There are many types of home insulation that homeowners can choose from. They are rated by R-value or the ability to resist heat; insulation with a higher R-value is more resistant. Materials commonly found in insulation are fiberglass, cellulose, and rock wool. A variety of different types of home insulation exist including: batts and blankets, loose-fill, plastic foam, rigid boards, and reflective. Each of these types has its own advantages and disadvantages.
Fiberglass is by far the most common material used in home insulation. It is the fluffy, pink, cotton candy-like material that most homeowners are familiar with. It is fire-resistant and will not rot. The primary disadvantages are that it is not water-resistant so it can contribute to moisture in the home and rodents also seem to easily make homes in it. Fiberglass is also a skin irritant and should be installed using proper protective clothing, a dust mask, and eye protection.
Cellulose insulation is a fire-resistant material made from a combination of treated recycled paper and wood. It gained popularity in the 1970s when recycling was first introduced to the public. It is best suited to being blown into existing walls or treated and watered into a sticky substance that can be sprayed onto the insides of new walls. When sprayed, it is not only an insulation, but also a soundproofing material. Although it is still recommended to use protective gear when working with cellulose, it has not been shown to have any adverse biological effects.
Rock wool, also called mineral wool, is made of slag that is a dirt and limestone byproduct of steel manufacturing. It is combined with chemicals and spun into a fiber. Like fiberglass, it does not burn or rot. It has one major advantage over fiberglass which is that it does not absorb moisture and therefore does not require the use of a barrier before installation. It does, however, share fiberglass' irritant nature.
Of the various types of home insulation, batts and blankets is the most common type. Coupled with fiberglass, it is the most popular kind used in homes today. It can be found with aluminum or cardboard facing or without facing of any kind. The batting without facing is used primarily to enhance existing insulation. This type of insulation is simple to install as it is already pre-cut into standard widths, cuts easily with a utility knife, and can simply be stapled into place.
Loose-fill home insulation comes in bags or bales and is made from the same basic material as batts and blankets, but unlike batts and blankets, the material is not spun into a workable fabric. Used in attics and walls, this insulation is intended to be poured or blown. A barrier-like plastic sheeting should be installed before the material is poured since fiberglass will absorb water. If blown, a pneumatic device is necessary to ensure proper fluff and placement.
Plastic foam is sprayed into place. It conforms easily to any shape and stays in place where sprayed, which means it can permanently block specific areas of draft or moisture. It is most often used for new construction and placed all around the home in walls, ceilings, and foundation areas. It is resistant to rot and mildew and can even add strength to the walls of the home. It is prone to insect infestation and care should be taken especially near the ground where termites seem to be drawn to it.
Rigid board home insulation is made from a variety of materials including asphalt-impregnated fiber board, polystyrene, polyurethane, and polyisocyanurate. It is combustible so care must be taken when working with the boards. They are usually used in new construction or in significant rehabbing projects and can be used as wall or roof sheathing, insulation beneath interior walls, or around foundations. Like batts and blankets, the panels may sometimes have foil facings to reflect heat. Just as with plastic foam insulation, insect infestation is a concern.
Reflective insulation is intended for extremely hot climates. It is made from aluminum foil to block heat. It can be installed as a single sheet or for maximum effectiveness, in multiple layers with space in between.