By John Semas
Often times when homeowners consider doing a major remodel, the thought of upgrading insulation doesn’t come to mind. Insulation isn’t glamorous like crown molding or new granite countertops, but often is one of the most important upgrades a homeowner can do. If you have ever taken apart a wall that was built 30 years ago or more you will notice all types of different insulation. The main types of insulation that homeowners encounter now are fiberglass batt insulation, blown in cellulose insulation, and becoming more common is open and closed cell foam insulation. The cost varies from product to product, but what everyone should know is how insulation effectiveness is measured.
There are three key ways to measure insulation effectiveness:
- Air Barrier: An air barrier controls the flow of air between conditioned and unconditioned spaces. Some forms of insulation do not qualify as air barriers (e.g. fiberglass insulation).
- Vapor Barrier: A vapor barrier does not allow diffusion of moisture between spaces. Certain types of foam insulation qualify as vapor barriers, while others qualify as vapor retarders.
- R-Value: R-value is a rating of thermal resistance. Increasing the thickness of an insulating layer increases the thermal resistance (R-value). Adding R-value, however, does not create a true air barrier.
The one major buzz in insulation is the use of open and closed cell foam. The use of foam has been around for decades, but has recently become more affordable for residential use.
The differences between the two are explained below:
Open-cell foam is soft. The walls (or cells) of the bubbles are broken, and air fills these spaces. This makes the foam soft and pliable, similar to a rubber ball. The R-value of the insulation is related to the value of the air inside these broken bubbles. Open cell insulation density is up to one pound per cubic foot.
- Closed-cell foam is solid, as the cells of the bubbles remain intact, which makes the product rigid. The cells are filled with a gas that makes the R-value higher than that of open-cell foam. Closed-cell foam has varying degrees of hardness, depending its density, but is typically 1.5 pounds to 4 pounds per cubic foot.
Whatever the size of your remodel remember that it’s often what is not seen that is the most important part. If your remodel offers the opportunity to upgrade your insulation, think about the benefits and remember: when was the last time your granite countertops saved you money on a monthly basis?