Types of Insulation: Different Applications, Efficiencies, and Costs

There is no doubt that next to the roof, insulation is probably one of the most important parts of your home. That’s because it is so critical when it comes to maintaining a comfy indoor temperature, can reduce the effects of outside noise and air pollution, and most importantly, reduces your monthly utility bill by helping you to save energy. 

There are so many types of insulation out there that it can make your head spin. There are pros and cons to each type that need to be considered before one can make a decision. In an effort to keep our customers educated, this article will discuss the most common types of insulation available and what they are all about.

Blow-In Insulation

This type of insulation is like a nice fluffy blanket for your attic or crawl space. It uses a machine similar to a snowblower to “ blow” the insulation material “in” to its final resting place, hence the name. 

Blown-in insulation is typically the least expensive but comes with its fair share of drawbacks. For example, it is also among the least efficient types, and there are limitations as to where it can be used. For one, it is not recommended for use in bathrooms or basements, because if it gets wet, it has a tendency to clump together. This will not only ruin its effectiveness as in insulation material, but it will also make it vulnerable to the formation of mold and mildew.

  • Composition: Can be made from fiberglass, cotton, or cellulose (recycled newsprint)
  • R-value: 2.2-2.7 per inch.  Works best when it is applied evenly across the joist in the floor of your attic.
  • Cost: Blown insulation typically costs from $1.00 to $1.50 per square foot installed. The average cost of a job is $1506, with the lowest price being $480 and the highest coming in at $3500. That’s according to Home Advisor.
  • Fiberglass and cellulose are the most widely available forms of blown-in insulation. Cellulose is a great option for those who are environmentally conscious as it is made from up to 85% recycled newsprint, which also makes it biodegradable. Recycled cotton can also be an eco-friendly choice for the same reasons.

    Blown-in insulation can be installed quickly, usually only taking one day, but can take longer depending on the scale of the project.

    Pros:

    • Inexpensive
    • Quick installation time
    • Can be an eco-friendly choice 

    Cons:

    • Low R-value
    • May need be replaced every 15-20 years
    • Vulnerable to moisture
    • Requires specialized equipment of installation

    Insulation Batts

    Insulation batts are sheets of insulation, typically fiberglass, that are cut into shapes so they can be laid into the area which is to be insulated. They are relatively easy to work with and can offer good energy efficiency when they are installed properly. 

  • Composition: Fiberglass, mineral wool, wood fibers.
  • R-value: 2.9-3.8 per inch
  • Cost: Between 30 and 90 cents per square foot, with the typical job costing between $1,033 and $2467
  • Insulation batts are most widely found in the form of fiberglass or wood fibers with a filling of mineral wool. While fiberglass can provide good efficiency, it is almost impossible to recycle. If you choose the variety made from wood and mineral wool, you might be able to save a few bucks at the expense of lower performance.

    Professionals can install this type of insulation for you, but since it is very easy to work with, it may be a top choice for a DIY project.

    Pros:

    • Inexpensive
    • Easy to work with

    Cons:

    • May need be replaced every 15-20 years
    • Can be difficult to recycle
    • Prone to air leaks
    • Vulnerable to moisture
    • Lower R-value

    Rolled Insulation

    This type of insulation can be found as a sheet of fiberglass or foil, and it can be installed by a professional contractor or unrolled yourself.

  • Composition: Fiberglass, plastic, mineral wool
  • R-value: 2.9-4.3 per inch
  • Cost: 80 cents to $100 per square foot, depending on the chosen material and contractors’ labor costs.
  • Rolled insulation can be found as fiberglass or plastic containing a filling of mineral wool. Each option has advantages and disadvantages that should be considered. 

    Plastic can be great for sealing any cracks and blocking off the flow of air. It can also act as an effective sound barrier. However, it can be more expensive than fiberglass, and the lower R-value can end up costing you even more over time.

    Fiberglas is versatile, applicable to a variety of projects, and is the cheapest.

    Rolled insulation can be installed by DIYers, however, it can be a bit trickier to work with, so we tend to recommend hiring a professional to do the install.

    Pros:

    • Widely available
    • Inexpensive

    Cons:

    • Lower R-value
    • More difficult to instal
    • Not durable

    Foam Board

    Foam board is a rigid styrofoam material that comes in sheets and can easily be installed without any help! Simply cut the sheets to size and put them into place.

    • Composition: Polystyrene, polyisocyanurate, or polyurethane
    • R-value: 3.6-4.2 per inch
    • Cost: 30 cents to $1 per square foot for materials, plus installation costs

    Pros:

    • Easy to install
    • Mid range price
    • Higher R-value than some other materials

    Cons:

    • Hard to fit around pipes or in tight spaces
    • Not environmentally friendly

    Spray Foam

    Spray foam is a type of insulation that can be installed by yourself for small jobs, or be applied to entire structures for maximum benefits. The rigid closed-cell type offers the highest insulation value, while the open-cell type is more porous and can expand up to 100 times its original size!  It is impermeable to air and water and can offer a host of other benefits besides energy conservation.

    While spray foam insulation is the most expensive type you can get, it’s for good reason. It is by far the most efficient insulation material available, with an R-value that’s almost double what you might be able to achieve with more commonly used alternatives. Not only is it the best insulator out there, but It can also act as an effective noise and vapor barrier as well as provide additional structural integrity to your building.

    The quickly expanding spray foam can be difficult to work with and can be unforgiving if you make a mistake. There are also some safety concerns that need to be taken into consideration, so we recommend only working with a professional for any substantial project.

    Pros:

    • Highest R-value available
    • Sound and vapor barrier
    • Environmentally friendly
    • Lasts forever

    Cons:

    • Higher price
    • Needs professional installation

    Radiant Barriers

    Radiant barriers are typically found as sheets of foil insulation that can be easily unrolled and installed in a variety of locations. This is not exactly a type of insulation, as it actually reflects heat rather than slowing down its movement.

    • Composition: Aluminum and plastic
    • R-value: Not well calculated
    • Cost: 10 cents to 95 cents for materials

    These foil sheets are thin and easy to work with and install. They work by reflecting the heat back to its source, and provide a vapor barrier as well, meaning that it can cut down on drafts. It can be easily cut or trimmed down to the proper size and subsequently adhered to the desired surface.

    These are flexible and easy to use in a variety of circumstances. They are great for some alternative applications such as wrapping ducts and pipes but cannot be used as the sole insulation material in colder climates.

    Pros:

    • Versatile to a variety of applications
    • Easy to install
    • Provides vapor barrier
    • Does not compress or deteriorate

    Cons:

    • Not suitable for colder climates
    • Accumulation of dirt or dust may compromise performance

    Vapor Barrier

    A vapor barrier is not so much an insulation type as it is simply a barrier for water. This material blocks the flow of moisture from one area to another. 

    The cost varies, but they typically can be found cheaply. Vapor barriers are often found sealing off basements, crawlspaces, and other areas of the home that tend to have excessive moisture or condensation. They are sometimes applied to the outside walls of a home before installing the actual insulation.

    With so many types of insulation available to you, it can be hard to choose one. Each material has its own advantages, disadvantages, and price points. Additionally, every project has different needs, limitations, and budgets. All things considered, especially if budget isn’t an issue, we recommend spray foam insulation as it has the highest insulation value and can provide additional benefits as a bonus. 

    If you are looking to install spray foam insulation in your home or elsewhere, our people are standing by for an estimate. Call Evergreen Insulation at 208-214-7136 to see how this revolutionary material can meet your energy conservation needs.