Upon completing this section, you should be able to identify the types of insulation and describe the methods of installation.

The inflow of heat through outside walls and roofs in hot weather or its outflow during cold weather is a major source of occupant discomfort. Providing heating or cooling to maintain temperatures at acceptable limits for occupancy is expensive. During hot or cold weather, insulation with high resistance to heat flow helps save energy. Also, you can use smaller capacity units to achieve the same heating or cooling result, an additional savings.

Most materials used in construction have some insulating value. Even air spaces between studs resist the passage of heat. However, when these stud spaces are filled or partially filled with material having a high insulating value, the stud space has many times the insulating ability of the air alone.


Commercial insulation is manufactured in a variety of forms and types, each with advantages for specific uses. Materials commonly used for insulation can be grouped in the following general classes: (1) flexible insulation (blanket and batt); (2) loose-fill insulation; (3) reflective insulation; (4) rigid insulation (structural and nonstructural); and (5) miscellaneous types.

The insulating value of a wall varies with different types of construction, kinds of materials used in construction, and types and thicknesses of insulation. As we just mentioned, air spaces add to the total resistance of a wall section to heat transmission, but an air space is not as effective as the same space filled with an insulating material.


Flexible insulation is manufactured in two types: blanket and batt. Blanket insulation (fig. 5-27, view A) is furnished in rolls or packages in widths to fit between studs and joists spaced 16 and 24 inches OC. It comes in thicknesses of 3/4 inch to 12 inches. The body of the blanket is made of felted mats of mineral or vegetable fibers, such as rock or glass wool, wood fiber, and cotton. Organic insulations are treated to make them resistant to fire, decay, insects, and vermin. Most blanket insulation is covered with paper or other sheet material with tabs on the sides for fastening to studs or joists. One covering sheet serves as a vapor barrier to resist movement of water vapor and should always face the warm side of the wall. Aluminum foil, asphalt, or plastic laminated paper is commonly used as barrier materials.

Batt insulation (fig. 5-27, view B) is also made of fibrous material preformed to thicknesses of 3 1/2 to 12 inches for 16-and 24-inch joist spacing. It is supplied with or without a vapor barrier. One friction type of fibrous glass batt is supplied without a covering and is designed to remain in place without the normal fastening methods.

Loose Fill

Loose-fill insulation (fig. 5-27, view C) is usually composed of materials used in bulk form, supplied in bags or bales, and placed by pouring, blowing, or packing by hand. These materials include rock or glass wool, wood fibers, shredded redwood bark cork wood pulp products, vermiculite, sawdust, and shavings.

Fill insulation is suited for use between first-floor ceiling joists in unheated attics. It is also used in sidewalls of existing houses that were not insulated during construction. Where no vapor barrier was installed during construction, suitable paint coatings, as described later in this chapter, should be used for vapor barriers when blow insulation is added to an existing house.

Reflective insulation used in conjunction with foil-backed gypsum drywall makes an excellent vapor barrier. The type of reflective insulation shown in figure 5-27, view D, includes a reflective surface. When properly installed, it provides an airspace between other surfaces.


Rigid insulation (fig. 5-27, view E) is usually a fiberboard material manufactured in sheet form. It is made from processed wood, sugar cane, or other vegetable products. Structural insulating boards, in densities ranging from 15 to 31 pounds per cubic foot, are fabricated as building boards, roof decking, sheathing, and wallboard. Although these boards have moderately good insulating properties, their primary purpose is structural.

Roof insulation is nonstructural and serves mainly to provide thermal resistance to heat flow in roofs. It is called slab or block insulation and is manufactured in rigid units 1/2 inch to 3 inches thick and usually 2- by 4-foot sizes.

In building construction, perhaps the most common forms of rigid insulation are sheathing and decorative covering in sheet or in tile squares. Sheathing board is made in thicknesses of 1/2 and 25/32 inch. It is coated or impregnated with an asphalt compound to provide water resistance. Sheets are made in 2- by 8-foot sizes for horizontal application and 4- by 8-foot (or longer) sizes for vertical application.


Most materials have the property of reflecting radiant heat, and some materials have this property to a very high degree. Materials high in reflective properties include aluminum foil, copper, and paper products coated with a reflective oxide. Such materials can be used in enclosed stud spaces, attics, and similar locations to retard heat transfer by radiation. Reflective insulation is effective only where the reflective surface faces an air space at least 3/4 inch deep. Where this surface contacts another material, the reflective properties are lost and the material has little or no insulating value. Proper installation is the key to obtaining the best results from the reflective insulation. Reflective insulation is equally effective whether the reflective surface faces the warm or cold side.


Some insulations are not easily classified, such a insulation blankets made up of multiple layers of corrugated paper. Other types, such as lightweight vermiculite and perlite aggregates, are sometimes used in plaster as a means of reducing heat transmission. Other materials in this category are foamed-in-place insulations, including sprayed and plastic foam types. Sprayed insulation is usually inorganic fibrous material blown against a clean surface that has been primed with an adhesive coating. It is often left exposed for acoustical as well as insulating properties.

Expanded polystyrene and urethane plastic forms can be molded or foamed in place. Urethane insulation can also be applied by spraying. Polystyrene and urethane in board form can be obtained in thicknesses from 1/2 to 2 inches.


In most climates, all walls, ceilings, roofs, and floors that separate heated spaces from unheated spaces should be insulated. This reduces heat loss from the structure during cold weather and minimizes air conditioning during hot weather. The insulation should be placed on all outside walls and in the ceiling. In structures that have unheated crawl spaces, insulation should be placed between the floor joists or around the wall perimeter.

If a blanket or batt insulation is used, it should be well supported between joists by slats and a galvanized wire mesh, or by a rigid board. The vapor barrier should be installed toward the subflooring. Press-fit or friction insulations fit tightly between joists and require only a small amount of support to hold them in place.

Reflective insulation is often used for crawl spaces, but only dead air space should be assumed in calculating heat loss when the crawl space is ventilated. A ground cover of roll rooting or plastic film, such as poly-ethylene, should be placed on the soil of crawl spaces to decrease the moisture content of the space as well as of the wood members.

Insulation should be placed along all walls, floors, and ceilings that are adjacent to unheated areas. These include stairways, dwarf (knee) walls, and dormers of 1 1/2 story structures. Provisions should be made for ventilating the unheated areas.

Where attic space is unheated and a stairway is included, insulation should be used around the stairway as well as in the first-floor ceiling. The door leading to the attic should be weather stripped to prevent heat loss. Walls adjoining an unheated garage or porch should also be insulated. In structures with flat or low-pitched roofs, insulation should be used in the ceiling area with sufficient space allowed above for cleared unobstructed ventilation between the joists. Insulation should be used along the perimeter of houses built on slabs. A vapor barrier should be included under the slab.

In the summer, outside surfaces exposed to the direct rays of the sun may attain temperatures of 50F or more above shade temperatures and tend to transfer this heat into the house. Insulation in the walls and in the attic areas retards the flow of heat and improves summer comfort conditions.

Where air conditioning is used, insulation should be placed in all exposed ceilings and walls in the same manner as insulating against cold-weather heat loss. Shading of glass against direct rays of the sun and the use of insulated glass helps reduce the air-conditioning load.

Ventilation of attic and roof spaces is an important adjunct to insulation. Without ventilation, an attic space may become very hot and hold the heat for many hours. Ventilation methods suggested for protection against cold-weather condensation apply equally well to protection against excessive hot-weather roof temperatures.

The use of storm windows or insulated glass greatly reduces heat loss. Almost twice as much heat loss occurs through a single glass as through a window glazed with insulated glass or protected by a storm sash. Double glass normally prevents surface condensation and frost forming on inner glass surfaces in winter. When excessive condensation persists, paint failures and decay of the sash rail can occur.


Prior to the actual installation of the insulation, consult the manufacturer’s specifications and guidelines for personal-protection items required. Installing insulation is not particularly hazardous; however, there are some health safeguards to be observed when working with fiberglass.


Blanket insulation and batt insulation with a vapor barrier should be placed between framing members so that the tabs of the barrier lap the edge of the studs as well as the top and bottom plates. This method is not popular with contractors because it is more difficult to apply the drywall or rock lath (plaster base). However, it assures a minimum of vapor loss compared to the loss when the tabs are stapled to the sides of the studs. To protect the top and soleplates, as well as the headers over openings, use narrow strips of vapor barrier material along the top and bottom of the wall (fig. 5-28, view A). Ordinarily, these areas are not well covered by the vapor barrier on the blanket or batt. A hand stapler is commonly used to fasten the insulation and the vapor barriers in place.

For insulation without a vapor barrier (batt), a plastic film vapor barrier, such as 4-roil polyethylene, is commonly used to envelop the entire exposed wall and ceilings (fig. 5-28, views B and C). It covers the openings as well as the window and doorheaders and edge studs. This system is one of the best from the standpoint of resistance to vapor movement. Further-more, it does not have the installation inconveniences encountered when tabs of the insulation are stapled over the edges of the studs. After the drywall is installed or plastering is completed, the film is trimmed around the window and door openings.

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Figure 5-28.—Application of insulation.

Reflective insulation, in a single-sheet form with two reflective surfaces, should be placed to divide the space formed by the framing members into two approximately equal spaces. Some reflective insulations include air spaces and are furnished with nailing tabs. This type is fastened to the studs to provide at least a 3/4-inch space on each side of the reflective surfaces.

Fill insulation is commonly used in ceiling areas and is poured or blown into place (fig. 5-28, view C). A vapor barrier should be used on the warm side (the bottom, in case of ceiling joists) before insulation is placed. A leveling board (as shown) gives a constant insulation thickness. Thick batt insulation might also be combined to obtain the desired thickness with the vapor barrier against the back face of the ceiling finish. Ceiling insulation 6 or more inches thick greatly reduces heat loss in the winter and also provides summertime protection.

Areas around doorframes and window frames between the jambs and rough framing members also require insulation. Carefully fill the areas with insulation. Try not to compress the material, which may cause it to lose some of its insulating qualities. Because these areas are filled with small sections of insulation, a vapor barrier must be used around the openings as well as over the header above the openings (fig. 5-29, view A). Enveloping the entire wall eliminates the need for this type of vapor-barrier installation.

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Figure 5-29.—Precautions in insulating.

In 1 1/2- and 2-story structures and in basements, the area at the joist header at the outside walls should be insulated and protected with a vapor barrier (fig. 5-29, view B). Insulation should be placed behind electrical outlet boxes and other utility connections in exposed walls to minimize condensation on cold surfaces.


Most building materials are permeable to water vapor. This presents problems because considerable water vapor can be generated inside structures. In cold climates during cold weather, this vapor may pass through wall and ceiling materials and condense in the wall or attic space. In severe cases, it may damage the exterior paint and interior finish, or even result in structural member decay. For protection, a material highly resistive to vapor transmission, called a vapor barrier, should be used on the warm side of a wall and below the insulation in an attic space.


Effective vapor-barrier materials include asphalt laminated papers, aluminum foil, and plastic films. Most blanket and batt insulations include a vapor barrier on one side, and some of them with paper-backed aluminum foil. Foil-backed gypsum lath or gypsum boards are also available and serve as excellent vapor barriers.

Some types of flexible blanket and batt insulations have barrier material on one side. Such flexible insulations should be attached with the tabs at their sides fastened on the inside (narrow) edges of the studs, and the blanket should be cut long enough so that the cover sheet can lap over the face of the soleplate at the bottom and over the plate at the top of the stud space. However, such a method of attachment is not the common practice of most installers.

When a positive seal is desired, wall-height rolls of plastic-film vapor barriers should be applied over studs, plates, and window and doorheaders. This system, called "enveloping," is used over insulation having no vapor barrier or to ensure excellent protection when used over any type of insulation. The barrier should be fitted tightly around outlet boxes and sealed if necessary. A ribbon of sealing compound around an outlet or switch box minimizes vapor loss at this area. Cold-air returns, located in outside walls, should be made of metal to prevent vapor loss and subsequent paint problems.

Paint Coatings

Paint coatings cannot substitute for the membrane types of vapor barriers, but they do provide some protection for structures where other types of vapor barriers were not installed during construction. Of the various types of paint, one coat of aluminum primer followed by two decorative coats of flat wall oil base paint is quite effective. For rough plasterer for buildings in very cold climates, two coats of aluminum primer may be necessary. A pigmented primer and sealer, followed by decorative finish coats or two coats of rubber-base paint, are also effective in retarding vapor transmission.


Condensation of moisture vapor may occur in attic spaces and under flat roofs during cold weather. Even where vapor barriers are used, some vapor will probably work into these spaces around pipes and other inadequately protected areas and through the vapor barrier itself. Although the amount might be unimportant if equally distributed, it may be sufficiently concentrated in some cold spots to cause damage. While wood shingle and wood shake roofs do not resist vapor movement, such roofings as asphalt shingles and built-up roofs are highly resistant. The most practical method of removing the moisture is by adequate ventilation of roof spaces.

A warm attic that is inadequately ventilated and insulated may cause formation of ice dams at the cornice (fig. 5-30, view A). During cold weather after a heavy snowfall, heat causes the snow next to the roof to melt. Water running down the roof freezes on the colder surface of the cornice, often forming an ice dam at the gutter that may cause water to backup at the eaves and into the wall and ceiling. Similar dams often form in roof valleys. Ventilation provides part of the solution to these problems. With a well-insulated ceiling and adequate ventilation (fig. 5-30 view B), attic temperatures are low and melting of snow over the attic space greatly reduced.

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Figure 5-30.—Ice dams and protective ventilation.

In hot weather, ventilation of attic and roof spaces offers an effective means of removing hot air and lowering the temperature in these spaces. Insulation should be used between ceiling joists below the attic or roof space to further retard heat flow into the rooms below and materially improve comfort conditions.

It is common practice to install louvered openings in the end walls of gable roofs for ventilation. Air movement through such openings depends primarily on wind direction and velocity. No appreciable movement can be expected when there is no wind. Positive air movement can be obtained by providing additional openings (vents) in the soffit areas of the roof overhang (fig. 5-31, view A) or ridge (view B). Hip-roof structures are best ventilated by soffit vents and by outlet ventilators along the ridge. The differences in temperature between the attic and the outside create an air movement independent of the wind, and also a more positive movement when there is wind. Turbine-type ventilators are also used to vent attic spaces (view C).

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Figure 5-31.—Attic outlet vent

Where there is a crawl space under the house or porch, ventilation is necessary to remove the moisture vapor rising from the soil. Such vapor may otherwise condense on the wood below the floor and cause decay. As mentioned earlier, a permanent vapor barrier on the soil of the crawl space greatly reduces the amount of ventilation required.

Tight construction (including storm windows and storm doors) and the use of humidifiers have created potential moisture problems that must be resolved by adequate ventilation and the proper use of vapor barriers. Blocking of soffit vents with insulation, for example, must be avoided because this can prevent proper ventilation of attic spaces. Inadequate ventilation often leads to moisture problems, resulting in unnecessary maintenance costs.

Various styles of gable-end ventilators are available. Many are made with metal louvers and frames, whereas others may be made of wood to more closely fit the structural design. However, the most important factors are to have properly sized ventilators and to locate ventilators as close to the ridge as possible without affecting appearance.

Ridge vents require no special framing, only the disruption of the top course of roofing and the removal of strips of sheathing. Snap chalk lines running parallel to the ridge, down at least 2 inches from the peak. Using a linoleum cutter or a utility knife with a very stiff blade, cut through the rooting along the lines. Remove the roofing material and any roofing nails that remain. Set your power saw to cut through just the sheathing (not into the rafters) along the same lines. A carbide-tipped blade is best for this operation. Remove the sheathing. Nail the ridge vent over the slot you have created, using gasketed roofing nails. Remember to use compatible materials. For example, aluminum nails should be used with aluminum vent material. Because the ridge vent also covers the top of the roofing, be sure the nails are long enough to penetrate into the rafters. Caulk the underside of the vent before nailing.

The openings for louvers and in-the-wall fans (fig. 5-31, view D) are quite similar. In fact, fans are usually covered with louvers. Louver slats should have a downward pitch of 45 to minimize water blowing in. As with soffit vents, a backing of corrosion-resistant screen is needed to keep insects out. Ventilation fans may be manual or thermostatically controlled.

When installing a louver in an existing gable-end wall, disturb the siding, sheathing, or framing members

as little as possible. Locate the opening by drilling small holes through the wall at each corner Snap chalk lines to establish the cuts made with a reciprocating saw. Cut back the siding to the width of the trim housing the louver (or the louver-with-fan), but cut back the sheathing only to the dimensions of the fan housing. Box in the rough opening itself with 2 by 4s and nail or screw the sheathing to them. Flash and caulk a gable-end louver as you would a door or a window.

Small, well-distributed vents or continuous slots in the soffit provide good inlet ventilation. These small louvered and screened vents (see fig. 5-32, view A) are easily obtained and simple to install. Only small sections need to be cut out of the soffit to install these vents, which can be sawed out before the soffit is installed. It is better to use several small, well-distributed vents than a few large ones. Any blocking that might be required between rafters at the wall line should be installed to provide an airway into the attic area.

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Figure 5-32.—Inlet vents.

A continuous screened slot vent, which is often desirable, should be located near the outer edge of the soffit near the fascia (fig. 5-32, view B). This location minimizes the chance of snow entering. This type of vent is also used on the overhang of flat roofs.