Types of Home Insulation

Home insulation is one of those things you usually only think about in winter, typically, right after you open your heating bill. Without it, much of the heat your furnace chugs out simply leaks out. But insulation is more than just a heating blanket for your house:

Fibreglass batts

Fibreglass insulation is the type most homeowners are familiar with, particularly Owens Corning’s “Pink” brand. (They use a certain rosy-coloured panther in their North American ads.) Flexible batts are designed to fit snugly between wall studs or floor and ceiling joists, and can easily be cut to length with a knife. Batts have an R-value of about 3 to 4 per inch. But don’t try squeezing extra batts into a narrow gap: it’s the air pockets within the microscopic glass fibres that make it work.

Fibreglass insulation can be a skin and lung irritant so do-it-yourselfers (DIYers) should wear long sleeves, gloves, and a dust mask whenever working with it.

Mineral wool

Mineral wool (aka rock wool) also comes in DIY-friendly batts, though they’re firmer than fibreglass and are more resistant to fire and water. Its density also makes it a great option for soundproofing between rooms or floors in a house. Mineral wool has similar R-values to fibreglass but costs marginally more.

Take the same precautions you would when working with fibreglass insulation.

Polystyrene boards

Polystyrene boards come in a variety of colours (most commonly pink and blue) and have R-values up to 4 or 5 per inch. They’re often used in conjunction with batt insulation to achieve a total-desired R-value. (Affixed directly to a basement wall, for example, with batts then overlaid between the studs.)

Board insulation can also be attached to the exterior of the wall then covered with siding to improve the R-value of uninsulated or under-insulated walls. Polystyrene produces toxic smoke so fire codes require that on interior applications it be covered with non-flammable materials like drywall.

Polyurethane foam

Polyurethane foam insulation is sprayed directly onto walls, attic floors or the underside of roof sheathing, forming a seamless air barrier after curing. The downside is that these types of products can only be installed by trained professionals. Contact manufacturers or industry associations like The Spray Urethane Foam Alliance (US) or the Canadian Urethane Foam Contractors Association for installers near you.

There are number of different brands on the market including Icynene, Sealection 500, Walltite, Heatlok, and Polar Foam with R-values range from about 4 to 4.5 per inch.

Loose fill

Another option exclusively for the pros is to have loose fibreglass, mineral wool, or cellulose (shredded paper) particles “blown-in” to attics or wall cavities. All have an R-value of 3-4 per inch. These are a good option for insulating existing walls with little damage—the insulation is inserted through small holes drilled into the wall—but there can be a problem with the insulation settling to the bottom over time.


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