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Understanding insulation

December 17, 2021

insulation

If money was slowly escaping from your bank account, would you do everything you could to try and stop it? Living in a home without proper insulation is like allowing your money to evaporate into thin air. In this article we will discuss everything you need to know to ensure your home has adequate insulation, how insulation works, and the best types to use in various areas of your home.

How insulation saves you money

Insulation is the material that goes inside the walls, in the attic, in basement walls, and crawl spaces. The primary purpose of insulation is to slow the loss of heat. When your home has proper insulation, it can stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer while using less energy. With our cold winters, heating makes up about 60% of the energy used in the average Canadian home. If your home doesn't have proper insulation, you're wasting money and energy trying to heat the outdoors. 

The first step in making your home more energy efficient

When considering energy efficiency improvements around your home, upgrading your insulation is the first place to start. An energy evaluation can show you where your home is losing heat and help you implement an action plan. Check out the insulation incentives from the Total Home Energy Savings Program to see how much you qualify for based on the insulation you install in your home.

You pay to heat your home, but without proper insulation, heat can escape

Some people assume that because hot air rises most heat loss occurs through their home's ceiling. That isn't always the case. Heat moves toward colder spots wherever there's a temperature difference. That means heat loss is occurring wherever there isn't enough insulation to maintain a consistent temperature. And in many cases that might be through your basement foundation walls.

Heat flows in three ways—conduction, convection, and radiation. Conduction happens when heat transfers directly from one part of an object to another. It's how the handles on your pots get hot even though they aren't directly touching the burner. Convection transfers heat by moving air or fluids (like water). When your walls don't have proper insulation, the air picks up heat from the wall's warm side and moves it to the cold side, where heat loss ultimately occurs. Sometimes people think they have air leaks around their windows when it's a convection current. Radiation usually accounts for less than 10 percent of heat loss in most homes. It's the heat coming off objects like your body, a fire, or the sun. Insulation reduces heat flow with tiny air pockets, which are poor heat conductors.

Makes your home more comfortable

If your heater or heat pump works extra hard to heat and cool your home because of poor insulation, you are wasting money and probably not getting the comfort you need. Proper levels of insulation can lead to fewer hot/cold spots in your home.

When most people consider insulation, they think about being comfortably warm during the winter months. But proper insulation also makes your home comfortable in the summer by keeping the hot and humid air outside.

Proper insulation has the added benefit of making your home quieter too. You can put insulation between the walls inside your house and under your floors. Doing this helps with heat flow and acts as soundproofing around your home. 

About insulation R-Values

R-value is a term used to rate insulation products in terms of thermal resistance (how slowly or quickly the material allows heat to pass through). In Canada, we refer to this rating as RSI-value. Both terms mean the same thing. R-value is an imperial measurement, while RSI-value is metric. Depending on the insulation product's manufacturing location, you can see both R-value and RSI-value on their descriptions.

The higher the R-value or RSI-value, the better the insulation is at slowing heat loss. The value depends on what the insulation is made of, how thick it is, and its density.  When comparing different types of insulation, that doesn't mean thicker insulation necessarily has a higher R-value. Overall effectiveness also depends on where and how installation occurs. For example, if the insulation becomes too compressed during installation, you won't get the total R-value. 

Types of insulation available

There are four primary types of insulation available for your home:

  1. Fiberglass insulation: This insulation contains fibers made from glass and other materials. It comes in batts, rolls, or loose-fill and is for sidewalls, attics, crawl spaces, ceilings, and basements.
  2. Stone, rock, mineral, or slag wool insulation: available in batts, rolls, or loose-fill and is also used in sidewalls, attics, floors, crawl spaces, ceilings, and basements.
  3. Cellulose insulation: The fibers are typically made from paper or wood, and it’s chemically treated to resist fire and pests. Appropriate for attics and to fill wall cavities or exposed floors.
  4.  Foam insulation: Foam insulation comes in rigid sheets or it can be sprayed as a fluid that sticks to surfaces. Sheets of foam insulation are commonly used for insulating walls, including basement walls. Spray foam is commonly used on basement walls but can be used for above grade walls, exposed floors, and other surfaces.

How to decide which type of insulation to install and where

There are two fundamental things to consider when deciding on insulation type. First, the R-value needed in the area, and second, where you're putting the insulation. Ensure the type of insulation chosen can fill in all the space entirely and evenly. Insulation that needs to be blown or sprayed in should be done by a professional, ensuring proper thickness and density. Prioritize your insulation project by tackling areas that lose the most heat first; an energy evaluation by a Certified Energy Advisor can help you identify high priority areas. Then continue to insulate all areas for optimal efficiency and comfort.

Proper insulation saves energy and money

Adding even small amounts of insulation in areas like your attics or walls that are poorly insulated or not insulated can make a significant difference in your energy bill. The goal is to keep the heat or cool air in your home while minimizing heat loss in the winter and preventing the heat from coming in during the summer. Properly insulating your home means you'll save energy and finally stop your money from escaping through the walls. 

FAQs

What R-values are recommended in my attic, walls, and basement?

The National Building Code is a good starting place for the bare minimum amount of insulation you should have. These values are approximate and don’t include a variety of factors, make sure you or your contractor understands the code requirements in your area.

  • Attic: R-50
  • Main walls: roughly R-20
  • Basement walls: roughly R-20

An energy efficient home might have the following R-values:

  • Attic: R-60 or more
  • Main walls: R-30 or more
  • Basement walls: R-30 or more

What do the R-values mean for insulation?

The R-value is a number that represents the effectiveness of different types and brands of insulation. It describes a material’s resistance to heat transfer. There are minimum R-values recommended for insulation in different areas of your home.

Is a higher R-value better?

Yes, a higher R-value means greater insulation effectiveness.

How do you calculate R-value of insulation?

The R-value is labelled on your insulation product. If you need to layer the insulation to achieve the desirable R-value, simply add the R-values of each layer together to get your total R-value.

R-Value refers to the imperial measurement of resistance to heat flow. In Canada, we use the metric measurement, called RSI-value. To convert R-value to RSI-value, use this formula: R-value/5.678 = RSI.

Are there incentives available for installing insulation?

Yes! With the Total Home Energy Savings Program, you get custom advice and thousands of dollars back for efficiency upgrades on insulation, air sealing, and more. The Low-Income Energy Savings Program is here to help low-income families save money by reducing their energy costs through energy efficiency upgrades, like insulation.