We check out materials and techniques used in home insulation.
Whether you are aiming to keep the heat in or out, home insulation is the answer.
Home insulation for comfort and cost-savings
Insulation is a great investment for any home. It will definitely make your life more comfortable and cut your energy bills. There are high tech and green options available and a myriad of insulation materials to choose from - in America, they are even making insulation from recycled denim!
You can insulate just about any part of the home – there is ceiling insulation, roof insulation, wall insulation and even the floor insulation. Clever combinations will add to your long term energy savings and most are well within the scope of average DIY skills. All the options can be used in roofs and ceilings of existing homes and, if you are extending or building a new home, during installation of framed walls. It’s particularly effective, if you can, to internally insulate walls that bear the brunt of the summer sun.
Materials used for home insulation
Insulation materials come in three main types: bulk insulation uses fibres to trap pockets of air and restrict heat flow (think glasswool or fibreglass, rockwool, natural wool, various polyester versions and shredded cellulose); reflective, which reduces infrared radiant heat transfer (foil sheets or multilayered foil products) and combinations of these two, called composites (foil backed blankets, batts and boards).
A greener option may be natural wool insulation. Or you can go with natural wool loose fill or recycled paper, a cheap bulk option for roof and ceiling spaces. In both cases, you need to check the materials have been treated to make them fire and insect proof.
Insulation and R-value
Insulation is all about the R-value. This is the standard that indicates the level of thermal resistance the insulation offers. The higher the R-value, the better the insulation, but needs will vary according to your location because R-value is affected by the average heat and humidity levels (your local council will be able to tell you the recommended R-value for your area).
The most familiar form of insulation is probably the glasswool (fibreglass) or rockwool batt insulation. Batts are perfect for the novice DIY installer, while blankets and foils will present few problems for those with a bit more experience. Insulation batts are easy to cut to fit and amongst the cheapest options. Probably the most important considerations for batts are safety gear to prevent inhalation or exposure to irritants in glasswool versions, and ensuring there are no gaps between batts other than around hot points such as flues and light fittings.
If you are insulating your own roof space, it’s important to get an electrician in to check that your wiring is safe to be covered by insulation, and advise you on how to proceed if it isn’t. Even if you outsource the job, consider having the roof space inspected after the installation to check wiring and gaps around gas flues and lighting are sufficient.
Loose fill options, whether wool, cellulose or rockwool, are definitely the province of the expert. These insulation materials -- injected via hoses into the roof or wall cavity and in ceilings -- will also require the installation of barriers to prevent the material falling through vents. You will also need an expert to install the expanded or extruded polystyrene insulations.
External insulation options
Outside your house, you could consider using an Exterior Insulation Finish System (or EIFS to those in the know). These combine an insulating material such as polystyrene and a plastic ‘skin’ that can be rendered or painted. Since arriving in Australia in the 1970s, these cladding systems have come a long way and are now available either as a professionally contracted job or in kit form for the owner builder. With the trend towards rendered surfaces, cladding is an ideal option and it’s a renovator’s dream come true for easily and speedily changing the character of your home. Check that all the relevant standards are met by the product you choose, and ask if there’s a guarantee for the life of the paint or render finish to be applied afterwards for added confidence.
Last but not least, let’s not overlook that simplest of DIY insulation options – painting. There are now paints available with insulating qualities that can be applied to interior and exterior walls, roofs, even caravans and dog kennels. The biggest selling of these worldwide is a product called Insultec and it’s extremely popular in Dubai, where 50C plus temperatures are the summer norm