A homeowner’s buying guide to insulation
Get the facts on the basic types of home insulation, where they are used, and why.
Want to stay warmer in winter, keep cooler in summer, and reduce your energy bills year round? Combined with proper air sealing, adding insulation is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to do it. Your home will be quieter, more comfortable, and may even fetch a higher resale value. As part of your home’s thermal envelope, insulation can help to reduce ice dams on roofs and eaves, making your home more durable.
Choosing the right kind of insulation depends on where you’re adding it, the desired R-value, and your budget. In the simplest terms, a higher R-value indicates greater insulation properties. The R-value you need is determined by where you live and what part of the house you’re insulating.
The four basic types of insulation
Roll and pre-cut batts
Good to know: Many people think of the classic pink fiberglass batting, which is used in walls, floor joists, flat attics, and other locations. However, it also comes in mineral wool variety.
Pros: It can be easily installed by the homeowner and it is relatively inexpensive.
Cons: Fiberglass batts must be measured and cut carefully when installing to avoid moisture problems.
Good to know: Cellulose is made of recycled newspaper and comes in loose-fill, wet-spray (used in new construction or gut rehab), and dense-pack varieties. Pros: Dense-pack cellulose can be used everywhere except in flat attics, loose-fill cellulose is better than fiberglass at getting around wiring and joists (ideal for open attic spaces).
Cons: Requires special equipment and careful installation, so this one should be left to a professional installer.
Good to know: Rigid panels of insulation can be used to insulate nearly any part of your home.
Pros: Rigid insulation is a practical solution for sloped attic ceilings, foundations, commercial exteriors, and flat roofs. It can offer an extra layer of continuous insulation, plus air sealing and vapor control. It is easy to install without special equipment. Con: Can be challenging to install in spaces with pipes or other obstacles.
Polyurethane foam (or “foam-in-place”)
Good to know: Foam-in-place insulation can be blown into walls, on attic surfaces, or under floors.
Pros: It insulates and reduces air leakage. Good for adding insulation to existing finished areas, irregularly shaped areas, and around obstructions.
Con: Requires special equipment and careful installation, so this one should be left to a professional installer.
Where to add insulation
Due to the chimney or “stack” effect, hot air rises and escapes through the top of any building structure. So if you’re doing your own insulation, attic roofs and ceilings are the first place to look. Second, consider your foundation, basement walls, rim joists, and crawlspaces. If your home has uninsulated exterior walls, hire a professional to add dense-pack cellulose or pourable foam.
To hire . . . or not to hire?
Yes, you can install every type of insulation yourself, except wet-spray, dense-pack, and spray foam—these require special equipment and careful installation. But even if you can DIY the job, going to a professional is the safer way to go. When you tighten up a building, it can turn previously unknown issues with fuel-burning appliances into a deadly problem. A professional understands this and knows how to address it. See our guide on hiring a contractor.
We recommend that you consult a professional installer even when you plan to do the work yourself. And if you DIY, remember to work safely: Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, and always wear a mask and safety glasses, gloves, long pants, and a long-sleeve shirt