Weigh the pros, cons of insulation types

Your Path to Energy Savings
By Guillermo Metz, Special to The Ithaca Journal
March 14, 2011

One of the earliest and most important steps on the path to saving energy is making sure your home is well insulated. Along with air-sealing, insulation allows you to control your internal environment. A well-insulated house could save you hundreds of dollars each year in heating costs, and be much more comfortable to live in, compared to an insufficiently insulated home.

But deciding which type of insulation to use can be daunting. There's spray foam (high- and low-density), blown cellulose (dense-packed and loose), various kinds of rigid foams, cotton and wool batts, straw, fiberglass, and Air Krete (a cementitious foam made in nearby Weedsport, NY). Each has its pros and cons. When choosing the type of insulation, consider its effectiveness for your application, whether it acts as an air or vapor barrier, cost, composition, and end-of-life considerations for the insulation and the framing members around it.

For example, high-density spray foam may work well in an open attic: it seals well, has an R-value of about 6 per inch, and is a vapor barrier. For other situations, such as adding insulation into the cavities of existing walls, it is not a good choice because it would be very difficult to get proper application. Also, spray foam is composed of fairly noxious chemicals even when it's advertised as being soy-based. Such insulation can be 30 percent soy with the remainder being petroleum derivatives. In addition, spray foam adheres so well to framing members that many builders shy away from it. It is nearly impossible to remove if further work needs to be done or if someone wants to reuse that lumber. Trade-offs exist for the other types of insulation as well.

Contractors and homeowners alike can learn more about insulation choices at a seminar on Wednesday, March 16 from 7-9 pm. at the First Unitarian Church Annex, 208 E. Buffalo Street, Ithaca. Bill Szabo, insulation specialist with Halco Heating, will cover the pros and cons of the various types of insulation commonly available. This presentation is part of the Green Building Seminar Series.


Last Updated: May 25, 2011

Last updated: May 25th 2011 - 4:14pm