Things Your Parents Didn’t Tell You About Taking Care of Your Home: Installing Insulation

by Cassandra McCullersOctober 31, 2016

Winter is nearly upon us, and many homes are already feeling the effects of dropping temperatures and rising energy bills. Insulation is your home’s first line of defense against the cold, and repairing, installing, or improving insulation might very well be the most effective way to save on heating. Good insulation will also keep your home warmer, and even out temperature distribution – reducing the problem of one part of the house being freezing while another is the temperature of a sauna. Depending on where you live, insulation can even help keep your house cool in the summer. Proper insulation can also add value to your home greater than the cost of installation, especially in cold areas. Luckily, adding or replacing insulation is one of the easiest do-it-yourself home improvement projects out there.

However, too much insulation can create the opposite problem, causing over-warm winters and summers. How much and what type of insulation to install varies based on where you live, home design, and what part of the house you’re insulating. For instance, attics need more insulation than floors. Insulation should be installed in exterior walls, between interior walls, in your attic’s floor, in your basement’s ceiling, in cathedral ceilings, and between floors. Insulation is given an R-value based on its effectiveness, and it’s important to pick insulation that has the right R-value for where you live and where in the house it’s being installed. Higher R-values are more effective than lower R-values. If you pick an insulation with an R-value that’s too low, you’ll lose precious heat. If you pick one with too high of an R-value, your home will likely be stuffy and prone to overheating. The US is divided into 8 temperature zones for insulation, based on elevation and how far north you are, with higher numbered zones being colder than lower numbered zones. For instance, Hawaii is in Zone 1, while Alaska is mostly Zone 7, with some parts in Zone 8. The U.S. Department of Energy has a handy guide outlining what R-values you’ll need based on where you’re installing insulation and which temperature zone you live in, along with a map of the zones.
Steps Of Construction Of A Roof
The most common and widely available type of insulation (and also the most suitable for DIY projects) is blanket insulation, usually sold either in rolls or batts. Rolls are long pieces of insulation that can be cut to any size or shape, while batts are pre-cut panels, often sized for in-wall installation. Roll insulation works best in areas with long, unobstructed space, like attics and crawlspaces. Both kinds are available either faced or unfaced. Faced insulation is more water-resistant and is usually used in exterior walls, attics, unfinished basements, and cathedral ceilings. Faced insulation can also be easier to install, since the fibers are less likely to fly everywhere.

One thing to watch out for: if your home was built before 1979, there’s a moderate to strong chance that the existing insulation might consist of asbestos. Asbestos used to be widely used as an insulating material but was later revealed to be toxic and a cause of lung cancer. Asbestos becomes dangerous when the fibers or dust go airborne, usually after the deterioration of the base material. If your house contains asbestos, you need to hire a professional to remove it, since handling asbestos yourself can prove a grave risk to you and your family’s health.

Before Installing

Make sure you protect yourself by wearing pants, a long-sleeved shirt, work gloves, safety glasses, and a dust mask. Loose fibers and dust can easily irritate your skin, lungs, and eyes.

Both batt and roll insulation packages should be opened by cutting lengthwise through the side panel. Be careful not to cut into the product or facing.

Talk to a specialist at the store that you’ll be ordering your insulation from. They can often offer great advice regarding different material types that may be more suitable for your specific situation, budget, or location.

Install in an Unfinished Attic

Installing Thermal Insulation Layer - Closeup On Hands
Before walking around in your attic, be sure to check the floors and make sure that they are adequately built out to sustain the weight of a person walking around. Some attics are not designed to support a person in all places, and a foot or leg falling through the floor can be both painful and costly.

If using blanket insulation, rolls are generally easier to install in attic floors. You can also install loose-fill or blown-in insulation for your attic. Loose-fill insulation is generally cheaper to have installed by a professional, but can be more difficult to install yourself, since getting the right R-value is tricky.

Installing roll insulation is simple: just open the package and unroll the insulation in place. Make sure that rolls laid out next to each other fit snugly. If the roll’s too long, cut it down to size with a sharp utility knife over a safe backdrop, cutting from the unfaced side. Don’t double over or compress the insulation. Also avoid installing heavier insulation materials, like cotton, on top of lighter materials, like fiberglass.

If replacing existing insulation, you’ll want faced insulation, with the faced part directed whatever side will be warmest (usually downwards). If adding new insulation on top of an older installment, you’ll want to use unfaced insulation.

Be careful that you don’t cover up the soffit vents or have insulation directly touching the roof.

If your area gets hot in the summer, consider also installing a radiant heat barrier in your attic, to reduce summer cooling costs.

Install in Walls (and Other Cavities)

Installation Of Drywall Constructions And Their Insulation
Rolls need to be cut to size to fit into wall cavities. Use a sharp utility knife to cut them to an inch wider than the space available.

For faced insulation, make sure that the facing is on the interior side. Unfaced insulation is preferable for interior walls and if adding onto existing insulation.

Batts and rolls should be pushed gently into the wall cavity until they’re flush with the wall at the corners and edges. After ensuring that they’re snug, fluff the insulation out by pulling at the front, until it fills the entire cavity. Both faced and unfaced insulation will stay in place due to friction, though you can also staple the flanges of facing material onto the interior side of any the joists. (Drywallers prefer stapling on the inside, though your local building codes might require that flanges overlap when stapled.) If stapling, be careful that you don’t overstretch the facing. Avoid gaps and puckers.


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About The Author
Cassandra McCullers
Cassandra is a writer with a background in engineering, enjoying the rural life in the Virginian Appalachians. When not working, she enjoys writing fiction, running a blog, camping, working in the garden, and tending to her flock of chickens! In addition to writing, she has a passion for art and graphic design. Her interests include disaster preparedness, homesteading, landscaping, cooking with natural ingredients, history, and animal husbandry.
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