put a blanket-like barrier between you and the outside world, reducing airflow and maintaining comfortable internal temperatures.
Interior wall insulation can lower your energy bill by reducing air transfer between rooms. With good interior wall insulation and with the help of an HVAC zoning system and smart thermostats, you can heat and cool only rooms you regularly use.
Adding insulation to flooring, especially over unheated areas such as basements, can stop heated or cooled air from escaping and help maintain a comfortable home temperature. Also, insulated floors can help reduce noise, especially in multi-level homes.
Properly insulating an unfinished basement can help retain heated and cooled air in your home. If your basement is finished, adding insulation can render it a habitable living space, adding extra space to your house.
A crawl space is a narrow space between the ground and the ground floor of a home. Adding insulation to a crawlspace can retain heated and cooled air in the house. Also, since crawlspaces often contain pipes, insulating them can ensure that pipes do not freeze in winter.
Around Water Pipes
Insulating around water pipes stops them from freezing in winter and prevents heat loss, leading to lower energy bills.
What Insulation Materials Are There?
The fourth thing you should know about insulation is the type of materials that are available.
Fibreglass insulation is made from fine glass fibres. This insulation type is inexpensive, easy to install, and moisture resistant, which is useful in high-humidity areas. However, it is a lung and skin irritant, so you must always wear protective clothing when handling it.
Cellulose insulation is composed of recycled paper products that have been treated with additives to make them fire and rodent resistant. As a result, cellulose insulation is the most environmentally-friendly type of insulation available. However, it is more expensive than fibreglass insulation. It can also absorb moisture more easily, meaning it can sometimes mould and rot.
Foam insulation is generally made using types of plastic, such as polystyrene or polyurethane. This type of insulation is sprayed into place or made into foam boards. Since it is sprayed into place, it can seal all awkward spaces and eliminate air leakage. However, it is more expensive than fibreglass insulation.
Mineral wool insulation is human-made insulation made from natural stone fibres. The fibres are sourced from volcanic rock, melted at around 1,600°C, and then spun into wool and bound together. Mineral wool insulation is naturally moisture-resistant and will not mould easily. Furthermore, mineral wool is non-combustible, does not conduct heat, and can resist temperatures above 1,000°C, making it highly fire-resistant.
However, protective gear, including a mask, must be used when installing mineral wool insulation as it can irritate. Also, it is more expensive than fibreglass insulation.
Denim insulation is made from denim cotton and recycled jeans. This type of insulation is non-irritating and non-toxic, meaning you can install it without protective clothing. Also, since it is made of recycled materials, it is an environmentally-friendly option. However, it usually is more expensive than other materials such as fibreglass.
What Types of Insulation Are There?
The fifth thing you need to know about insulation is the types of insulation available. Generally, you select the type of insulation after you have chosen the material.
Loose-fill insulation is a type of insulation blown or sprayed into place. This type of insulation’s main advantage is that it can easily reach difficult-to-reach or oddly-shaped areas, especially in attics. The only real disadvantage is that it is heavy and could cause the ceiling to sag if the structure is weak.
The most common types of materials used for loose-fill insulation are cellulose, fibreglass, and mineral wool.
Spray Foam Insulation
Spray foam insulation is an insulation that expands and hardens to fill gaps. Therefore, like loose-fill insulation, it is used to insulate hard-to-reach or oddly-shaped areas. After it has set, it can be trimmed and painted. Foam insulation is generally made using types of plastic, such as polystyrene or polyurethane.
Insulation batts are pre-cut sections of insulation designed to be easily installed, with or without professional help. They are one of the most affordable insulation types since you can install them yourself. However, you cannot use them for hard-to-reach or oddly-shaped areas.
Insulation rolls are rolls of insulation that you roll out between the framing. This type of insulation leaves fewer gaps between sections than insulation batts. It is perfect for areas where long, continuous insulation is needed. However, like insulation batts, it cannot access hard-to-reach or oddly-shaped areas.
Foam Board Insulation
Foam board insulation is a common type of insulation. It consists of rigid panels of insulation with high R-values that you can use anywhere throughout the home. Foam boards are one of the most affordable insulation types, but you cannot use them in hard-to-reach or oddly-shaped areas like insulation batts and rolls.
Factors to Consider When Installing Insulation
Finally, there are additional factors to consider before choosing the right type of insulation for you.
As mentioned, the R-value relates to the effectiveness of insulation. The higher the R-value, the more resistant insulation is to heat flow, and the higher the performance. Therefore, go for insulation with the highest R-value when possible.
Different materials have different R-values, and often even other brands of the same fabric will have a different value. Always check the R-value before deciding on insulation material.
Your local climate will also determine the best R-value for your insulation needs. If you live in a mild climate, insulation with a lower R-value may suffice. However, you will need a higher R-value to maintain a comfortable home temperature if local temperatures are more extreme.
In Ontario, for example, there are two zones, each with different R-value recommendations for different areas of the house:
|Ceiling with attic space||R-60||R-70||R-80|
|Ceiling without attic space||R-31||R-35||R-40|
|Walls above ground||R-24||R-27||R-34|
|Ceiling with attic space||R-60||R-70||R-80|
|Ceiling without attic space||R-31||R-35||R-40|
|Walls above ground||R-24||R-32||R-39|
The cost of insulation varies depending on the type and material. Therefore, remember to compare the R-value cost to decide whether a specific type of insulation is right for you.
Different types of insulation have different environmental impacts. For example, cellulose insulation is the most environmentally-friendly insulation material because it is primarily recycled material. Other materials harm the environment more, which should be considered.
The Design of Your Home
The design of your home also plays a role in which type of insulation you can use. If your home has an intricate design, you should use spray or loose-foam insulation, which are more suitable for accessing difficult areas. However, if your home is in a more conventional style, insulation batts or foam bords may be a better option.
Conclusion: Much to Know About Insulation
In conclusion, there is a great deal to know about insulation. While the concept is simple, in reality selecting the right insulation for your home is complicated. There are many factors to consider, including the type of insulation, the materials used, the cost, environmental impact, and your local climate.
We recommend talking to an insulation expert who will advise you on the best type of insulation and material and install it safely for you. For instance, our Home Energy Services experts provide a full range of home insulation services to increase the comfort of an existing home or new build.