The Ins and Outs of Insulation

LowesForPros talked to experts in the insulation industry about the latest developments in materials and techniques to offer

Developments in the insulation industry can help your clients save on their heating and cooling bills.  

Insulation does the critical job of maintaining temperature and sound control in a building, but it also has a significant affect on air quality. Therefore, when choosing insulation, there are many factors to take into consideration. Henning Bloech, executive director of GREENGUARD Environmental Institute, says the insulation industry has been hard at work to make products that people can trust to be safe enough to have in their homes or offices. 

“I’m impressed by most players in the insulation industry,” he says. “It has really come a long way.”

Here are some of the innovations in the insulation industry:

Spray Foam

One of the biggest issues with traditional fiberglass insulation is particles becoming airborne from air passing in and out of the house. Chris Colby, LEED Certified Architect with Spire Architecture and Design, recommends spray foam, which provides tighter insulation and prevents dust, pollen and ragweed as well as other irritants, such as acrylic binder or phenol, from passing through into the building. 

“Spray foam is much more energy efficient,” he says. “It gets into the cracks and crevices and in between the stud cavities much more efficiently than fiberglass. It stops air leakage and provides great insulation value.”

However, Colby says that spray foam seals the house so tightly that it can be difficult to vent air out when you want to get rid of certain smells, such as a burned dinner. If someone has bad allergies or asthma and needs extra air flow, Colby recommends an air ventilation system, which takes the stale air inside the house, exhausts it outside and then brings in fresh air through a filter system.

He also admits that spray foam is twice as expensive as fiberglass, but it will help lower heating bills thanks to fewer air leaks. And there’s also the option to use spray foam to insulate only the areas where air leaks are significant, such as the attic. In his own home, Colby used spray foam in his attic and fiberglass throughout the rest, and he cut his heating bill by 53 percent. 

More Use of Renewable Materials
Bloech says he’s seeing much more insulation made from recycled or renewable materials such as plant-based cellulose or cotton. Although the material itself is non-hazardous, Bloech cautions that often fungicide or other chemicals have been added to prevent mold from growing or bugs from eating it. He says it’s important to check if the insulation has been tested and approved by a third-party organization specializing in safe practices, such as GREENGUARD Environmental Institute. 

Bloech also has seen renewable third party-certified insulation playing a big role in increasing the value of a home. In the Atlanta area, where Bloech is based, LEED- or Earthcraft-certified homes are selling much faster than traditional homes because the economic and quality of life advantages (e.g., lower energy bills, good indoor air quality) are attractive to potential homebuyers. In addition, most third party-certified insulation doesn’t cost more than the regular product.

“Ultimately, low-energy homes have bottom-line benefits as well,” he says.