What is home insulation and why is it important?
Insulation is an important part of any modern, energy-efficient home, with many financial, environmental and personal benefits. Learn more about how home insulation works, the most important parts of a house to insulate, the types of insulation available, and what to look for when you're deciding to insulate.
How home insulation works
Home insulation is a material that limits the amount of heat flow occurring within your home. Heat flow involves three different processes:
This is how heat travels through materials, and it occurs due to a difference in temperature. Imagine picking up a bowl that contains hot food – it will likely be hot to the touch.
Convection is how heat moves in liquids and gases, and it occurs due to differences in density. For example, hot air rises because it is less dense than cold air.
Radiation happens when heat is transferred in waves and will warm any absorbent object it hits. We experience this every day with the sun.
Insulation in the home mainly works by limiting the conduction of heat, and this can also help reduce convection within the home. Regardless of the type of heat transfer that insulation aims to prevent, all home insulation limits heat flow.
The most important places in the house to insulate
There are common points in every house that should be insulated to make it as energy efficient as possible. These include the:
This is the single most important part of the house to insulate, since without attic insulation, hot air will flow out and cold air will flow in. This will mean increased costs and wasted energy.
Heat rises, which means that in the winter, all the energy you're putting into keeping your house warm is flowing up and out. The same is true in the summer when upstairs rooms become increasingly hot and require extra cooling to match lower floors.
While heat is less likely to escape down, an uninsulated basement will still result in your heating system having to work harder than necessary. Additionally, basement insulation will help prevent that area from getting cold and damp.
Exterior walls are very important to insulate, as heat can be quickly lost if it's cold and windy outside. Interior walls can also be insulated, especially if you're looking to keep rooms at different temperatures.
As with basements, insulating floors can help prevent heat from seeping away in the winter.
What types of insulation are available?
As mentioned, the attic is the most important part of a home to insulate, and there are various types of insulation available for attic spaces. It's worth keeping in mind that it isn't unusual to use a mix of these options to optimize the energy efficiency of a home.
Blanket insulation is the most common type of attic insulation and it comes in batts or rolls. It's made of flexible fibers such as fiberglass, mineral wool, plastic fibers, or natural fibers such as sheep's wool.
Sprayed polyurethane foam (SPF)
This is a two-component mixture of isocyanate and polyol, which combine to create an expanding foam that fills gaps such as wall cavities, roof tiles, or the spaces left around blanket or foam board insulation.
Commonly made of polystyrene, polyisocyanurate, or polyurethane, these solid boards are easy to cut and install. They are effective on exterior walls and attics, and are commonly used to insulate structural elements, such as stud work.
What to look for when shopping for home insulation
The type of insulation you use for your home will depend on a number of factors, but regardless of whether it's blanket, foam, or something entirely different, there are some things that should always be considered.
Firstly, the R-value of the home insulation. This is the measure of how well a material stops the flow of heat, and the higher the number, the better the insulation. The R-value will depend on the type of material and the thickness available. Those living in colder climates should choose insulation with higher R-values. For detailed recommendations on the right R-value for your geographic location, check out the Energy Star website or Natural Resources Canada.
As mentioned, the type of material matters when it comes to insulation, so this should also be something you consider. Fiberglass is common but can cause issues in exposed areas and has substantial environmental costs. Natural fibers such as sheep's wool, on the other hand, offer an eco-friendly alternative, but of course, have their own issues. Decide what is important to you when looking for home insulation.
What about the cost of home insulation?
While the initial outlay for house insulation can be high, once it's installed it can result in significant financial savings. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that households could save an average of 15% a year on heating and cooling costs by adding insulation to attics, basements and floors over crawl spaces, and by air sealing their homes.
In addition, there are often insulation-specific and broader home improvement incentives from governmental agencies and energy suppliers that can offset the initial costs. These include opportunities such as rebates on a regional level, as well as federal programs.
Is home insulation worth it?
Paired with an efficient heating system, home insulation saves energy, CO₂ emissions and money, while providing a more comfortable living environment. Combine this with the many financial incentives to help homeowners get set up and there is little reason not to insulate your home.
For more information on how our modern heating systems can complement home insulation, contact us today to discuss your options, as well as how we can help keep your system running optimally through regular maintenance.