Fiberglass, Spray Foam, or Cellulose: Which Home Insulation Should You Choose?

Home insulation

It has long been known that home insulation comes with many benefits. For one, it helps maintain a comfortable temperature in your home, all year round. For another, it reduces dampness in your basement or crawlspace, keeping your home at lower risk of mold infestation. But more importantly, it dramatically lowers your monthly energy bills, as well as reduces your carbon footprint.

Now, you’re probably considering installing insulation materials in your home – but, which material should you choose? After all, each insulation type comes with a unique set of benefits. So, to help you decide, here’s a comprehensive comparison of different types of home insulation materials:

Fiberglass Insulation

Made from thin, lightweight glass fibers, fiberglass is a cost-effective and practical option for insulating a home. Its millions of bound fibers trap pockets of air and prevent heat from travelling through the material. These fibers also absorb and reduce even high levels of noise. It is fire resistant, as well as moisture resistant, on account of its glass-made fibers. Fiberglass insulation may come in various forms, such as batts and rolls, and it is commonly installed in attics, floors, crawl spaces, and basements.

  • Value Energy Savings – When we talk of fiber glass, it is important to keep the thermal resistance or R-value – the measure of resistance to heat flow through a given thickness – in mind. Standard fiberglass batts have an R-value between R-2.9 and R-3.8 per inch of thickness. But high-performance fiberglass insulations, such as the Blow-in-Blanket System (BIBS), offer the highest R-values attainable today. Remember, the higher the insulation R-value, the greater the heat flow resistance, and of course, this means more energy savings, as well. Just a bit of a reminder, though: the recommended R-value varies from region to region. So, the R-value where you live may be higher or lower, depending on the climate in the area. The specific location in the home in which you will install the fiberglass also affects the R-value recommendations.
  • Installation Requirements – To work properly, fiberglass insulation requires air sealing and walling-in. But, it doesn’t entail drying or curing time, thus, it doesn’t introduce any moisture into the wall or basement cavity.
  • Mold Resistance – While no material can fully prevent mold growth, fiberglass insulation is not a food source for health-harming mold spores. Plus, as mentioned above, it doesn’t readily absorb moisture, so it can help keep your basement, attic, or crawlspace dry all year long.
  • Sustainability – Fiberglass insulation often contains 40 to 60% recycled materials, depending on the manufacturer. It is also reusable at its end of life, and it doesn’t give off any potent greenhouse gasses.

Cellulose Insulation

Cellulose insulation materials are composed of cellulose fibers made from paper, wood, or paperboard stock. It is a “blown-in” type of insulation which creates a virtual blanket around your attic or crawlspace for superior thermal efficiency.

  • Value Energy Savings – With an R-value of approximately R-3.5 per inch of thickness, cellulose insulation has a substantial thermal resistance ideal for most regions. What’s even more notable is its superb air-blocking quality that prevents air leakage through cracks, gaps, and voids in the wall or flooring. Air leakage is responsible for around one-third of a home’s heat loss; so, with cellulose insulation, your heating system doesn’t have to work too hard during colder months.
  • Installation Requirements – During installation, cellulose acts like a liquid, wrapping itself around the attic or basement walls and floors. It fills nooks and gaps that fiberglass batt insulation can’t, thus, it prevents air leakage. But like fiberglass, cellulose insulation still requires air sealing for optimal performance.
  • Combustibility – Cellulose material is commonly treated with chemicals before installation to make it non-combustible. The problem, however, is that the application is not standardized. In some cases, the fire resistance of the material wears off over time, putting the property at some degree of risk.
  • Mold Resistance – As it acts like a liquid during installation, cellulose insulation is a possible food source of mold spores, unless it is properly dried and cured. The risk level of mold growth when using this insulation type depends mainly on the quality of installation; hence, DIY installation is rarely encouraged.

Spray Foam Insulation

Spray foam is a chemical-based insulation that contractors mix on-site to create the foam which they apply with a sprayer into wall cavities, crawlspaces, and attics. It is available in two options: the open cell foam and closed cell foam insulation. The latter is the more popular choice, as it is denser, stronger, and has a higher R-value. Once it becomes solid, the foam does not only serve as a powerful insulator, it also strengthens the area of application. The open-cell foam has lower R-value and is not water resistant, but it is more affordable; thus, some installers still prefer it for certain applications.

  • Value Energy Savings – Closed cell foam has a higher R-value (average of R-6.0) than other insulation materials. This is because, when installed, the foam expands up to 100 times its original size, filling every little space in the area. Plus, the foam doesn’t sag or settle, so, it prevents any gaps which would allow air leakage. With closed cell spray foam insulation, you can save a significant amount on your monthly energy bills.
  • Installation Requirements – Unlike cellulose and fiberglass, closed cell foam insulation no longer requires air sealing – that is, for as long as the contractors or installers have mixed and applied it properly. Many factors can influence the foam quality. These aspects include the mixing process, the age of chemicals, and the air temperature and humidity in the area during installation.
  • Combustibility – According to Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance (SPFA), spray foam insulation ignites at 700°F. To lower the risk of a house fire, you may ask your contractor to install a thermal or ignition barrier that can separate the insulated area from the occupied spaces in your home.
  • Mold Resistance – Spray foam insulation is made from chemicals; thus, it isn’t a source of food for mold spores. As mentioned earlier, closed cell spray foams are dense enough to insulate air and prevent drafts. They can keep the humidity of the area in check, preventing any mold from growing speedily.
  • Sustainability – While you can lower your carbon footprint by using fiberglass and cellulose insulation, you can’t say the same with spray foam materials. They are chemical-based products; thus, they are not reusable and there is no assurance that they don’t give off dangerous greenhouse gasses.

The Importance of Proper Installation

Insulating house atticThere is no such thing as the best insulator, according to the Building Sciences Corporation (BSC). All the insulation materials work efficiently when properly installed and air sealed. So, apart from looking for the materials with features that meet your home needs, you need to search for a reliable installer, as well.

A+ Insulation, for instance, not only has the skill and know-how to properly install various types of home insulation, it is also well-versed with the material that best suits your needs. Professional contractors, after all, can guide you in selecting the insulation type that will provide optimal efficiency and value for money. Given the fact that all types can, in fact, provide efficient service when properly applied, your goal is to maximize the R-value you get for the dollar you spend.

So, before you proceed with buying insulation materials for your home, it is best to seek the counsel of a professional contractor. This a sure-fire way to get all the benefits that insulation can offer your property, as well as your family.