Pros and Cons of Different Home Insulation

Insulation ratings

A rating system known as the R-value metric helps differentiate which materials would work best in a particular situation.

The R-value is simple to understand; the higher the number assigned, the more effective the material is in keeping a home warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Metrics used to determine the R-value include:

Insulation type



Specifically, the R-value is a rating of the ability for heat to transfer from one side of the material to the other side.

Types of home insulation

Batts and Blankets

The most common types of insulation are batts and blankets. 

Fiberglass batts and blankets


Comes in easy to use rolls

Perfect for DIY projects

Common…easy to find

Comes in standard thicknesses and widths

Are used between joists, studs, and rafters

Some kinds come with stapling flanges to make installation easier


Needs to be carefully cut around pipes, electrical outlets, wires, etc. making installation tedious

Loses effectiveness if it gets compressed (as much as 50%)

Can be itchy to handle – need to wear long sleeves and gloves to protect your skin

Also need to use safety glasses and mask to avoid contact with glass fibers that are within the material

Made with phenol formaldehyde – a material which has been linked with cancer, however, it’s currently being phased out from use as a binder.


Floors, walls, and ceilings

Rockwool Batts and Blankets


Better fire resistance than fiberglass

Doesn’t require staples – springs into shape making installation faster than fiberglass

Doesn’t itch like fiberglass can


Retains moisture which can lead to mold growth if it gets damp

Difficult to find

As much as 90 percent commercial recycled material, some of which may include the carcinogen material crystalline silica. Inhaled rockwood fibers, however, have not been shown to cause lung cancer.


Floors, walls, and ceilings

Cotton Batts (also known as “Blue Jeans”)


Doesn’t itch

Available in easy to use rolls

Easy to cut to fit around pipes, wires, etc.

Made with at a minimum of 85% recycled fiber

Includes a borate fire retardant which can also deter some insects


Pricier than other options (15 to 20 percent more than fiberglass)

Hard to find




Made of fluffy fiber strands that are blown into walls and attics, filling up nooks and crannies better than rolled insulation.

Loose-Fill Fiberglass


Lightweight, making it a good option for attics with ½ inch drywall ceilings and framing that’s set every two feet.

Uses up to 60% recycled material 


The fluffy nature of the material can drop the effectiveness of its insulating properties if it’s not also topped by other types of insulation such as blanket or higher density loose-fill material.



Loose-Fill Cellulose


Works well at all temperatures

The colder it gets, the more effectively it works

Consists of 85% post-consumer paper that’s been recycled and 15% fire retardant usually consists of a borate compound – a pest deterrent.


It’s heavy, so it doesn’t work in attics as the drywall ceilings must be at least ⅝ inch thick or framed every 16 inches.

Can settle over time by as much as 20% which reduces its effectiveness

Creates a lot of dust, which is more of a nuisance than a problem because the fibers are too large to get stuck in the lungs

Used in wall cavities, unfinished attic flooring and other areas that are hard to reach with other insulation types

Structural Insulated Panels

Known in the industry as (SIPs), structured insulated panels are great at saving energy (12% to 14%) but they’re more expensive than other options.

Usually, they can be purchased in sheets that are 4×8 feet, but can also be found in larger sizes that are mainly used in new construction.

Works well if you’re adding (or replacing) siding, roofing or building an addition as they cover a large span at once. In some cases you can find SIPs with tongue-in-groove construction (to ensure a tight fit).

They’re also perfect for crawl space walls and basements.

Polystyrene SIPs

Available in two versions; Expanded (EPS) and Extruded (XPS).

Expanded (EPS)


Less expensive

Easy to install


Lower R-value


Found in blue or pink color

Extruded (XPS)



Better moisture barrier than EPS

Easy to install


Has to be cut to fit around wires, pipes, electrical boxes, etc., leaving gaps that should be filled with foam

Cannot nail anything to it – not structural

Insects and other pests can easily tunnel through it

Restricted airflow might require changes to ventilation for building code and safety requirements

Toxic smoke when panels are burned

Can be recycled, however, it’s uncommon


New floors, roofs, walls and ceilings

Polyisocyanurate SIPs


Thin (½ to 2 inches) yet high R-value

Usually comes with a foil facing that acts as a moisture barrier

Easy installation


Shouldn’t use where an interior moisture barrier has already been installed


Toxic smoke from burning panels

Rarely recycled


New roofs, floors, walls and ceilings

Spray Foam

More expensive than batt insulation, however also comes with higher R-values. It can also act as a caulking because it forms an air barrier.

It is applied as a liquid and expands to fill empty spaces, stopping leaks in tight places.

Foam is sprayed, then once dry the excess is cut away leaving the surface flat and even.

Open-Cell Polyurethane Spray Foam


Stops air movement entirely


Water vapor can still pass through which could lead to mold if a moisture barrier isn’t used

For large jobs, the product should be professionally installed

Petroleum or plant-based plastic chemicals release VOCs when applied, which can lead to asthma or other health issues while the product is curing


Ceilings, walls and floors

Closed-Cell Polyurethane Spray Foam


Stops both air and moisture



Requires installation by a professional

Blowing agents are used that can contribute to climate change

Can release VOCs into the air leading to health complications


Ceilings, floors and walls