The word ‘insulation’ is a very broad term. It can refer to any object in a building used to buffer the inhabitants from noise, cold, heat, fire or impact. Here, we will take a brief look at the pros and cons of each kind of insulation.
Thermal insulation is that which is used to achieve and maintain climate control in buildings, vehicles, trains and airplanes. It decreases heat loss or gain, in turn reducing the cost of using heating and cooling systems. There are many different kinds of thermal insulation, each with its own set of pros and cons. Batt insulation, or blanket insulation, is usually made from glass wool, rock wool, natural wool or polyester. This is the most common kind of insulation, usually pink or white in color and about a foot thick. It is used in most building applications by cutting long strips and fitting the batt in between wall studs. A vapor barrier is often used over top of the batt on outer walls or in spaces with a lot of moisture, such as bathrooms. Rigid board insulation is made from either extruded polyester or foil-faced expanded polystyrene. Despite its name, rigid board insulation is not actually rigid. It looks like a thin layer of batt insulation covered in paper or foil. It is actually waterproof, flame retardant and can be more easily installed. Loose fill insulation involves blowing loose particles of fibers or pellets of fiber in cavities. Walls and ceilings that already have their drywall secured would be a good place to use loose fill insulation. Spray foam insulation is fast becoming the leader in thermal insulation choices because its chief advantage is the ability to effectively block every point of air infiltration. So many dollars are spent on extra heating and cooling due to the nooks and crannies found attics and soffits. Spray foam blocks the gaps and keeps cold air out and warm air in. Additionally, it is easily installed by the moderately handy homeowner.
Through the use of thermal insulation, sound buffering occurs very often, either intentionally or unintentionally. During the residential building boom in the 1970’s and 1980’s, homes were built quickly and cheaply. One of the things contractors did to reduce time and costs was to omit installing insulation between the floors. Generally, new homes were electrically heated according to the room, and the thought was that interior floor spaces did not need to be insulated. The side effect here was there was zero sound insulation. Conversations that took place upstairs could be heard downstairs, and vice versa. As the homes changed hands and secondary suites became more common, homeowners found themselves having to blow in insulation between the floors, both for thermal and sound proofing purposes. Of course soundproofing does occur on purpose, and on a specialized level. Home music studios, daycare’s located in office buildings and residential buildings built close to high-noise areas are often soundproofed. Acoustic foam, noise barriers in the form of boards or glass and sound absorption materials are used in these applications.
Fireproofing involves making materials or structures more resistant to fire. In commercial buildings the floors may contain structural steel to keep temperatures from becoming too hot and igniting, thus stopping the spread of fires between floors. Traffic tunnels and underground parking structures are often lined with fire resistant concrete for this same purpose. Many residential insulations that are meant for assistance in climate control are also fire resistant, but are not meant to be an alternative to fire monitoring devices. Asbestos was used for many years as a fireproof insulator around chimney’s and furnaces. It was then found to cause cancer and its use was discontinued.
Many residential insulators offer the homeowner ways to reduce energy costs and protect their investment from fire. If in the process your house also gains protection from traffic noise, then you will have helped to create a warm and quiet oasis to return home to each evening.