Insulation is a vital part of making your home energy efficient. It impacts both conduction and air flow – critical sources of heat loss in homes.
Choosing the best insulation material for your home comes down to budget and space. But it’s important to understand the different types of insulation before you buy.
Fiberglass insulation is the most commonly used insulation material. It can be found in homes across the country and is an affordable option for most homeowners. It works by trapping pockets of air to limit the movement of heat in and out of your home. This keeps it warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
It is non-combustible, making it ideal for insulating the walls and floors of your home. It is also highly effective at reducing sound transmission, making it an excellent choice for homes with a lot of noise.
Typically, fiberglass is made of plastic reinforced with tiny glass fibers. The glass is spun into strands while still hot, and then coated with a liquid binder. This gives the strands their puffy appearance and helps them hold their shape when they are installed. The strands are then placed between wood and steel studs or into gaps in wall frames. They are then covered with plywood or other building materials and can be painted.
The most popular way to install fiberglass is in the form of loose-fill insulation, which is blown into walls and attics. This is a relatively quick and inexpensive installation process, but it does not cover all cracks and crevices. It is also susceptible to moisture, which can cause it to sag or even degrade over time.
Rigid foam boards can be a more efficient solution for insulating walls. This insulation is available in various thicknesses, allowing it to be fitted between studs and joists. The foam can also be clad with drywall or other finishing materials, and it is effective at blocking moisture that might enter a home’s framing.
There are a number of eco-friendly alternatives to fiberglass insulation, including recycled denim, sheep’s wool, cellulose, and Aerogel (a material consisting mostly of air). However, it is important to keep in mind that these products can be irritants to the skin and lungs when handled. Therefore, it is a good idea to hire an experienced installer for this type of work.
Mineral wool is a type of insulation made from natural elements, recycled industrial materials, and renewable resources. It is also non-combustible and provides superior sound abatement and resistance. Also known as rock wool or slag wool, it is typically available in blanket insulation and loose-fill options, offering R-values of between 2.8 to 3.5. Unlike fiberglass, mineral wool is impervious to moisture and resists mold and mildew. It is also a fireproof and vapor barrier that can delay the spread of a fire, giving firefighters more time to extinguish the flames and save lives. Mineral wool is composed of 85 percent recycled steel slag and 15 percent raw basalt, making it environmentally friendly. It also resists the formation of toxins and formaldehyde during the manufacturing process, and is free of asbestos and other health hazards.
Like cellulose and fiberglass, mineral wool is expensive compared to other insulation materials. This is largely due to its state-of-the-art manufacturing process that requires powerful furnaces and spinning chambers to create the material, which is then rolled into batts or shaped into boards for installation. The increased density of mineral wool results in higher thermal performance, preventing convection and radiation more effectively than other types of insulation.
While mineral wool is a great insulation option, it is important to keep in mind that it doesn’t work well in all climates. It can be prone to condensation in moist regions and may require a vapor barrier when installed in basements, as well as good air flow to prevent a buildup of warm air that could lead to a rapid cooldown and moisture in the home.
Mineral wool is also a dense material that can be difficult to cut with common tools, which may slow the installation process. In addition, it is heavier than fiberglass and other similar insulation options, which makes it more expensive to ship and handle during an attic or roof installation. The increased weight can also make it more challenging to install in ceilings and roofs that have a low slope. Additionally, the density of rock wool can make it more difficult to work with when cutting around fixtures or vents.
Cellulose is the best insulation material for your home if you’re looking for eco-friendly options. This material is made from recycled newspaper and denim, and it is sprayed with a chemical that keeps pests and bugs away. It is typically blown into attic floors or other horizontal structural spaces, but you can also spread it by hand with gloved hands if needed in small areas. The main drawback of cellulose is that it is susceptible to moisture, so it requires a vapor barrier.
Mineral wool is another eco-friendly option for insulating your home. There are two types of mineral wool: rock wool, which is made from a synthetic textile, and slag wool, which is produced from the waste material that comes out of steel mills. Mineral wool is fireproof and offers a high R-value, making it an excellent choice for wood-framed structures. It is most commonly used in blanket or loose-fill insulation, but it can also be found in foam board.
Foam boards are rigid panels of insulation that can be used in most parts of the home. They are made of man-made products and eco-friendly materials, like cellulose, sheep’s wool, or Aerogel (a material that is 90% air). Foam boards offer good thermal resistance and help reduce heat conduction between structural elements in your house, such as walls.
Polystyrene is a waterproof thermoplastic foam that insulates well against both heat and sound. It is available in expanded (EPS) and extruded (XEPS, also known as Styrofoam) forms. The higher R-value of XEPS makes it a more expensive option than EPS. Polystyrene is flammable and needs to be coated in a fireproofing chemical called Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD). HBCD has been linked to various health problems, so you should avoid this type of insulation if possible.
Spray foam insulation is a great option for sealing gaps and cracks in your home, but it can be more difficult to install than fiberglass. It is available in both open and closed-cell foam constructions, with the latter being denser and offering a higher R-value. If you’re considering using spray foam, it’s a good idea to hire a professional installer, since the process is messy and requires careful aiming.
Sheep’s wool is an eco-friendly and sustainable insulation material that provides good thermal efficiency at a lower cost than many man-made insulation products on the market. It is a natural fibre that can also provide excellent acoustic properties. This makes it ideal for homes with timber frames and other structures that need to reduce sound transmission. It has a naturally fire resistant property as the fibres will char and not burn in the event of a fire, and it is also self-extinguishing.
Like cellulose and mineral wool, it is also non-toxic and does not release harmful particulate matter into the air when disturbed. This is an important consideration as fiberglass and spray foam insulation can release toxic particulate matter into the air that can wreak havoc on a person’s health, especially when they are sick or elderly.
The wool fibres are hygroscopic, which means that they will absorb and exude moisture to maintain the optimum thermal performance of the insulation. This feature helps to reduce the accumulation of excessive moisture in a building which can cause mold and mildew and lead to other health problems. It also regulates humidity by absorbing moisture when the atmosphere is damp and releasing it when the atmosphere is dry.
As a natural product, it requires a minimal amount of energy to produce. It takes far less energy than plastic insulation and significantly less than rock or glass mineral wool. This equates to a reduced environmental impact as it cuts out the need for fossil fuels and other chemicals in production and transportation, and it uses a fraction of the energy needed to make man made alternatives.
As an added benefit, sheep’s wool is easy to work with. It is a safe material and not as thick as other options, which makes it easier to install. It also does not require protective clothing, unlike glass or rock wool, which can irritate the skin and damage the lungs. This is an important factor for people with health issues who are renovating their homes or who have children. It is also more pleasant to touch than fiberglass and spray foam, which can irritate the eyes, nose and throat.