Insulating a home or a building is both a necessity and a positive investment. Buildings need to be insulated to make them habitable and ensure comfortable temperatures. Insulating homes and other buildings results in massive savings in terms of reduced fuel expenses. Insulation can also help in qualifying for incentives or grants given by the government for eco-friendly structures.
Thermal insulations perform according to basic principles – heat moves from warm to cold areas. Thermal insulation serves as the barrier between the heated space and the unheated space. The resistance of the material used as thermal insulation determines the length of time for the heat to transfer to the colder side. On a cold winter day, heat inside the building naturally wants to seep outside. On a hot summer day, the heat outside the building tends toward seeping inside. This natural process of heat seeking is slowed down by the insulation material.
There are many forms of insulation materials available on the market. Some of the most-used materials for insulation are the following:
- Batts and blankets – They are the most commonly used forms of insulation. They come in rolls that are convenient for carrying and transporting. They can be made from a number of materials. They are often referred to as “the pink stuff”—the large sheets of fluff that you see lining the walls of attics or unfinished basements (incredibly itchy to the touch). Rodents like to nest in batts, and unwanted air can enter through the spaces between the batts.
- Fiberglass batts and blankets – These common types of batts usually come in foil-faced or paper-faced versions with flanges for easy stapling. Some brands contain formaldehyde and give off gas over time.
- Rockwool batts and blankets – They have more fire resistance but they retain moisture.
- Cotton batts – They come in easy-to-cut rolls. They are more expensive compared with other batts.
- Loose-fill insulation – Also known as blown insulation, it is made up of fluffy fiber strands blown inside walls and attics with blower machines. Loose-fill is usually made of fiberglass or cellulose. It must be professionally applied (due to the heavy equipment required to apply the material), but it is great for small or hard-to-reach spaces.
- Loose-fill fiberglass – Lightweight application but with limited effectiveness.
- Loose-fill cellulose – Performs at all temperatures but often too heavy for attic use.
- Polystyrene SIP (structural insulated panel) – A composite building material consisting of an insulating layer of core in between layers of board. It is lightweight and easy to install (though not as adaptable to unique spaces as blown insulation). SIP can be cut to fit wall penetrations and around pipes, but watch out for gaps between boards that could allow air to penetrate.
- Spray foam – Provides good insulation as it fills all cavities; however, it can be more expensive and contain irritating chemicals.
The choice of insulation material must be based primarily on the following indicators:
- Thermal resistance – The material must be a poor conductor of heat.
- Acoustic properties – The insulation material must reduce the transfer of both airborne and impact sound.
- Heat storage capacity – The material should ensure that the temperature inside the building will not fluctuate.
- Breathability – The insulation must allow vapor to diffuse rapidly to the cold temperature side to prevent structural damage and mold growth.
- Fire resistance – The insulation material must not contribute to the spread of fire nor must it release toxic fumes when subjected to heat.
- Ecological properties – The insulation material should not contribute to environmental degradation and damages.
Make your decision with care, carefully weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each. The best insulation material will be determined by the budget and needs of the building owner as well as the size, shape, and purpose of the structure.