Building Insulation

blanket insulation

Building insulation is a process during its construction when special materials are installed to prevent heat or sound from being transmitted from one area to another. It's normally used to keep heat and/or sound in or out of your home, or to confine it to certain parts of your house. Insulation can work in a number of different ways, but it most commonly incorporates materials that consist of millions of tiny pockets of air. There are a number of types of building insulation such as:

  • Blanket and Batt Insulation
  • Foam Board Insulation
  • Loose-Fill Insulation
  • Radiant Barriers and Reflective Insulation
  • Rigid Fiberboard Insulation
  • Structural Insulated Panels
  • Insulating Concrete Forms
  • Concrete Block Insulation

Each of the above-mentioned types of insulation may be made of various materials in their turn and each of them is typically installed for particular areas of the building.

Blanket and Batt Insulation

By far the most common type of insulation consists of a "blanket" of rolls or batts of insulation used to fill the cavities between framing members in walls, ceilings, and floors. Batts can also be laid in a blanket across attic floors to insulate the spaces below.
Batts and rolls consist of flexible fibers woven together in strips of varying widths and thicknesses for different applications. Most commonly, batt insulation uses fiberglass fibers, but it can also be made using mineral fibers, plastic fibers, or natural fibers such as wool or cotton.
Blanket insulation can offer R-values ranging from R-11 to 38. Batt insulation is one of the most inexpensive forms of insulation, and one of the easiest to install.
This kind of insulation is commonly used in the following materials:

  • Fiberglass
  • Mineral wool (rock or slag) 
  • Plastic fibers
  • Natural fibers

They are applicable in unfinished walls, including foundation walls, floors, and ceilings. The advantage is that they are suited for standard stud and joist spacing that is relatively free from obstructions. Relatively inexpensive than others.

Foam Board Insulation

Polystyrene or polyurethane foam boards provide superior insulating R-values for relatively little thickness. They can be used for nearly any part of a building and are especially effective for insulating exterior wall sheathing, interior sheathing for basement walls, and in special applications such as attic hatches or air gaps where floor joists meet foundations. They offer a good way to insulate the spaces between roof rafters in unvented attics. 

When used on interior wall applications, foam panels must be covered with half-inch-thick gypsum board panels​ or another approved building material. 
Foam board provides excellent thermal resistance, as much as twice that for other materials of the same thickness. They can easily be trimmed to size for various applications. 

  • Polystyrene
  • Polyisocyanurate
  • Polyurethane

foam board insulation

They are more suitable to use for they have high insulating value for relatively little thickness.
Can block thermal short circuits when installed continuously over frames or joists.

Loose-Fill Insulation

Loose-fill and blown-in insulation, usually consisting of cellulose, fiberglass, or mineral wool, can be blown or poured into the joist cavities on attic floors or in the joist cavities of walls. 
R-values vary depending on material and loose-fill insulation has a tendency to settle over time, reducing its R-value. But it is relatively inexpensive and is considered a green option since these materials are created from recycled waste materials. Cellulose insulation is made mostly from recycled newsprint, most fiberglass insulation is made from 40 to 60 percent recycled glass, and mineral wool contains about 75 percent recycled material. The materials are the following:

  • Cellulose
  • Fiberglass
  • Mineral wool

They are suitable for framing at standard spacing. And the bubble-form suitable if framing is irregular or if obstructions are present.
Most effective at preventing downward heat flow, effectiveness depends on spacing.

Radiant Barriers and Reflective Insulation

While most insulations work by resisting conductive and convective heat flow, reflective insulation works by actually reflecting back radiant heat. 
These insulations incorporate a radiant material (usually shiny aluminum foil) applied to a layer of traditional insulation that also has some form of backing (kraft paper, plastic film, or cardboard). It is most commonly used in attics to reduce summer heat gain and to lower cooling costs. It is one of the best types of insulation for preventing downward heat flow.  
Reflective insulation forms a radiant barrier that lessens heat transfer from roofs down into an attic space. It must face an air space in order to be effective. They are most effective in hot climates, where they can lower cooling costs by 5 to 10 percent. However, in cooler climates, traditional thermal insulation is a better choice. 

Rigid Fiberboard Insulation

Rigid fiberboard made from either fiberglass or mineral wool is normally used in places that will be affected by high temperatures such as the ductwork for HVAC systems. One of the advantages of this type of insulation is that it can be preinstalled on ductwork at shops or custom-fabricated at the job sites. The panels come in a range of thicknesses, from 1 to 2.5 inches. Both faced and unfaced boards are available. 
Fiberboard insulation is usually installed by HVAC contractors, who apply it to exterior duct surfaces with a system of pins or clips. When unfaced boards are used, the outer surfaces are finished with an insulating cement or canvas. With faced boards, the joints between panels are sealed with tape or mastic. This insulation is applicable in unconditioned spaces as well as other places requiring insulation that can withstand high temperatures.

Structural Insulated Panels

An entirely different method of insulating a building can be achieved with the use of structural insulated panels, also known as SIPs, instead of traditional stud framing. SIPs are large prefabricated panels that include a 4 - to 8-inch thick foam board insulating material (usually polystyrene or polyisocyanurate) sandwiched between strong facing materials, such as oriented strand board (OSB). A SIP-constructed building can be as much as 12 to 14 percent more energy-efficient than a traditional "stick-frame" home. A SIP building will also be more airtight and quieter. 
SIPs are not an option for insulating existing buildings but can be considered when planning a new building or major addition. In addition to offering excellent insulating value, SIPs are structurally stronger and more stable than traditional framing. Materials may include foam board or liquid foam insulation core and straw core insulation.
SIP-built houses provide superior and uniform insulation compared to more traditional construction methods; they also take less time to build.

Insulating Concrete Forms

Insulating concrete forms are prefabricated forms for poured concrete walls that remain as part of the wall assembly. The system consists of foam boards or interlocking foam insulation blocks joined together with plastic ties. When concrete is poured into the foams, the resulting walls achieve an insulating value of about R-20. 
ICFs can be used for foundation construction alone in buildings with basements, or they can form the above-ground walls as well. Structures built from ICFs still resemble traditional framed structures. 
Installing an ICF system is a highly specialized skill that requires an experienced contractor. Especially critical is making sure the walls are insect- and waterproof. 

Concrete Block Insulation

Concrete and concrete block walls can be insulated in a number of ways. 
Concrete block can be insulated by applying rigid foam board to either the outside of the walls (on new construction) or the interior walls (on existing homes).

Concrete Blocks
An additional method of insulating concrete blocks involves the use of blocks consisting of autoclaved aerated concrete (ACC) or autoclaved cellular concrete (ACC). These materials contain about 80 percent air by volume and have about 10 times the insulating value of traditional concrete blocks. Precast ACC blocks use fly ash instead of the high-silica sand used in AAC blocks. Autoclaved blocks easily absorb moisture, so they must be protected from water, but they are lightweight and easy to install. 
In poured concrete foundations, beads of polystyrene foam can also be incorporated into the concrete mix to increase their R-value. This method can increase the R-value 10-fold over standard poured concrete.

All building materials have an inherent insulating property, usually measured on a scale known as R-value, but additional materials are integrated into the building construction specifically to add insulating value to the walls, floors, and ceilings.  As we already learned there are many different materials used as insulation, and many of these have now been abandoned in favor of more modern and efficient materials.