10 Materials to Keep Your Home Warm

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Home Improvement

Living in a cold climate means that keeping your home’s envelope secure is essential. Stefano Stefani/Getty Images

It’s common knowledge that a house needs a well-insulated building envelope to maintain its structural integrity. However, we may not realize just how crucial this shell is. By reducing the transfer of heat through this envelope, you can decrease the amount of energy required to maintain the interior temperature of your home.

Insulation is an effective way to block the transfer of heat through this layer, as well as control for sound. When insulating your home, it’s advisable to follow the R-value recommended by the Department of Energy or your local energy code, as suggested by the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association. R-value measures thermal resistance; a higher R-value means better insulation. To determine the best insulation for your location, consult with the local gas or electric utility company. In the following pages, we’ll explore some of the insulation types they might recommend.

10: Fiberglass Insulation

Fiberglass insulation is commonly used in roofs, walls, floors, air ducts, and pipes. It comes in two types: fiberglass loose-fill insulation, which is blown in, and fiberglass blanket insulation, which comes in batts or rolls of various densities, widths, and lengths. Fiberglass is fibrous and made of sand and recycled glass, making it naturally noncombustible. It won’t retain moisture if exposed to water; instead, it will dry out and retain its original R-value. R-values for fiberglass insulation range from R-11 to R-38.

Fiberglass insulation reduces energy use and lowers utility bills, which is why the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association considers it a cost-effective and energy-saving product. It also has environmental benefits by improving the energy efficiency of buildings and reducing the amount of fossil fuel combustion required to cool and heat them, therefore decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

9: Cellulose Insulation

The insulation that keeps your home warm might be made from the newspaper you read. Rayes/Getty Images

Cellulose insulation can be found in attics, walls, ceilings, and other areas of the home. It’s primarily made of shredded newspaper, making it highly combustible. Although cellulose insulation is treated generously with fire retardant, it’s not fireproof. It also absorbs and retains moisture, which can permanently diminish its thermal performance if it becomes soaked. Cellulose insulation can be applied in various ways, including by adding water to it. However, this wet-spray method won’t achieve full R-value until it’s dry.

Cellulose insulation uses the same amount of virgin materials as fiberglass insulation. However, it requires up to three times more cellulose to achieve the same level of insulation as fiberglass. Cellulose insulation settles much more than other types of insulation, at a rate of 20%. The Insulation Contractors Association of America recommends adding 25% thickness to cellulose insulation to compensate for significant R-value loss.

8: Insulation Made of Polyisocyanurate

Polyisocyanurate is a plastic with closed-cell foam that contains a low-conductivity gas. This insulation has an R-value ranging from R-5.6 to R-8, but its R-value can decrease if the gas leaks out and air comes in.

There are different types of polyisocyanurate insulation, such as liquid, sprayed foam, and rigid foam board. It can also be laminated with various facings. Foam-in-place applications are cheaper than installing foam boards and perform better because the liquid foam molds to all surfaces.

7: Expanded Polystyrene Insulation

Polystyrene is a transparent thermoplastic used to make foam board, concrete blocks, and loose-fill insulation.

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is made of small plastic beads fused together and is typically used in concrete blocks. Molded expanded polystyrene (MEPS) is available as small foam beads and is commonly used for foam board insulation. However, it is difficult to control as even a small hole or gust of wind can scatter the beads. Foam board polystyrene’s thermal resistance ranges from R-3.8 to R-5.0, depending on its density.

6: Extruded Polystyrene Insulation

Extruded polystyrene (XPS) is made by pressing molten material into sheets. It is typically used as foam board insulation and is resistant to moisture, rot, mildew, and corrosion. Facers or laminate are not required for XPS to resist water absorption. According to the Extruded Polystyrene Foam Association, using XPS for 15 to 50 years in a house has net positive energy conservation and air emission benefits.

5: Spray Polyurethane Foam Insulation

Spray polyurethane foam is a liquid that expands many times over when sprayed onto a surface. The application techniques can achieve different results, such as making it fairly rigid or soft to the touch. It can also be used as roofing foam resistant to foot traffic and water. Spray polyurethane foam provides an air barrier, moisture control, and high R-value. It can be used to insulate roofing, air barriers, walls, ceilings, attics, and basements. It also helps improve a home’s ventilation system efficiency.

4: Radiant Barriers

A radiant barrier is a reflective surface that faces an open space, usually installed in attics. It reduces summer heat gain and winter heat loss by reflecting heat back to its source. Radiant barriers must be installed with the reflective surface facing open air space.

The way that this type of insulation works is by blocking radiant heat transfer. Radiant heat moves straight away from surfaces, heating anything solid that absorbs the energy. When the sun heats your roof, most of this heat is due to radiant energy. This heat travels through the roof to the inside attic side, where it is radiated onto cooler surfaces like the attic floor. A radiant barrier can minimize this transfer and block up to 97% of radiant heat. However, it is important to keep in mind that these barriers do not provide much thermal insulation. Reflective insulation, on the other hand, is made of metallic foil and other insulation materials. It is used to stop radiant heat transfer between open spaces in walls, roofs, and floors. Cotton insulation is made from recycled cotton fabrics and is praised for its environmental and health safety, as well as its ability to dampen sound and maintain its R-value in colder climates. Mineral wool is another option that is made of recycled content and does not require additional chemicals to make it fire-resistant. It comes in both blanket and loose-fill forms and is commonly used in the US and Canada.

Additional Information

Related Articles from HowStuffWorks

  • Explanation of Insulated Curtains
  • Instructions on How to Insulate Windows
  • Information on Whether Insulation is Hazardous
  • Details on How the Sun Functions
  • Overview of Spray-on Solar Panels

Sources Cited

  • Build it Green. (December 9, 2009). http://www.builditgreen.org
  • The Cellulose Installation Manufacturing Association. (December 9, 2009).http://www.cellulose.org/pdf/cellulose_bulletins/tech_bulletin2.pdf
  • Energy Star. (December 9, 2009). http://energystar.custhelp.com/cgibin/energystar.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=2600
  • Extruded Polystyrene Foam Association. (December 9, 2009).http://www.xpsa.com/index.html
  • Greener Building. (December 9, 2009).http://www.greenerbuilding.org
  • North American Insulation Manufacturers Association. (December 9, 2009).www.naima.org
  • Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance. (December 9, 2009).http://www.sprayfoam.org
  • U. S. Department of Energy. (December 9, 2009).http://www.energysavers.gov


1. What are some materials that can help keep my house warm?

There are several materials that can help keep your house warm, including insulation, weatherstripping, draft stoppers, thermal curtains, rugs, hot water bottles, and space heaters. Insulation is particularly important as it can prevent heat from escaping through the walls, roof, and floors. Weatherstripping and draft stoppers can be used to seal gaps around doors and windows. Thermal curtains are made with thick, insulating materials that can help keep warm air inside. Rugs can also help insulate floors, while hot water bottles and space heaters can provide additional warmth in specific areas of your home.

2. How does insulation work?

Insulation works by creating a barrier between the inside and outside of your home. It slows down the transfer of heat, reducing the amount of energy needed to maintain a comfortable temperature. Insulation is typically made from materials like fiberglass, cellulose, or foam and is installed in walls, ceilings, and floors. The thickness and density of the insulation will determine its effectiveness. For example, thicker insulation will be more effective than thinner insulation at preventing heat loss.

3. How can I tell if my house needs more insulation?

There are several signs that your house may need more insulation. If your home is constantly drafty or cold, even with the heat on, this may be a sign that there is not enough insulation. High energy bills can also be an indication that your home is not well-insulated, as you may be using more energy than necessary to maintain a comfortable temperature. Finally, if your home was built before the 1980s, it may not have enough insulation, as building codes have changed over time to require higher levels of insulation.

4. What are thermal curtains?

Thermal curtains are curtains made with thick, insulating materials that can help keep warm air inside your home. They are typically made with a layer of foam or other insulating material sandwiched between two layers of fabric. Thermal curtains are designed to trap air between the window and the curtain, creating a barrier that slows down the transfer of heat. They can be particularly useful in rooms with large windows or drafty areas.

5. How can rugs help keep my house warm?

Rugs can help keep your house warm by insulating your floors. They create a barrier between your feet and the cold floor, preventing heat from escaping through the floorboards. Rugs can be particularly useful in rooms with hard floors, such as tile or hardwood, which can be especially cold in the winter. They can also add a cozy touch to your home decor.

6. What are some different types of space heaters?

There are several different types of space heaters, including ceramic, radiant, convection, and oil-filled heaters. Ceramic heaters are powered by electricity and use ceramic plates to heat the air. Radiant heaters use infrared radiation to warm up objects in the room. Convection heaters work by heating up the air in the room and circulating it using a fan. Oil-filled heaters use electricity to heat oil, which is then circulated through the heater to warm up the air.

7. How much does it cost to install insulation?

The cost of installing insulation will depend on a variety of factors, including the size of your home, the type of insulation you choose, and the complexity of the installation. On average, homeowners can expect to spend between $1,500 and $4,000 to install insulation in their home. However, this cost can vary widely depending on your specific circumstances.

8. Are there any government incentives for installing insulation?

Yes, there are several government incentives available for homeowners who install insulation. The federal government offers a tax credit of up to 10% of the cost of insulation, up to a maximum of $500. Some state and local governments also offer incentives for energy-efficient home improvements, including insulation. Check with your local utility company or government agency to see if there are any programs available in your area.

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