How Does Residential Insulation Work?


Insulation has become a hot topic when it comes to home construction and remodelling, and with good reason. It plays an essential role in ensuring energy efficiency by reducing unwanted heat transfer. Proper residential insulation can protect the environment, lower homeowners’ monthly energy bills, and improve residents’ comfort. Read on to find out how this essential building material works.

Preventing Heat Flow

There are three mechanisms by which heat can be transferred from cooler spaces to hotter ones and vice versa. Conduction refers to the movement of heat through solid materials, convection describes how it circulates through gases and liquids, and radiation refers to heat transfer into solid objects in the path of a heat source. Most types of insulation work by slowing conductive and convective heat flow. Radiant heat barriers can also help to reduce heat gain and loss from radiation.

No matter the mechanism, heat always flows from warmer to cooler areas. In the winter, it flows out of the home, often through unheated attics, garages, basements, and crawl spaces. In the summer, the heat flows in from the outdoors. To maintain comfort throughout the year, residents must ensure that their homes have adequate insulation to block heat flow.

Insulation R-Values

The ability of an insulation type to reduce conductive heat flow is described as a measure of thermal resistance, defined by the material’s R-value. Insulation types with higher R-values, such as spray polyurethane foam, are more effective at preventing heat transfer. Lower R-values indicate that more of the material will be needed to achieve the same level of insulation.

Factors That Influence Insulation Choices

Homeowners can’t just evaluate a material’s R-value and choose the one that offers the most resistance to conductive heat transfer. There are a few other factors they’ll need to consider if they want to choose the insulation system that will most effectively meet their needs. They include:

  • The climate zones
  • Where the insulation will be installed
  • Whether it will be exposed to moisture
  • The shape of the area that needs to be insulated
  • The budget for improving heat efficiency
  • The home’s current level of insulation and air sealing
  • Homeowners’ preferences in terms of recyclable and eco-friendly material use
  • Whether the insulation will be professionally installed

The best way to choose the right material is to schedule a consultation with an insulation contractor. These industry experts have an intimate knowledge of not just R-values but all the other factors that influence homeowners’ options.

Reasons to Hire a Professional to Install the Insulation

Some types of insulation are easier to install than others. The same goes for different areas of the home. While some homeowners feel comfortable installing simple systems such as rigid foam boards in outbuildings or garages, it’s always best to hire a professional for home insulation.

The Bottom Line

Whether homeowners are looking into options for insulating a custom-built house or they want to replace an older home’s existing insulation system, it helps to have an understanding of the various materials available. R-values are important, but they aren’t the only factor that must be considered when choosing materials. For the best results, call a professional contractor for help with choosing and installing the right insulation type.