Eco-Friendly Insulation Upgrades

Category: Green Building     Author: Scott Allred     Posted: Wednesday - October 15, 2014

Have you considered upgrading your home’s insulation but are confused about fiberglass, cellulose, spray foam, or even denim? What about R-Value and what does it mean? The choices are many and the decision can be difficult.

The Triad Green Building Council is here to help you navigate the different products and to encourage Triad residents to “green” your existing home and improve its energy efficiency.

Benefits: Insulation offers many advantages to the homeowner such as reduced utility bills, increased comfort and fewer “cold spots”, moisture control, noise control, and higher resale value. Energy efficiency consistently ranks as a major factor when considering the purchase of a home.

From Warm to Cold: Insulation keeps your home warm in the winter and cool in the summer by reducing the flow of heat. Heat naturally flows from a warmer to a colder place. In the winter, heat flows from the inside to the outside and in the summer, heat flows from outside to inside. By reducing heat flow, a well insulated home uses less energy. Insufficient or improperly installed insulation will make heating systems work harder and can lead to structural damage due to uncontrolled moisture content. 

R-Value: All insulation is rated by its R-Value where R stands for resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-Value, the better the insulating value. The recommended level of insulation for the Triad, according to the EPA, is a minimum of R-38 insulation value for ceilings and R-25 in floors.

Types of Insulation: There are many ways to insulate a home to achieve maximum comfort. The most common types of insulation are:

  • Fiberglass: Fiberglass insulation is the most common form of residential insulation in the U.S. Known for being inexpensive and easy to install, fiberglass can be installed as precut blankets (batts) or blown into wall cavities and ceilings using specialized equipment. Additionally, fiberglass products have up to a 40% recycled material content.

  • Cellulose: Made from recycled wood products (primarily newspaper), cellulose is treated with fire retardant and insect resistant chemicals. Cellulose is typically blown into ceilings using specialized equipment or sprayed into wall cavities using a wet application technique.

  • Spray Foam: Polyurethane foams are rapidly gaining in popularity due to their superior air sealing properties and higher R-Values. Foams must be installed by a professional applicator under controlled conditions. Spray foam insulation is significantly more expensive that fiberglass or cellulose but offers superior performance.

  • Hybrid Systems: Many contractors are using hybrid systems that maximize the air sealing benefits of spray foam with the cost efficiency of fiberglass or cellulose. For example, exterior walls may be “flashed” with a thin foam layer (usually 1 inch) to air seal the wall cavity. The remainder of the cavity is filled with fiberglass batts or blown with fiberglass or cellulose to reach maximum R-Value. The ceilings may be blown with fiberglass or cellulose. It is possible to use fiberglass, cellulose, and foam in a single home or remodel project.

How Much Is Sufficient: If your home is more than 10 years old, you may need to upgrade your insulation. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, only 20% of the homes built before 1980 are properly insulated. A simple inspection of your attic can provide additional clues. If your insulation is level with or below the floor joist, you probably need to add additional insulation. Since R-Values are cumulative, you do not need to remove the insulation that is already there. Simply add additional insulation on top until the desired R-Value is reached. Start in the attic, generally the source of greatest heat loss, where insulation is relatively easy to install and will have a high return on investment.

Pay Attention to the Details: Simply adding additional insulation may not achieve the desired results. First and foremost, regardless of the type of insulation, the quality of the installation will determine if the desired R-Value is achieved. Select a contractor that has a record of quality work and understands the value of quality installation. Second, insulation works best when air is not moving through it. Use expanding foams and caulks to properly seal all holes, gaps, and cracks. This will reduce drafts and improve the R-Value of your insulation and reduce your energy costs.

Professional Help: If you feel like professional help is in order, a qualified Home Energy Rater (HERS) can perform tests to determine the greatest sources of heat transfer in your home. A list of qualified HERS professionals can be found at

Upgrading you insulation is a cost efficient way to improve your home’s energy efficiency and reduce monthly utility costs. With proper air sealing and quality installation, adding additional insulation will greatly improve the comfort of your home and potentially increase the value of your home.

Scott Allred is chairman of the Triad Green Building Council and the owner of Precept Construction. He can be reached at or 286-6811. For additional resources on green building, visit
The Triad Green Building Council serves members of the Greensboro, High Point, Winston-Salem and Burlington homebuilders associations that are interested in learning more about green building techniques, products and services.

The council meets monthly with an educational program as the primary focus. Additional seminars and workshops are offered throughout the year for industry professionals and consumers. To find out more about the Triad Green Building Council, contact the Greensboro Builders Association at 855-6255.