Thea’s Side-By-Side Insulation Comparison

What is insulation:

Insulation is a material intended to reduce heat gain or loss by providing a barrier between areas that are significantly different in temperature.  Insulative performance is measured by R value, a measure of resistance to heat flow by thermal conduction.  It ranges from less than R1 to R60, the more a material restricts the flow of heat, the higher its R rating.  You can find what is recommended in your area here:    https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_sealing.hm_improvement_insulation_table

 

fiberglass-batt-insulation

Type of Insulation: Fiberglass

What it is: Mostly comes in batt form, it is tiny fibers of silica that trap hot air.

How to install: easy to install DIY, requires gloves, cut to fit, do not compress.  May need professional installer for loose blown fibers.

Pros: easy DIY especially with paper or foil faced versions, inexpensive, widely available, standard widths and thicknesses. Up to 60% recycled content. lightweight, especially loose blown fibers.

Cons: Very itchy, releases eye, throat and skin irritations during installation, compresses easily lowering R value, not easy to cut.  Must wear gloves and eye protection. Loose applications can lose 50% effectiveness in cold temperatures, and can shift causing bare spots, settling is common, recommended only for attic spaces.
Weight: 0.04 pounds per square foot

Cost:  0.30 per square foot

R Value: 3.0-4.0 per inch (2.2-2.7 per inch for loose blown)

Green/Health Factor: may contain phenol formaldehyde, linked to cancer but is being phased out.  Up to 60% recycled content.  Breathing in small fibers can be throat and lung irritant, potent skin and eye irritant.

Special Notes: Can also be blown in wet form professionally.

 

rockwool-blanket
Type of Insulation: Rockwool

What it is: recycled slag and mined basalt rock in blanket form

How to install: easy to install DIY, cut to fit

Pros: easy DIY, no itch, holds shape well, staple free, more fire resistant than fiberglass. 70-90% recycled content.

Cons: not widely available, retains moisture, mold grows in moist fibers, releases eye, throat and skin irritations during installation.
Weight: 2.5-6.2 pounds per square foot

Cost: 0.60 per square foot

R Value: 4.0-5.0 per inch

Green/Health Factor: releases eye, throat and skin irritations during installation.

 

cotton-insulation-board-aluminosilicate-customizable-insulation-materials-bubble-insulation-building-materials_1915157

Type of Insulation: Cotton

What it is: fibers of recycled cotton remnants from textile industry. Can be in blanket or loose form.

How to install: easy to install DIY, cut to fit, or place loose fibers in wall cavity

Pros: easy DIY, no itch, recyclable, compostable, uses 85% recycled fiber, and 15% borate based flame retardant. Boron in flame retardant acts as pest and mildew prohibitor. 16” width of batt is ideal for metal framing for friction fit.

Cons: not widely available, can wet out, loose fill can settle, boron can leach out if wetted reducing the flame retardant. Loft rebound on batts may be poor when shipped in compressed form. Batts are sold in 16” widths which can create compression in wood framing during installation. (manufacturer shows 17” on center construction in demonstrating product)

Weight:  0.65 pounds per square foot

Cost: 0.90 per square foot

R Value: 3.5-4.0 per inch

Green/Health Factor: No offgassing.  Borate is a safe flame retardant, and deters some insect pests. Plant based material, but cotton is a very pesticide and water intensive crop. 85% recycled fiber from a renewable source, needs little energy to manufacture.

 

Black_Mountain_Natural_Wool_Insulation

Type of Insulation: Wool

What it is: Sheeps wool remnants from textile industry, can be loose or in blanket form

How to install: easy to install DIY,cut to fit or fluff up loose fiber and place in wall cavity.

Pros: easy DIY, both hydrophilic and hydrophobic so is water resistant at the same time it can absorb ⅓ its weight in water without feeling damp or losing effectiveness, in fact when wet, it generates heat which in turn prevents condensation. More fire resistant than other forms of insulation, treated with boron to prevent pests.

Cons: not widely available, expensive

Weight: 0.63 pounds per square foot

Cost: 1.85 per square inch

R Value: 3.0-4.0 per inch

Green/Health Factor: Not vegan friendly, no VOCs, fire resistant, treated with safe boron for pest resistance. May absorb airborne toxins.

 

blown

Type of Insulation: Cellulose

What it is: Mostly recycled shredded fluffed up newsprint, some cardboard

How to install: loose fill into wall cavities, can be professionally installed with a blower

Pros: Does not lose effectiveness at cold temperatures, can actually gain R value at lower temps.  Soundproofing capabilities. 85% recycled material and 15% borate based fire retardant

Cons: Too heavy for ceiling installation, can settle as much as 20% over time.  Moisture can be an issue significantly reducing insulation value.  Susceptible to mold.  Borate can leach out if it gets wet reducing fire retardant capabilities.

Weight: 0.14 per cubic foot

Cost: 0.31 per cubic foot

R Value: 3.2-3.8 per inch

Green/Health Factor: Can be dusty, fibers post no health risk to lungs. Uses 85% post consumer recycled paper and added 15% borate for fire retardant which can also deter pests. Some chemically sensitive people are bothered from offgassing from newsprint inks.  Requires up to 30% less energy to produce than fiberglass.

 

GS0113_PRO05

Type of Insulation: Cork

What it is: Rigid insulating boards made with cork

How to install: Installed under siding on outside of home

Pros: Sustainable product that supports forest stewardship, and endangered species that live in them. No added ingredients, only ingredient is cork. Good soundproofing. No VOCs, naturally flame resistant.

Cons: Heavy. Not widely available.  Requires importing

Weight: 7.0-7.5 pounds per cubic foot

Cost: 1.05 per board foot

R Value: 3.6 per inch.

Green/Health Factor: No health concerns. Supports sustainable forest stewardship in environmentally sensitive areas with endangered species within. Shipping and importing is an issue as not available locally.

 

aerogel

Type of Insulation: Aerogel

What it is: silica that has had the liquid removed under high pressure and high temperature and replaced with air.

How to install: Very easy DIY, peel and stick, or tack to studs.  Best to use on studs to prevent thermal bridging, can be installed on inside or outside of studs.

Pros: Very easy to install, superior R value, extremely lightweight

Cons: Not readily available, very expensive

Weight: 0.0 pounds per square foot (3 times heavier than air)

Cost: 2.00 per board foot

R Value: 10.3 per inch

Green/Health Factor: R value is superior to other products. No offgassing, product is mostly air.

 

6a00d834515f0569e201538df4a35d970b

Type of Insulation: Mushroom Insulation

What it is: Mycellium, the white vegetative strands of fungus, that are grown in place.

How to install: grown in place either in sips, or blown in professionally

Pros: Very low energy cost to produce, using sustainable materials with no toxic byproducts.

Cons: Not yet commercially available, will not be widely available immediately when commercially released.

Weight: unknown

Cost: 0.66 per board foot.

R Value: 3.0 per inch

Green/Health Factor: Uses natural materials, does not produce greenhouse gasses, low embodied energy in creation.  No VOCs

 

download (1)

Type of Insulation:  Open Cell Polyurethane

What it is: A two-component mixture composed of isocyanate and polyol resin that forms an expanding foam

How to install: Installed in thin layers that react upon application to expand into a hard foam. Must be done under ventilation with personal protective gear on including ventilation mask, gloves and protective clothing.  Best installed when temperatures are between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Consider professional installation. Curing takes 72 hours.

Pros: Provides excellent air barrier, so can eliminate other weatherizing tasks such as caulking. Won’t sag or settle, high R value. No offgassing after curing if properly applied. Can use plant based polyol resin to account for up to 10% Reduces need for venting roof. Blocks conductive and convective heat transfer.

Cons: Allows water vapour to penetrate, still need moisture barrier, emits dangerous VOCs during installation until cured, must wear personal protective gear including ventilation mask, gloves and protective clothing.  Must have adequate ventilation during application and while curing. If not properly mixed, may not react fully and can remain toxic after curing creating VOCs.  Should not use with asphalt roofing as it allows high heat buildup, which is the primary cause of disintegration in asphalt installations.

Weight:

Cost: 1.00-1.20 per square foot

R Value: 3.5-3.6 per inch

Green/Health Factor: Contains modest amount of petroleum or plant based plastic. Chemicals and VOCs produced during installation and while curing can cause asthma and other serious health effects.  Wear personal protective gear including ventilation mask, gloves and protective clothing during installation and while curing, as well as provide adequate ventilation.  Chemically sensitive individuals may still have effects after curing, especially if the product was not mixed or applied properly. Not sustainable, Soy based polyol resins are highly pesticide and water intensive in manufacture, and still make up only 10% of the product.  Improper installation has been shown to generate excessive heat causing fire.  Releases highly toxic compounds including isocyanides, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrogen cyanides among others during burning.  Not recyclable.

 

CCvsOC
Type of Insulation: Closed Cell Polyurethane

What it is: A two-component mixture composed of isocyanate and polyol resin that forms an expanding foam

How to install: Installed in thin layers with a blower that react upon application to expand into a hard foam.  Must be done under ventilation with personal protective gear on including ventilation mask, gloves and protective clothing.  Best installed when temperatures are between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Consider professional installation.

Pros: Provides excellent air barrier, so can eliminate other weatherizing tasks such as caulking. Provides moisture barrier so can eliminate need for vapour barrier. Won’t sag or settle, high R value. No offgassing after curing if properly applied. Can use plant based polyol resin to account for up to 10% Reduces need for venting roof. Blocks conductive and convective heat transfer.

Cons: Expensive. Not recyclable. Emits dangerous VOCs during installation until cured, must wear personal protective gear including ventilation mask, gloves and protective clothing.  Must have adequate ventilation during application and while curing. If not properly mixed, may not react fully and can remain toxic after curing creating VOCs.  Should not use with asphalt roofing as it allows high heat buildup, which is the primary cause of disintegration in asphalt installations.

Weight:

Cost: 1.75-3.00$ per square foot

R Value: 6.0-6.5 per inch

Green/Health Factor: Contains modest amount of petroleum plastic. Uses blowing agents that have a high global warming potential. Chemicals and VOCs produced during installation and while curing can cause asthma and other serious health effects.  Wear personal protective gear including ventilation mask, gloves and protective clothing during installation and while curing, as well as provide adequate ventilation.  Chemically sensitive individuals may still have effects after curing, especially if the product was not mixed or applied properly. Not sustainable.  Improper installation has been shown to generate excessive heat causing fire.  Releases highly toxic compounds including isocyanides, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrogen cyanides among others during burning.  Not recyclable.

 

download (2)
Type of Insulation: Icynene

What it is: A two-component mixture composed of isocyanate and proprietary resin that forms an expanding foam

How to install: Installed in thin layers with a blower that react upon application to expand into a hard foam.  Must be done under ventilation with personal protective gear on including ventilation mask, gloves and protective clothing.  Best installed when temperatures are between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Only available by professional installation.

Pros: VOCs dissipate faster than with polyurethane. Very good soundproofing. Provides excellent air barrier, so can eliminate other weatherizing tasks such as caulking. Provides moisture barrier so can eliminate need for vapour barrier. Won’t sag or settle, high R value. No offgassing after curing if properly applied. Can use plant based polyol resin to account for up to 10% Reduces need for venting roof. Blocks conductive and convective heat transfer.

Cons: Seals so tight need to install ventilator and air exchanger in home.  Will soak up water unlike polyurethane. Expensive. Not recyclable. Emits dangerous VOCs during installation until cured, must wear personal protective gear including ventilation mask, gloves and protective clothing.  Must have adequate ventilation during application and while curing. If not properly mixed, may not react fully and can remain toxic after curing creating VOCs.  Should not use with asphalt roofing as it allows high heat buildup, which is the primary cause of disintegration in asphalt installations.

Weight:

Cost: company does not give answer likely similar to closed cell

R Value: 3.6 per inch

Green/Health Factor: Contains modest amount of petroleum plastic. Uses blowing agents that have a high global warming potential. Chemicals and VOCs produced during installation and while curing can cause asthma and other serious health effects.  Wear personal protective gear including ventilation mask, gloves and protective clothing during installation and while curing, as well as provide adequate ventilation.  Chemically sensitive individuals may still have effects after curing, especially if the product was not mixed or applied properly. Not sustainable.  Improper installation has been shown to generate excessive heat causing fire.  Releases highly toxic compounds including isocyanides, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrogen cyanides among others during burning.  Not recyclable.

 

images

Type of Insulation: Cementitious

What it is: Magnesium oxide cement mixed with air, derived from seawater

How to install: Blown into walls and cavities, professional install

Pros: Naturally 100% fireproof, 100% mold proof, and fully bug and rodent proof. 100% Non-Toxic, Free of CFC’s & Formaldehyde, no offgassing. No loss of R-value over time. It offers excellent soundproofing qualities. Once in place it is non-shrinking and non-settling  Can be recycled or composted. Does not expand or heat up. Good air barrier.

Cons: crumbles easily so dust can be an issue. Long cure time, that may require dehumidifying during process.  Likely heavy

Weight: unknown but concrete, so likely heavy.

Cost: unknown

R Value: 3.9 per inch

Green/Health Factor: made only of air, water and magnesium oxide, no toxic products. No offgassing.  Pest, rodent and fire proof.

 

rigid-insulation-board

Type of Insulation: EPS rigid foam

What it is: Polystyrene Expanded Foam, basically, styrofoam sheets.

How to install: DIY best installed under siding on exterior.  Cut to fit. Seams must be taped

Pros:  Easy DIY Recyclable, no offgassing, no HCFCs, air barrier

Cons: made from petrochemicals. contains highly toxic HBCD brominated flame retardant and other toxins.  Produces highly toxic fumes when burning. Highly flammable

Weight:

Cost:  0.19 per square foot

R Value: 4.6 per inch

Green/Health Factor:  No offgassing. Made from petrochemicals, contains highly toxic HBCD brominated flame retardant and other toxins.  Produces highly toxic fumes when burning.

 

rigid-insulation-board

Type of Insulation: XPS Rigid Foam

What it is: Extruded Polystrene Boards

How to install: DIY best installed under siding on exterior.  Cut to fit. Seams must be taped

Pros: Easy DIY. no offgassing, more moisture resistant than EPS

Cons: Not recyclable, made from petrochemicals, manufactured with HCFCs, contains highly toxic HBCD brominated flame retardant and other toxins.  Produces highly toxic fumes when burning. Highly flammable.

Weight:

Cost: 0.42 per square foot

R Value: R5 per inch

Green/Health Factor: No offgassing. Not recyclable, made from petrochemicals, manufactured with HCFCs, contains highly toxic HBCD brominated flame retardant and other toxins.  Produces highly toxic fumes when burning.

 

rigid-insulation-board

Type of Insulation: ISO Rigid Foam

What it is: Polyisocyanurate foam sheets

How to install: DIY best installed under siding on exterior.  Cut to fit Seams must be taped

Pros:  Easy DIY, no offgassing, manufactured with various facings to improve R value and provide radiant barrier. No HCFCs

Cons: Not recyclable, made from petrochemicals, loses R value over time so stated R value is corrected value. Flammable.

Weight:

Cost: 0.70 per square foot

R Value: Corrected R value ~6.5 per inch.  An R9 sheet will lose R2 in 2 years.  Applied coatings can increase R value

Green/Health Factor: No offgassing. Not recyclable, made from petrochemicals, contains highly toxic HBCD brominated flame retardant and other toxins.  Produces highly toxic fumes when burning

 

DCAO0007

Type of Insulation: Insulating paint

What it is: A paint with added “microspheres” or “ceramic beads” said to provide a thermal insulative property.

How to install: paint the wall cavity

Pros: none

Cons: provides no R value.  limited radiant barrier.  Has the same insulating properties as ordinary paint, and studies suggest even less radiant barrier properties than ordinary paint, and much less than low-e paint

Weight: negligible

Cost: 0.10 per square foot

R Value: application increases thermal conductivity of material it is applied to, in effect, lowering the R value.  Consider it a negative R value.

Green/Health Factor: same as paint

Special Notes: Not insulation, not even a radiant barrier

 

DoublBublFoilFoil

Type of Insulation: Double Bubble Foil Wrap

What it is: bubble wrap embedded in thin foil film in sheet form.

How to install: use as radiant barrier. Install on warm side with an air gap

Pros: reduces heat transfer by radiation. If installed with air gap in attic installation can decrease radiation of heat into interior.

Cons: expensive compared to regular radiant barrier which provides the same benefit. R values often include the air gap in order to quote higher value, which is misleading. Cannot be used with spray foam, gives no value if installed incorrectly. Adds bubble layer that adds no efficiency to the product, uses extra resources to create.

Weight:

Cost: 0.47 per square foot

R Value: R value of material is 1.1, “assembly R value” can be up to R3 if properly installed.

Green/Health Factor: Uses excess material to add plastic bubble wrap to radiant barrier without increasing efficiency.  Not recyclable. Not sustainable.

Special Notes: not an insulation. Useful only in hot climates. According to federal law, R value means the insulating factor of the material itself. Manufacturers of foil radiant barriers will use an “assembly R value” in which they are including the material, and the wall assembly’s own R value together.  Any insulation if listed in this way will have a much higher than legally stated R value.

 

radiant-barrier-installation

Type of Insulation: Radiant Barrier

What it is: A thin foil film in sheet form

How to install: Use as a radiant barrier.  Install on warm side with an air gap.

Pros: Reduces heat transfer by radiation. If installed with air gap in attic installation, can decrease radiation of heat into interior. Can be installed as a thin e coating between panes of glass to reduce radiation of heat into interior.

Cons: Cannot be used with spray foam. Gives no R value if installed incorrectly.

Weight:

Cost: 0.13 per square foot

R Value: 1.0 R value of material is 1.0, “assembly R value” can be up to R3 if properly installed

Green/Health Factor: Uses much less material than double bubble foil wrap to provide the same benefits.  Not recyclable. Not sustainable.

Special Notes: Not an insulation.  Useful only in hot climates. According to federal law, R value means the insulating factor of the material itself. Manufacturers of foil radiant barriers will use an “assembly R value” in which they are including the material, and the wall assembly’s own R value together.  Any insulation if listed in this way will have a much higher than legally stated R value.

 

 

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “Thea’s Side-By-Side Insulation Comparison

  1. Raelynn

    Fantastic summary of the options Thea! Thanks for such a thorough look at all the insulation options. I didn’t even know about a couple of these. Great research.

    Reply
  2. George Hawirko

    What is Insulation, indeed. “Insulation” might be the most important consideration you may ever make with almost any Building Project. Tiny Structures must consider, WEIGHT, and R-VALUES, but also, how it can fit into the entire project.

    I’m retired now but have extensive experience with small structures like RV’s Yachts, Cottages, etc. Designing and Building these tiny gems. Using techniques that I don’t see being use with Tiny Homes. Techniques that could reduce the total weight and costs while improving quality, strength and overall value for the owners.

    The biggest problem I see is everyone trying to build like most larger structures are built, this is only a recipe for problems that are accelerated by the smaller volume that living small creates.

    Anyone interested can reach me by posting a reply here on this comment.

    Reply
    1. Jon Kutassy

      I’m interested in your thoughts on different techniques George. Especially in weight saving techniques.

      Jon

      Reply
  3. Matthias

    Some missing figures (metric system):
    EPS weight: 15-30kg per cubic meter
    XPS weight: 25-40kg per cubic meter

    I am missing flax and hemp as natural materials.

    Reply

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