Know your insulation

Choose the insulation option that's right for your home

By Allan Britnell


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Whales have a thick layer of blubber to keep them from freezing in the cold depths of the ocean. Polar bears have blubber plus hollow hairs that trap air and help keep them warm. Heck, you probably have love handles helping to keep your sides warm. Unfortunately, your house may not be as well protected from the elements. As any homeowner who has done a little peeking behind walls or in the attic knows all too well, a lot of buildings are under-insulated. Here is a look at the options available when adding a protective layer to your home.

There are several indicators of inefficient insulation, including cold spots on walls or floors, mouldy patches or, that most pressing gauge, unreasonably high heating and cooling bills. There are a few things you can do to improve your home’s insulation.

The high-tech approach: have an infrared photo taken of your house that shows areas of heat loss. If you’re not prepared to go that far, just doing what you can to seal up holes in your home’s protective layer by adding more insulation is a short-term cost that can more than pay for itself down the road. “It’s like putting a toque on a house to keep the heat in,” says Andy Goyda of Owens Corning Canada.

Here are the cold, hard facts about the different types of home insulation.

Batts on a roll
Batts are the type of insulation that most DIYers are familiar with. They’re cheap, have an R-value of three to four per inch (see “What R You Talking About?” on next page) and are easy to work with.

There are two main types of batt insulation on the Canadian market: fibreglass and mineral wool.

Mineral or rock wool insulation is, as the name suggests, made from stones. The Roxul brand is made from basalt and recycled steel. Mineral wool’s two main advantages over fibreglass are increased fire- and water-resistance. The downside is cost. According to Trudy Hepburn, a senior sales rep with Milton, Ont.-based Roxul, mineral wool insulation costs about 10 per cent more than fibreglass. (Our own comparison shopping in the Toronto area found R-13.5 Roxul batts retailing for about $0.33/sq. ft. while Owens Corning batts with an R-value of 12 was selling at $0.26/sq.ft.)

Fibreglass is made from micron-thin strands of blown glass. Batts are sold sized for 2×4, 2×6 and steel studs on either 16″ or 24″ centres.

The key to successful application with either type of insulation is to fill all gaps snugly while not overcompressing the material. As with polar bear fur, insulation batts trap air, which inhibits heat transfer. You also need to install a 6-mil polyethylene vapour barrier on the warm side of the insulation.

If you’re adding batts to your belfry, ensure you don’t block the airflow to and from the soffit or roof vents. Check your local building code regarding setbacks from pot lights and chimney flues.

Unfortunately, familiarity breeds complacency: many don’t take precautions when dealing with insulation. Particles can dislodge and irritate the skin, eyes and lungs. More significantly, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., both fibreglass and mineral wool insulations are “possible carcinogens.” Wear goggles, a dust mask, gloves and long sleeves when working with insulation.

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Nov. 15, 2011

4:40 pm

We are currently starting basement development...what is recommended floor insulation?

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