When you’re in the dead of winter or the dog days of summer, you likely think about your HVAC more than usual. It keeps you comfortable, just warm or cool enough.
At the same time, you’re likely thinking about your roof and walls that protect you from the elements.
But there’s a component of your home that works harder than anything else, and you probably never take the time to appreciate it—your insulation.
But within the realm of insulation, there are two options homeowners need to decide between, and both have pros and cons.
It comes down to faced and unfaced insulation. But to understand why these matter, it’s important to start at the beginning with a clear understanding of why insulation is vital in the first place.
The Importance of Insulation
One of the biggest reasons insulation should be on your mind is that it can considerably impact your wallet. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that heating and cooling your home will account for about 50%–70% of your home’s energy usage.
With each additional moment of running your heating or cooling system, you’re spending money. Worn-out or improper insulation could mean you’re throwing money out of the uninsulated window.
On the other hand, good insulation with the proper retardant barriers can have a ton of benefits. For one, it offers more protection for you and your family against the chaotic elements outside your door.
Whether you live in the soggy Florida Panhandle or the blazing heat of Las Vegas, your home will experience extreme weather at some point.
Proper insulation helps fortify your house against these elements, keeping you comfortable and safe. Along with protecting you, good insulation keeps you more comfortable.
A general principle of thermodynamics that your home lives by is that heat flows from warm areas into cool spaces.
With this airflow, you need insulation to keep the proper temperature in your spaces. The right insulation will keep your home’s airflow from escaping through the walls, ceiling, roof, attic, and basement.
In short, insulation is the main component working to keep you comfortable and save you money. By having good insulation, your HVAC heating and cooling system don’t have to work as hard, reducing both energy usage and your bills.
Factors Influencing Your Insulation Needs
There’s more to insulation than just saving money. Certain factors influence what type of insulation you need. A huge pair of factors is your location and climate. The needs of someone in the Midwest are different from those of someone in Alaska or Arizona.
Even within your state, different areas will experience different extremes. These extremes should determine the insulation you choose and maximize your energy efficiency, wherever you are. When choosing your insulation, check its R-value.
This value indicates the thermal resistance, or the insulation’s resistance to heat flow. The higher the insulation’s R-value, the better it is.
R-value also takes into account the thickness, material, and overall density of the insulation. All these factors play into the quality of the insulation you use in your home.
Faced vs. Unfaced Insulation
When speaking about insulation, there are two primary types: faced insulation and unfaced insulation. The most important of these to understand is faced insulation.
While unfaced insulation is pretty straightforward‒ insulation without any added retardant layer, often spray foam or loose-fill fiberglass‒ faced insulation comes in several types, and each has a benefit for your home.
The most basic thing to understand about faced insulation is that it has a vapor barrier. The “facing” refers to the vapor retardant that prevents moisture from traveling between the spaces of your home.
Additionally, this facing protects the surface, holds the insulation together, fastens the insulation material to the other components in the build of your house, and can even help stabilize its R-value.
1. Faced Insulation
There are a couple of important places where you should use faced insulation:
- Cathedral Ceilings: With cathedral ceilings, faced insulation can act as a greater barrier than would typically be there in the form of an attic. Since cathedral ceilings don’t have an attic layer as a temperature and weather barrier, the insulation steps in.
- Fire Rating: Some areas of your home require certain fire ratings, and faced insulation can come in handy. Some have a flame-resistance layer that can improve the safety of your home.
- Downward Heat Flow: As the heat travels throughout your house, maintaining a consistent temperature can be challenging. Faced insulation can prevent downward heat flow with radiant barriers.
2. Unfaced Insulation
While much focus is on faced insulation, unfaced insulation has its place.
If you’re adding new insulation over an existing insulation layer, unfaced insulation will work just fine. You can also use unfaced insulation when facing isn’t required.
For example, you can save some money by using unfaced spray foam on the interior walls of your home. It provides the benefits of insulation but without the retardant layers.
Types of Insulation
Above all, remember that the right insulation will lead to thousands of dollars in savings per year, while bad or insufficient insulation will waste your money. As insulation ages, it wears down and goes bad, requiring you to replace it at some point.
Now is a good time to make the best choice for your home’s insulation. Choosing the right insulation doesn’t have to be a headache.
There are a few simple things to keep in mind that can help you make the right decision. It all starts with knowing the available materials.
Kraft paper-faced insulation features a layer of fluffy insulation plus a layer of paper vapor retardant. This works to prevent mildew and mold in your walls and is great for attic ceilings, exterior basement walls, or the exterior walls of your home.
The installation involves pressing the insulation into the wall cavity with the paper facing out, just as you would any type of insulation.
Foil Kraft Paper
Like regular kraft paper, foil kraft paper uses a layer of foil to reflect heat back to its source.
This works to keep the interior heat inside your home, so long as the installation of the foil kraft paper-faced insulation has the foil side facing inward. If you have an attic that needs new insulation, this is a great option to consider.
Another foil option is aluminum foil-faced insulation. This won’t radiate heat out of your space, and it’s a wonderful option for your roof.
Rather than warming through radiating, it warms through conducting the heat from the shingles, adding a layer of warmth during the cold winter months.
Typically used with fiberglass blanket insulation, vinyl-faced insulation actively slows down the hot air moving through your house and is an effective insulation option, regardless of the season. It also includes a vapor barrier, which prevents moisture from seeping through.
You’ll see vinyl most commonly in commercial and industrial buildings, such as:
- Manufacturing facilities
- Retail spaces
It also creates an effective sound barrier on the exterior and interior walls.
Areas That Need Great Insulation
The U.S. Department of Energy identified a few key areas of your home to focus on when adding insulation.
By placing your attention on these areas, you maximize the energy usage in your home and have the greatest comfort.
With your attic at the top of your home and the first layer of protection between you and your roof, you need to insulate it properly to keep your roof in good working condition. It’s recommended to use fiberglass or cellulose insulation.
Your exterior and interior walls need to have excellent insulation. Rigid boards are a good option, especially when coupled with a vapor barrier. For your interior walls, you can also consider fiberglass batting, cellulose, or foam insulation.
Don’t forget your floors! Insulating your floors gives them the strong foundation they need every day. Rigid foam boards or traditional fiberglass batting are your best options.
Because crawl spaces are typically a step away from being outside, insulating them often takes the backburner. But it can make a huge difference in the overall energy efficiency of your home. Use fiberglass, foam, or cellulose insulation in these areas.
If you have a basement, don’t ignore it when it comes time to insulate. A great deal of air can be lost through your basement if it’s poorly insulated. Aim for rigid board or fiberglass insulation to have the best results.
Installing Wall Insulation
While many areas could use new insulation, starting with your walls is an excellent way to become familiar with working with the material. Assume in this scenario that you are using paper-facing batting.
This should cost you about $0.79 per foot, and the whole process should take about two to four hours for a 12×20 room. First, cut the batting to the correct width. You want it to fit between the narrow studs. Trim the width to best fit snugly.
Then, trim your batting to the correct length. The goal is to tuck it into the open area under the top stud bay, with the edges flush against the side studs. Remember, you want it to fit tightly and snugly without being compressed, because that reduces the R-value.
As you continue placing your batting, you’ll encounter some challenges, such as electrical components or plumping. Deal with these as they come.
You can pull the batting apart or cut notches to fit around components. If you run into pipes, simply tuck the batting behind them. Finally, add a vapor barrier, especially if you plan to use unfaced insulation.
Frequently Asked Questions
When Should I Use Unfaced Insulation?
A good rule of thumb is to only use unfaced insulation on interior walls that don’t require heavy soundproofing. Facing provides additional protection from the elements and aids in the control of sound from room to room.
If you have an interior wall that doesn’t require soundproofing, unfaced insulation is a good option.
Is Faced Insulation Better Than Unfaced?
That depends on its use. Faced insulation is definitely better for exterior walls, attics, and roofs.
It generally works better for controlling moisture, temperature, and sound. However, both types of insulation make a difference in the overall comfort of your home.
Does Faced Insulation Need to Be Covered?
While the facing will work as a barrier against moisture, it does need to be covered.
Aside from building codes that require walls over the insulation, you will have a much more aesthetically pleasing house if the insulation is covered.
Most building codes require a half-inch thick wallboard or other materials that are code approved. Check your local building codes to be fully aware of the requirements.
Where Should You Not Place Insulation?
Generally speaking, you want insulation throughout your house, but you might not want certain types of insulation everywhere.
For example, avoid using fiberglass insulation in your basement. Because it has the tendency to attract mold and the basement is notoriously damp, it’s not a good option.
However, you should still plan on using some form of insulation in your basement walls to maintain comfortable temperatures. Understanding the different types of insulation is imperative.
Which One Is Better?
Your home is your castle, and you want to feel comfortable being there. The foundation of a comfortable home is insulation.
By using the correct unfaced or faced insulation, you can provide your home with the proper barriers to maintain a comfortable environment for you and your family.
Installation is simple, and luckily there are several options, regardless of where your insulation is needed. Stop letting money seep out the window and take charge with new insulation in your home.