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27 Jan 2017

The Pros and Cons of Closed Cell Foam Insulation

If you’re considering spray foam insulation for your home, and aren’t sure whether it’s the right choice, it is important to consider what is most important to you. The best choice for your insulation project boils down to deciding whether it is more important to save some money now, or save far more in the long run.

Making your choice becomes easier when you consider the pros and cons of closed cell spray foam insulation. The focus of this post is closed cell spray foam as opposed to open cell foam because it is the most energy efficient and most commonly used type.


Spray foam is impractical as a DIY project

  • Installation of spray foam insulation requires expensive, specialized, and difficult to use spray equipment and processes.
  • The installation process can also be messier than installing other insulations. Avoiding unwanted mess can be complicated if you’re unsure how to protect the area that you’re working in and how to handle clean up once the job is done.

It’s worth nothing that no matter what material you choose, installing insulation in your home is not a matter to be taken lightly. Without adequate previous experience installing insulation, there is more room for error, injury, and poor results when important steps are inadvertently overlooked. As a general rule of thumb, installing insulation is best left to the certified professionals who are spray foam insulation experts.

More expensive upfront cost

  • The cost of installing spray foam insulation is generally 2-3 times more expensive upfront than traditional fiberglass insulation.

This cost difference is mainly due to the need for professional installation, which many people opt for anyway even when choosing traditional fiberglass insulation. It’s also important to balance the installation cost with the fact that it only takes on average of 2-4 years before the benefit of energy bill savings outweighs the cost difference between spray foam insulation and cheaper insulation like fiberglass. Every year past that point is just money in your pocket. Looking into the future even further, you avoid the significant cost of needing to replace cheap insulation as early as 10 years down the line.


Spray foam is the most energy efficient insulator

  • Because it expands, spray foam fills in gaps and holes other types of insulation can’t and creates an efficient, airtight seal.
  • Spray foam’s insulation r value (resistance value) is 6.0-6.5, one of the highest values available on the market.
  • Unlike other insulation materials, spray foam’s r value remains stable over time.
  • These resistant properties result in a thermal envelope, causing more consistent in-home temperatures.
  • Homes with spray foam insulation have lower HVAC system capacity requirements (meaning your air conditioner and furnace don’t have to work as hard to reach a comfortable temperature).

The net effect of all of these properties is that spray foam insulation is highly energy efficient, stays that way long-term, and results in significant energy bill savings.

Spray foam is not only airtight but is also water-tight

  • Closed cell spray foam does not absorb water or moisture. Other insulation materials do!
  • FEMA has classified spray foam as highly resistant to floodwater damage
  • Even after flooding and/or exposure to water, spray foam insulation can be cleaned of most pollutants. This is not possible with most other materials.
  • Mold and mildew cannot feed or thrive off of spray foam’s inert polymer composition, making it a mold deterrent
  • Spray foam’s airtight properties reduce the infiltration of allergens like pollen and dust

Spray foam’s airtight, cleanable, mold resistant properties create healthier air quality when professionally installed in homes. If you have allergies or live in flood-prone areas, spray foam is an especially great way to improve your comfort, health, and peace of mind at home.

Indefinite lifespan

  • Spray foam insulation, once installed, is structurally permanent and will not settle or break down.
  • Unlike any other materials, spray foam actually adds structural strength to a building’s walls!

As we mentioned earlier, traditional materials like fiberglass settle and shift over time. To remain effective, fiberglass sometimes has to be completely re-done as soon as ten years after installation. Spray foam insulation doesn’t.

Looking deeper…

If these pros and cons have piqued your interest about spray foam insulation but you’d like to learn more, we have created a guide with more details and data. It’s completely free, and you can download “The Top 5 Benefits of Spray Foam Insulation” here.

27 Jan 2017

Looking for an Insulation Calculator? Here Are the Important Factors to Consider

Figuring out the cost and other details of an insulation project is difficult. Knowing where to start, and how to discern quality information online will help immensely. Unfortunately, Googling things like “insulation calculator” results in a flood of all sorts of calculators from various sources. It can be overwhelming to sift through, and a majority of top results are geared specifically toward problematic approaches like outdated fiberglass insulation for home improvement projects. If you don’t yet know whether or not you’ll even go with fiberglass, let alone details like how many rolls you might need, these calculators are often not helpful to at all. Let’s take a look at the two most helpful factors that you should focus on at this stage:

  • R-value comparison
  • Cost comparison

Comparing Insulation R-Values

When comparing the r-value of different insulation types and how installing them will affect your home, you need to consider a combination of factors and their potential benefits. The creators of most insulation r-value calculators are either hardware stores or insulation manufacturing companies. This means they usually only calculate the insulation needed for their own brand. They will usually provide limited results outlining their products’ estimated performance if it were installed in the location and dimensions of your home. For someone just starting their research, these calculators ask the wrong questions, are biased, and aren’t very helpful. 

There’s a better way to calculate meaningful answers. You will need to gather some data first. We have broken down everything you need to know into three steps. Each is explained below. By the time you’re done, you’ll have a strong set of answers, based on real data, about any type of insulation you’re considering.

We have relied on recommendations and data from the U.S. Department of Energy throughout. They are a great resource, especially for the first two steps of the process.

Step One: Find your R-Value by Climate Zone

First, you will need to find the number for your r-value climate zone, which can be located using the following map from the Department of Energy:

U.S. Department of Energy Recommended Total R-Values for New Wood-Framed Houses

For example, if you live in Boulder, CO, you would be classified as climate zone 5.

Step Two: Match your Climate Zone Number to the D.O.E. Recommended R-values

Next, you would match your climate zone with a table outlining recommended r-values by climate zone, using this table (also from the Department of Energy):


Suggested R-Value by Climate Zone
Location Heat Type Attic Wall Floor Crawl Space Basement Wall
Zone 1 Natural Gas 38-49 13 13 13 11
Oil Furnace 38-49 13 13 13 11
Electric Furnace 38-49 13 13 13 11
Electric Baseboard 38-49 13 13 13 11
Heat Pump 38-49 13 13 13 11
LPG Furnace 38-49 13 13 13 11
Zone 2 Natural Gas 38 13 13-19 13 11
Oil Furnace 38 13 13-19 13-25 11
Electric Furnace 38-49 13 19-25 25 11
Electric Baseboard 38-49 13 13-25 13-25 11
Heat Pump 38 13 13-19 13 11
LPG Furnace 38-49 13 19-30 25 11
Zone 3 Natural Gas 30-38 13 13-19 13-25 11
Oil Furnace 38 13 13-19 13 11
Electric Furnace 38 13 13-19 13-25 11
Electric Baseboard 38 13 13-19 13 11
Heat Pump 30-38 13 13 13 11
LPG Furnace 38-49 13 13-30 13-25 11
Zone 4 Natural Gas 38-49 13 25-30 25 11
Oil Furnace 49 13 30 25 11
Electric Furnace 38-49 13 25-30 25 25
Electric Baseboard 49 13 30 25 11
Heat Pump 38-49 13 13-25 13-25 11
LPG Furnace 49 13 30 25 11-25
Zone 5 Natural Gas 38 13 25 25 11
Oil Furnace 49 13 30 25 11-15
Electric Furnace 49 13 30 25 25
Electric Baseboard 49 13 30 25 11
Heat Pump 38 13 30 25 11
LPG Furnace 49 13 30 25 25
Zone 6-8 Natural Gas 49 13 30 25 25
Oil Furnace 49 13 30 25 25
Electric Furnace 49 13 30 25 25
Electric Baseboard 49 13 30 25 25
Heat Pump 49 13 30 25 25
LPG Furnace 49 13 30 25 25

So for example: If you are located in Zone 5 of the climate zone chart, you would find Zone 5 on the suggested r-values chart. From there you would be able to further determine what r-value is needed based on the heat type of your home and which area you are looking to insulate. If you’re looking for the best way to insulate the attic of an electric furnace heated home in Zone 5, an r-value of 49 is recommended.

Step 3: Calculate the Thickness of Insulation Needed

The last step, which does require light calculation, is to determine what thickness of each type of insulation you would need.

To perform your calculation, you’ll need to find the r-value per inch for every insulation type you are considering. Most of the relevant types and their associated r-value/inch are listed in the following table:


Insulation Type R-Values by Application
Material R-Value/inch
Closed-cell Spray Foam 6.0 – 6.5
Open-cell Spray Foam 3.5 – 3.6
Polyisocyanurate Board (foil-faced) 5.6 – 8.0
Polyurethane Board 5.5 – 6.5
Polystyrene Board 3.8 – 5.0
Blown-in Cellulose (attic) 3.2 – 3.7
Blown-in Cellulose (wall) 3.8 – 3.9
Blown-in Mineral Wool (attic) 3.1 – 4.0
Blown-in Mineral Wool (wall) 3.1 – 4.0
Mineral Wool (batt) 3.1 – 3.4
Blown-in Fiberglass (attic) 2.2 – 4.3
Blown-in Fiberglass (wall) 3.7 – 4.3
Fiberglass (batt) 3.1 – 3.4

The calculation required by you is simple: Divide your recommended r-value by the r-value per inch of each of the insulation types you are comparing. Continuing with the previous example, the attic of a Zone 5 electric furnace heated home is recommended to be insulated at an r-value of 49. This means your attic would require around 11.4 to 22.3 inches of blown-in fiberglass insulation to be at the recommended level of energy efficiency. In comparison, the same attic would only require about 7.5 to 8.2 inches of spray foam insulation to meet the same energy efficiency standard. It quickly becomes evident how big of a difference this can make! It may not be practical, or even be possible to attain your recommended r-value with certain forms of insulation if they can’t be applied or layered that thick. This would result in significant energy loss over time.

Comparing Cost

The second critical factor to consider is the comparison of various types of insulation’s upfront installation costs and cost over time. This is many people’s primary concern. Luckily, there are calculators available that will use the square footage of your home to estimate your upfront installation costs of each type of insulation, the cost of your monthly energy bills after installing said insulation, and the potential savings or loss over time. Many of these cost estimators focus on comparing various forms of insulation vs. fiberglass. This is because fiberglass is the most common material used to insulate homes. Fiberglass is also one of the least efficient insulators available on the market.

Here is a simple calculator that compares fiberglass and spray foam insulation. The cost difference over time in comparison to upfront cost is astonishing. Although installing spray foam insulation is up to three times more expensive than installing fiberglass, that cost difference usually is surpassed by energy savings within less than 4 years. And past the point that the benefits outweigh the extra upfront costs, the lower energy bills from having your home more efficiently insulated will continue to add up.

Comparing Added Equity to Your Home

Another factor that you may be looking for a calculator for is the comparison of how much market value the different insulation types add to your home. Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all comparison tool to find the best insulation. There’s no question that adding insulation to your home, no matter what type, automatically adds value. However, once you’ve done your research and calculations for the first two factors, you don’t even need a calculator to estimate which types of insulation would add the most value to your home. When searching for said calculator, you will come across many different sources that give you the same general rule of thumb: The higher r-value your insulation has, the more energy efficient your home will be. And the more energy efficient your home is, the higher value it will have.

Whichever option was the clearest when comparing r-value and cost effectiveness will more than likely be the best choice in terms of adding equity to your home. In our examples and across the board, spray foam insulation had the highest r-value per inch as well as the highest projected energy bill savings over time, making it the clear choice for the best investment to not only save you money per month but also add value to your home if you are looking to put it on the market in the future.

Sources mentioned in this article:



27 Jan 2017

The True Cost of Cheap Insulation

When you hear the word insulation, the first thing that probably comes to mind is the fluffy pink batts of fiberglass you see lined up in every hardware store or when you peek into old attics. These rolls and batts may even be the first solution you think of when it comes to considering an insulation solution for your home, whether building a new home or replacing old insulation. It’s in your best interest to think again.

Yes, fiberglass is a quick fix for your insulation problem. Yes, it has one of the cheapest upfront material costs . And yes, installing fiberglass batts can even be a relatively simple do-it-yourself project. All of those “advantages” really just equate to short-term convenience. There are many more disadvantages over time that you should be aware of. This begs the question, is the convenience really worth it? What is the true cost of choosing cheap insulation?

First of all, the main purpose of insulating a building is to more efficiently regulate the internal temperature. This is achieved by resisting the infiltration of outside air or preventing the leaking of climate controlled air from inside your home. The measure of an insulating material’s ability to resist this air infiltration is called the resistance value, or r-value. Fiberglass insulation, in all forms, has some of the lowest r-values of the most commonly used insulation types. Take a look at this comparison of r-value by insulation type:

Insulation Type R-Values by Application
Material R-Value/inch
Closed-cell Spray Foam 6.0 – 6.5
Open-cell Spray Foam 3.5 – 3.6
Polyisocyanurate Board (foil-faced) 5.6 – 8.0
Polyurethane Board 5.5 – 6.5
Polystyrene Board 3.8 – 5.0
Blown-in Cellulose (attic) 3.2 – 3.7
Blown-in Cellulose (wall) 3.8 – 3.9
Blown-in Mineral Wool (attic) 3.1 – 4.0
Blown-in Mineral Wool (wall) 3.1 – 4.0
Mineral Wool (batt) 3.1 – 3.4
Blown-in Fiberglass (attic) 2.2 – 4.3
Blown-in Fiberglass (wall) 3.7 – 4.3
Fiberglass (batt) 3.1 – 3.4


There are two reasons why fiberglass insulation along with other batt insulations like mineral wool have such low r-values in comparison to spray foam insulation and even foam board. The first is the structure of the material itself. Fluffy wool or felt slows the transfer of air and temperature through walls and roofs but does not block it completely.

The second and possibly less obvious reason fiberglass and wool insulation has a low r-value is that the lack of precision during installation. In other words, the material is unable to seal off any spaces, gaps, and holes completely. These seemingly minor gaps that are left unsealed play a major part in a home’s energy efficiency loss and make your residential HVAC system work at a higher capacity than it needs to. Not only are they responsible for the loss of energy, but also allow for the infiltration of pests and airborne allergens. The most foolproof solution against these infiltrations is to have spray foam insulation professionally installed. Spray foam expands and fills in every crack, creating an airtight seal within your home and lowering your HVAC system’s workload.

When it comes to the question of whether fiberglass really is cheaper, only doing an upfront cost comparison will cost you more in the long run. The convenience factors of fiberglass, like the lower cost of materials and the ability to install it yourself, are considerably short-sighted when compared to the advantages of newer forms of insulation like closed cell spray foam. Compare fiberglass’ misleading “advantages” to its low r-value, resulting energy loss, and high HVAC workload. These all equate to year-round higher energy bills. Higher bills month after month will quickly chip away at the amount you “saved” by going with a cheap material. In 2-4 years you’ll face a significant loss versus what you would have saved by insulating with advanced materials from the start. The savings on your energy bills by using spray foam insulation, which can easily be calculated, would continue to add up for years to come after the cost gap has closed.

On top of the post-installation financial loss over time, cheap insulation does not have as long of a lifespan when compared to newer approaches like spray foam insulation. It takes about 10 to 20 years on average for fiberglass to settle, collect dust, and harbor pests. After this point, it’s time to replace your insulation yet again. This timeline is dramatically shorter if your fiberglass insulation is exposed to moisture damage before its natural replacement point. Both fiberglass and cellulose insulations retain water, which can quickly lead to the growth of mold within your walls. Closed cell spray foam insulation has an indefinite lifespan and is completely water resistant, so unlike with fiberglass or any insulation material that breaks down and settles, you wouldn’t have to reach out of pocket to replace your insulation again.