As contemporary building science places more emphasis on reducing a building's energy consumption–and with building codes and federal incentive programs following suit–the importance of insulation and weatherization products is really heating up.
Builders have always known how to insulate a house more effectively than the minimum code requirements, but the idea of increasing a building envelope's performance has traditionally been a tough sell to the homebuyer. It is hard to impress upon customers what they are being charged a premium for compared with, say, a hardwood floor upgrade. So, without such a visible payoff, insulation was marginalized and remained an out-of-sight commodity hidden behind the living space of a home–until recently.
Building science expert Mark LaLiberte of Building Knowledge Inc. notes that roughly 30% to 40% of a home's energy loss is due to air leakage, so attacking that problem first is often the easiest and best way to make a structure more energy efficient. Changes in insulation and weatherization practices will have builders and remodelers looking for products related to easier installations and better home energy performance, he predicts. And insulation manufacturers have been turning out products to help achieve that goal.
Stuffed and Blown-In Fiberglass batts, rolls, and blown-in fiberglass and cellulose products still represent the largest volume of insulation sales. These low-cost staples are relatively easy to install, which means that the builder may not need to hire a subcontractor to do the job–an attractive feature in a time when work is sparse. The latest generation of fiberglass is denser to provide a higher R-value per inch. To meet the R-20 and R-21 wall insulation requirements for colder climate zones covered by the new energy code, standard R-19 batts typically used between 2x6 studs may not suffice. Products like R-21 batts and blankets from Owens Corning, Johns Manville, and CertainTeed are likely to gain popularity.
The "greening" of the fiberglass batt and blanket market has many manufacturers making products with renewable plant-based binders that contain no formaldehyde. These include Owens Corning's Eco Touch, Knauf Insulation's EcoBatt, and CertainTeed's Sustainable Insulation.
Similar to fiberglass but with mineral ingredients, stone wool batts offer a higher R-value than fiberglass. Roxul's ComfortBatt is available up to R-23 for 2x6 wall cavities. Other materials in the batt and blanket arena include less irritating polyester fiber, cotton fiber, and even wool insulation from Dow, Bonded Logic , and Oregon Shepherd. But experts believe these have a long way to go before they make a dent in the fiberglass market.
The latest in blown-in wall insulation is to densely pack loose-fill fiberglass material behind a taut mesh fabric attached across the face of the studs before the drywall is hung. CertainTeed's Optima and John Manville's Spider products claim R-values of 23 in a 2x6, and Owens Corning's ProPink boasts an R-24 rating.
Spider insulation can also be shot into open cavities without a fabric facing when applied with an adhesive binder.
Sprayed in Place Open and closed cell spray-applied foams have garnered a lot of attention, and for good reason. With some of the highest R-values per inch among insulation products and with air-sealing qualities superior to most systems, these sprayed-on foams provide a premium product–but at a premium price not in the budget for many projects. The trend in these foams is to replace a portion of their petroleum-based components with renewable plant-based ingredients and to incorporate blowing agents that are less toxic to the environment.
The application of these foams generally is limited to trained specialists who deal directly with the brand they install, making this a product for dealers that do installed sales. But there are a few exceptions for small jobs. Dow's Froth-Pak, Fomo Products' Handi Foam, and Convenience Products' Touch 'n Seal are two-part foam kits available to anyone who wants to try their hand at spraying on foam. Packaged in several sizes, the kits are primarily intended for low-volume installations in lieu of hiring a foam contractor for small jobs.
Hybrid Approaches Since sealing against outside air infiltration and inside conditioned air loss is such an important part of weatherizing a home, batts and blown-in materials are often supplemented with air-sealing spray foams. Judiciously applied to gaps around building shell penetrations and into framing cavities too small for batt or loose fill insulation, the tenacious seal of one-part polyurethane spray foam can really make a difference. For small-scale applications, using aerosol cans with plastic straws is the easy way to go, but larger canisters and reusable applicator guns are available from Dow, Fomo Products, and Convenience Products as part of their extensive one-part foam lines. For dry location sealing, Daptex by Dap and Easy Fill by Convenience Products are latex-based foam sealants that provide a less durable seal, but clean up easily with water for use near delicate finished surfaces.
For sealing the building envelope on a much larger scale, water-based elastomeric sealants are available. Designed to be sprayed along the seams between adjacent framing members and at any junction between the framing and outside sheathing, these products are essentially sprayed-on caulking. Owens Corning's EnergyComplete sealant is a minimal-expansion latex foam, while Knauf Insulation's EcoSeal is more like a thick paint.
Another hybrid insulation method that takes the air-sealing strategy one step further is the combination of one inch of closed-cell foam sprayed into the wall cavity followed by filling the remaining space with fiberglass insulation. Known as flash and batt, this system combines the superior air sealing properties of foam insulation with the less expensive but well-proven performance of fiberglass.
Continuous Insulation To combat thermal bridging through structural members that fiberglass or foam-filled wall cavity insulation cannot help, exterior continuous insulation is the answer.
Regardless of what insulation wall cavities are filled with, the performance of the insulation as an installed system (and its R-value) are downgraded when thermal loss through framing is figured in. Covering the outside of the entire wall assembly with rigid sheet foam is an easy way to increase a home's overall envelope performance without building extra-thick or doubled-up walls. Polyisocyanurate leads the popular formulations in R-value, but extruded polystyrene (XPS) leads the market in sales.
Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is another popular choice. Products that combine foam insulation and structural sheathing such as Dow's SIS system are available to save the installer a step, and reinforced foam sheets used below grade help protect the insulation during backfilling.
Equipment Rental One aspect of the insulation business that a dealer can capitalize on is equipment rental for builders and contractors who want to perform insulation work themselves. The Owens Corning AttiCat and the CertainTeed Comfort Crew are rental machines for blowing in loose fill insulation, either for the lofted installation in attics or for higher-density pumping into closed wall cavities or behind mesh fabric systems.
For spraying on the air-sealing products, Owens Corning offers a dedicated machine to deliver its EnergyComplete foam, and Knauf Insulation recommends using a large airless paint sprayer for applying its EcoSeal. Having these machines available could set a supplier apart in the insulation-hungry building market.