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February 6, 2018 > Get cozy with the right insulation

Get cozy with the right insulation

By David R. Newman

Insulation is the unsung hero of a house. Often times it?s installed and forgotten about, never to see the light of day again. But choosing the right insulation is an important step in creating a cozy home environment, blocking out cold, wind, noise, and moisture, and helping you save on energy costs.

The best time to consider insulating your home is during new construction, or during a remodel, when the walls, floors, and ceilings are open and exposed. Says Liz McCarty, Senior Marketing Communications Manager at CertainTeed Insulation, ?Make sure you get the right insulation installed in the right areas to maximize your home?s comfort. Walls, attics, basements ? there are special considerations for each. The key thing to remember is that you only get one chance to get it right, as upgrading later can be difficult and expensive.?

Insulation comes with an R-Value, which is a measure of thermal resistance. This is the ability of the insulation to prevent heat from escaping through the walls or roof of your home. Your home?s optimum R-Value is primarily based on where you live (the colder the climate, the higher the R-Value). Some companies, including CertainTeed, as well as the Department of Energy, provide online tools to help you determine the R-Value for each area of your home and, based on that, offer product suggestions.

The most common type of insulation is called ?batt and roll? or ?blanket? insulation. These rolls are pre-cut to standard sizes and are easy to install between joists or rafters. They are made from three main materials: fiberglass (sand and recycled glass), rockwool (literally, wool made from rocks ? liquid magma is spun into fine threads, kind of like cotton candy), and cotton (also known as ?blue jeans?). Installing batt and roll insulation can be a fairly simple DIY project.

Fiberglass is by far the most common type of batt and roll insulation. It is widely available and very affordable at an average price of 70 cents per foot. Rockwool and cotton are more expensive, averaging about $1.10 per square foot, but also have higher R-Values. They are often used for soundproofing, as they are denser and fit more snugly. They are also more fire-resistant. Some batt and roll insulation comes with special membranes that reduce moisture and allow air flow to help mitigate the growth of mold and mildew.

Of course, when people think of insulation, they often think of their attic. Says Michael Ziegler, General Manager at Valley Heating, Cooling, and Electrical in San Jose, ?The most critical part of improving the whole energy efficiency of your home is the attic insulation. That?s where the biggest loss of heat occurs, so you want to try and put a cap on it.?

Loose-fill insulation is the most effective way to insulate your attic. This is a fluffy, shredded material that is blown out a big tube, and comes in two flavors: fiberglass and cellulose (paper). Typically treated with fire retardant and insect repellant, loose-fill insulation can easily fill hard-to-reach nooks and crannies. Many home improvement centers and tool rental stores rent insulation blowers for confident DIYers.

The standard in new construction in the Bay Area for attic insulation is R44, which is equivalent to 16 1/2 inches of loose-fill insulation! For older homes, Ziegler suggests taking a quick peek in your attic to assess your insulation needs. If you can see the rafters, it may be time to add some more filling. ?In many cases the insulation has settled to below three inches. Sometimes when people do work in your attic, like putting in canned lights, the insulation gets moved around and smashed down.?

Spray foam is another form of insulation and is often used for crawlspaces or hard-to-reach areas of the house. This is sprayed on as a liquid, which then expands as it dries, creating an air-tight seal. With a high R-Value, spray foam comes in two types: open cell and closed cell. Closed cell is the denser and more common of the two types.

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) are the most expensive insulation option, but they?re also the most energy efficient. Usually sold in 4x8 foot sheets, these boards will insulate an entire wall surface, including the framing. These are used mostly in new construction with a contractor.

Radiant Barrier Foil is another option for those seeking additional energy savings. Usually installed in the attic, this material differs from most insulation in that it reflects radiant heat away from your home, as opposed to absorbing it. At 25 cents per foot, this is a great way to add even more protection to an attic, and can be easily applied.

Most insulation projects only take one to two days to complete, depending on the area covered. Sometimes, in the case of rodent infestations, the insulation needs to be completely removed and replaced with new material.

So raise a glass to insulation, the under appreciated building material that does so much work. Your coziness depends on it.

For more information, contact Valley Heating, Cooling, and Electrical at (408) 294-6290 or or CertainTeed at (800) 782-8777 or

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