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What are the Different Types of Insulation?

By L. Hepfer
Updated May 16, 2024
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There are various types of insulation commonly found in residential and commercial buildings. Insulation is used to make things airtight and save a person money on their energy bill. Walls, ceilings and floors that are well-insulated will keep cold drafts out during the wintertime, holding the heat in and causing lower energy bills.

Different types of insulation also hold different R-values. R-values measure the effectiveness that any particular piece of insulation may have. This is based on the insulation's thickness, material and density. The more effective a piece of insulation is, the higher its R-value will be. There are various types of insulation on the market, but the four most commonly used types of insulation are loose-fill insulation, blanket insulation, rigid board insulation and spray foam insulation.

Loose-fill insulation is composed of loose fibers and fiber pellets that are blown into cavities or attics using special equipment. Loose-fill insulation is more costly, but it is also more efficient in making things airtight. The two kinds of this type of insulation are cellulose fiber, and a fiberglass and rock wool mixture. Cellulose fiber is made from recycled newspapers. It should be labeled and indicate that the material has been chemically treated to make it fire-resistant. The fiberglass and rock wool are blown into open stud cavities from behind a net and provide full coverage.

Blanket insulation is the type of insulation most of us are familiar with. It is composed of mineral fibers, either processed fiberglass or rock wool, and comes in blanketed rolls of different widths. It is normally fitted between wood frames and rafters to insulate below the floors in homes, above the ceilings and within the walls. Blanket insulation is the least expensive but requires a great deal of care during installation for it to be effective.

Rigid board insulation is generally composed of fiberglass, polystyrene, or polyurethane. This particular insulation is high-quality and comes in varying thicknesses. It is primarily used for reproofing flat roofs and basement walls and can be used around the perimeter of concrete slab edges and in cathedral ceilings. If rigid board insulation is used internally, it must be covered according to the building codes and also approved for fire safety. If it is used externally, it should be covered with weatherproof facing.

Spray foam insulation is a two-part liquid containing a polymer agent and a foaming agent. It is sprayed into small spaces and cracks to make things airtight. This particular type of insulation is very thorough and works well for irregularly shaped areas. When applied, it is in liquid form but expands quickly into a solid plastic consisting of millions of tiny air-filled cells. Spray foam insulation can be applied by a professional who mixes and sprays this into place, but it can also be purchased at a hardware store in a can and applied without professional help.

Spray foams may cost more than blanket insulation, however, sprays form an insulated and airtight barrier. Other types of insulation such as blanket insulation require that certain steps are taken first for detailing the area and making it airtight.

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Discussion Comments

By anon934671 — On Feb 21, 2014

I'm doing an awesome science fair project and I really need some help to find out the history of insulation. Please help me figure it out.

By elizabeth23 — On Feb 24, 2011

I wish my parents would invest in better insulation for their house. They complain nearly every year about the poor heating, but it would be so easy to spend the time and money once to get the coldest parts better insulated.

By Denha — On Feb 22, 2011

Adding insulation can be an easy way to lower your heating and cooling bills, and it can be a simpler job than most people think. If you aren't sure what type of insulation would be best for your house, it can be a good idea to hire a consultant at least for that advice- if you want, you can still do the job yourself.

By anon124847 — On Nov 07, 2010

I'm doing a science fair project about insulation and your website was helpful.

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