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Types of Insulation and Installation Techniques

There are lots of different insulation materials, including organic, fibrous, reflective, and mineral, and in many forms, such as loose fill, spray and rigid foam, blankets and batts, each of which has its uses and its pros and cons.

Some types of insulation require professional installation, and others you can install yourself. You should consider the several forms of insulation available, their R-values, and the thickness needed. The type of insulation you use will be determined by the nature of the spaces in the house that you plan to insulate. For example, since you cannot conveniently "pour" insulation into an overhead space, blankets, spray-foam, board products, or reflective systems are used between the joists of an unfinished basement ceiling. The most economical way to fill closed cavities in finished walls is with blown-in insulation applied with pneumatic equipment or with sprayed-in-place foam insulation.

Different forms of insulation can be used together. For example, you can add batt or roll insulation over loose-fill insulation, or vice versa. Usually, material of higher density (weight per unit volume) should not be placed on top of lower density insulation that is easily compressed. Doing so will reduce the thickness of the material underneath and therefore lower its R-value. There is one exception to this general rule: When attic temperatures drop below 0°F, some low-density, fiberglass, loose-fill insulation installations may allow air to circulate between the top of your ceiling and the attic, decreasing the effectiveness of the insulation. You can eliminate this air circulation by covering the low-density, loose-fill insulation with a blanket insulation product or with higher density loose-fill insulation.

 
Blankets

Blanket insulation is the most common and type of insulation. Coming in the form of batts or rolls, it consists of flexible fibers, most commonly fiberglass. You also can find batts and rolls made from mineral (rock and slag) wool, plastic fibers, and natural fibers, such as cotton and sheep's wool.

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Loose-fill

Loose-fill insulation consists of small particles of fiber, foam, or other materials. These small particles form an insulation material that can conform to any space without disturbing any structures or finishes. This ability to conform makes loose-fill insulation well suited for retrofits and for places where it's difficult to install some other types of insulation.

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Poured Loose-Fill

This is the easiest form of insulation to install, but also sometimes one of the most problematic.

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Rigid Foam Board

Foam boards — rigid panels of insulation — can be used to insulate almost any part of your home, from the roof down to the foundation.

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Liquid Foam Insulation

Liquid foam insulation materials can be sprayed, foamed-in-place, injected, or poured.

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Reflective Insulation

Reflective insulation systems are fabricated from aluminum foils with a variety of backings, such as kraft paper, plastic film, polyethylene bubbles, or cardboard.

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Radiant Barriers

Radiant barriers are installed in buildings and homes—most commonly in attics—to reduce summer heat gain and winter heat loss, which helps lower heating and cooling costs.

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