There are numerous things to consider when buying a new construction home, but one thing that might not be topping your list is your prospective home’s insulation type. New builds are often outfitted with some of the best insulating materials on the market—many of which can reduce ongoing utility costs and even improve a home's sustainability level.
That being said, you may not be able to select the insulation material implemented in your new home, so you’ll want to be informed before buying. This detail will absolutely influence your home’s comfortability throughout the years—not to mention your energy bills—so you should know everything there is to know about the products today’s housing market offers, and how they are evaluated.
How Insulation is Evaluated
There are three primary factors that builders consider when installing insulation:
- Cost versus future energy savings
- R-value (the measure of insulation effectiveness)
- Environmental impact
While you’re looking into insulation, you might also consider whether you plan to invest in other energy-saving options like double or triple-glazed windows. Research the cost and benefits of these options and think about whether they’re worth the investment to make your home even more efficient.
The Best Insulation Types for Your New Home
When you start to research home insulation, you might be surprised by how many options you have. Here are just a few of the choices that are particularly beneficial for new construction buyers.
Also known as foam boards, rigid foam insulation is made of materials like polystyrene, polyurethane, and polyisocyanurate.
- Excellent thermal resistance (up to twice as much as most other choices, assuming similar thickness)
- Helps to reduce the conduction of heat through structural elements like wood and studs
- Usable almost anywhere, including your roof and basement walls
- Made with petrochemicals (less sustainable than some other choices)
Sprayed-Foam and Foam-in-Place Insulation
Sprayed foam insulation is available in open-cell or closed-cell forms. The open-cell form is less expensive but has a lower R-value and isn’t appropriate for below-ground applications. Closed-cell foam is filled with gas that encourages the foam to expand, providing stronger protection against heat leakage.
- Many choices of materials
- When used as part of a new construction build, sprayed foam can reduce time-to-completion and the number of contractors needed
- Requires specialized knowledge; not all insulation pros have the capability to install it
Structural Insulated Panels
Also known as SIPs, these panels are made in a factory and shipped to the construction site where builders install them.
- Good strength-to-weight ratios
- Highly efficient (high R-values)
- Manufacturers can often customize materials to meet client specifications
- Quick to install for experienced builders, saving the client time and money
- Meet all building codes and safety standards
- Fragile if not constructed well—always ask about quality control and warranties
- Can be a fire hazard if not covered in fire-rated material
- May allow rodents to tunnel through if not treated
Radiant Barrier Insulation
More efficient than traditional fiberglass insulation, radiant barrier insulation works by blocking heat transfer instead of absorbing heat that escapes through walls. You can use it on your interior or exterior walls and even in roofing or siding, wherever you and your builder decide is best.
- Great at reducing cooling costs in the summer
- Installing it in your attic can make the space useable as a living area
- Less effective at protecting against cold
- Minimally useful in cooler climates
Loose-Fill and Blown-In Insulation
Loose-fill insulation is made up of small particles of material, usually cellulose, fiberglass, or mineral wool.
- Most loose-fill materials are made of recycled content. Cellulose is usually recycled newsprint, and fiberglass usually contains at least 40 percent recycled glass. Mineral wool usually contains 75 percent post-industrial recycled material.
- Appropriate for enclosed or open spaces
- Can fit any space without disturbing the structure—great for areas that are difficult to insulate
- R-values can vary. Make sure your builder checks the rating of the purchased product and follows coverage recommendations.
If you're fortunate enough to have the freedom to choose your insulation type, take the time to do your research. Changing your insulation type after you build can be costly, but choosing the best option in the first place can mean years of lower energy costs, warm winters, and cool summers.