An insulated house

Few homeowners would think of insulating their house when temperatures go into the twenties but good insulation is beneficial in both winter and summer. I am taking this opportunity to discuss some pros and cons to different types of green insulation. (Ed. note: insulation install is by nature one of the more labour intensive projects within a house. Understanding the propensity for people to undertake DIY projects, please be cognizant o.f your own abilities and take on tasks that are suitable.)

Spray insulation and cellulose insulation have gained popularity in the last number of years as green products. they are considered green because of their environmentally-friendly manufacturing process or their considerable energy/CO2 savings over the life of the house they are installed in. Both will need to be installed in-situ, as opposed to prefabricated solutions such as fibreglass insulation, and that means the design and execution are vital to the positive outcome of the project.

With cellulose insulation, great strides have been made in the last few decades to increase its R-value to compete with petroleum-based fibreglass insulation. By design, cellulose insulation is the “greenest” insulation on the market, regularly using upwards of 80% recycled material in the form of shredded newspaper. I have found that the most appropriate areas in the house to install cellulose insulation are in the attic and/or floor space, since the product achieve its highest R-value when there is minimal gravity load causing settling.  Vertical wall installation is possible but further material preparation is required to ensure the longevity of the product and insulation values. Typical gas/electric mechanical blowers are used to force cellulose fibres into the crevices.

Spray insulation, or spray polyurethane foam (SPF), is usually done during major renovations, since the foam has to be applied to the unexposed surface of the desired thermal break, e.g. finished concrete or exposed brickwork. While this type of insulation might seem laborious and non-DIY-friendly, I believe it has the following benefits over comparable types of insulation:

  1. It is not restricted by stud spacing, allowing for more intricate architectural designs to take place without the fear of inefficient or insufficient insulation.
  2. By design, SPF will expand into all crevices and this effectively seals the house from rodents, insects and other pests. This point is often lost on homeowners during the renovation process.

One of the things I am concerned with is the application method for SPF.  There are several blowing agents used by contractors when applying it and homeowners must ask contractors to identify what type is used in their operation. Most have moved towards a water-based blowing agent which uses a chemical reaction to drive cell expansion. In addition, the components of SPF has continued to improve and offgassing in IAQ should continue to decrease; still, for individuals with a history of respiratory problems make sure to hire experienced professionals to provide proper feedback.

In the end, going green is a great concept and those who do should be applauded.  However, keep in mind that, like all construction projects, there are pitfalls and homeowners must educate themselves in order to make an informed choice.

As always, all comments are welcomed.

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About eatonkwan

Engineer by profession, interests lie in environmental development, LEED and sustainable development.
This entry was posted in Building Code/LEED and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to An insulated house

  1. sillowine says:

    This has helped me so much! I dont know much when it comes to installing attic insulation in Mississauga. My husband insists that we give it a go before calling professionals. What is some of your advice to install insulation? Its probably going to be so hot up there!

  2. eatonkwan says:

    Hello Sillowine, thanks for commenting on my page and this is an excellent question that I have gone back and forth with the answer in the past. As I have said in the article, please be cognizant of your husband’s and your abilities. Be sure to split work up into chunks of achievable tasks so that you are not spending excessive amount of time in the work environment getting progressively more and more tired. Make sure that everyone working in the attic are equipped with protective gear (Tyvek suits, respirators and gloves).

    That said, I’d like to impart some wisdom on you and your husband. I respect anyone with the gumption to upgrade their homes but if you are planning to sell your home in the near future, have the professionals come and do the attic. Having insurance and the piece of mind that it is done correctly will serve you in the long run. The chances of home inspector or a potential buyer finding something amiss in a DIY installation is higher than a professional installation and that’s just common sense. If your husband still insists on giving it a go, you two should agree to a go/no go line and you won’t cross that unless you are confident you’d be able to complete the project.

    Good luck, and hope this helps.

  3. Hailey Smith says:

    I agree, be very aware of the tasks you choose to tackle and be realistic. It is easy to think you are naturally a realistic person but when you find yourself adding on more tasks or spending too much time or money on a task, then take a step back and take a serious look at what you are doing. When it comes to DIY home restoration and renovations, it is easy to get lost in the work and just as easy to get lost in spending money that, honestly you don’t have yet. Good Luck!

    Hailey Smith | http://www.reitzel.ca/

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