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The Pros and Cons of Different Insulation Materials

Insulation materials are not all made equal. They are made using different components and offer varying levels of effectiveness once applied. It’s important to do your research and understand what’s best for your application before you decide to spend money on insulation. We’ll go over some common types of insulation materials to help you make an informed decision.

Loose fill or packed cellulose insulation

This type of insulation material is considered eco-friendly because it contains 80-100% recycled content. It’s often made of shredded newspapers or cardboard. Cellulose insulation is most suitable for attic spaces where it’s blown into the desired depth. Since there are no seams, there is no heat loss or air infiltration, which is why it’s an excellent choice for walls. Cellulose insulation is fire and insect resistant and has an R-value of 3.66 per inch. This insulation is not recommended for basements, as it is sensitive to moisture.

Fiberglass insulation

Fiberglass is one of the most common insulation materials used today. Although it’s not eco-friendly (has only about 20% recycled content), fiberglass insulation offers good R-value and impressive soundproofing capabilities at a relatively low cost. Proper handling is key when applying this insulation because fiberglass can irritate the skin. It should also be properly installed to be effective. However, fiberglass is moisture sensitive and not recommended in areas with high moisture levels like cold concrete walls.

Expanded polystyrene foam (EPS)

Expanded polystyrene foam comes in panels of varying thicknesses. Though it doesn’t have highly recycled content, this insulation material has a reasonably good R-value of about 3.6 to 4.2 per inch. EPS is said to be vapor permeable, which is a huge advantage, especially in commercial applications. It’s highly resistant to moisture and is made up of pentane gas, which is ozone-safe and has a lower impact on the environment compared to other types of foam.

Extruded polystyrene foam (XPS)

XPS also comes in panels of different dimensions. The R-Value is higher than EPS at 5 per inch.  This form of insulation works as a vapor and air barrier. However, the blowing agents aren’t eco-friendly. The blowing agents for XPS are 1430 times worse than carbon dioxide and that’s why limited use is recommended with this insulation material. It’s very durable and extremely resistant to moisture so it works very well below ground.

Spray polyurethane foam (SPUF)

This form of insulation has a really good R-value of 6 per inch. Once the urethane is sprayed on, it solidifies and creates a vapor and air barrier that offers complete protection. The chemicals used for this form of insulation are mixed on site and hence off-gassing is a great concern because SPUF blowing agents are worse than carbon dioxide and EPS.

Cotton insulation

This is extremely effective insulation for sound absorption and great thermal performance. It’s easy to install and performs better in high winds and low temperatures than fiberglass. It’s also very eco-friendly as it contains 90-100% recycled materials.  It can be installed with no protective gear needed and is resistant to mold, pests, and fungus. Cotton insulation has an R-value of 3.4 to 3.7 per inch.