Reuben's Home Inspection Blog

My Beef With Fiberglass Batts

By In Fiberglass Batts On March 22, 2011


Reuben's BeefFiberglass batts are a poor choice of insulation for most applications, yet this still seems to be the insulation of choice for most handy homeowners.  I’m been complaining about fiberglass batts for a while now, and for good reason.

Fiberglass batts are more expensive.  I stopped by the Maple Grove Home Depot and compared the prices of unfaced fiberglass batts, loose fill fiberglass, and cellulose.  Here’s what I found:

$0.93 / square foot for R38 Fiberglass Batts

$0.56 / square foot for R38 Loose Fill Fiberglass

$0.30 / square foot for R38 Cellulose

Price Tag at Home DepotSide note:   Comparing prices at Home Depot was a pain in the butt.  Are they doing this on purpose?  The sign on the fiberglass batts said “That’s only $0.93 sq. ft.”   Yes, for R38… perfect.  But then the sign on a bag of loose fill fiberglass says “That’s only $0.51 sq. ft.”  FOR WHAT?  You have to get out a calculator and do a little math to figure out this is for R30.  What really drove me nuts was the sign for a bag of cellulose insulation, which said “That’s only $0.15 sq. ft.”  Again, FOR WHAT?  I got out my calculator, and determined that they’re quoting the price for R19.  How are consumers supposed to make any reasonable comparisons when the three different prices per square foot are for three different depths?  These signs are worse than useless, they’re misleading.

Fiberglass batts take more time to install. To be installed properly, fiberglass batts need to be painstakingly cut to fit the exact size of the space that they’re supposed to fill.  Here are a few examples:

  • A 2×6 wall that has electrical wire running perpendicular to the studs;  should you push the insulation in front of or behind the wire, leaving a void in the insulation?  No.  You would need to cut the batt so it gets installed above and below the wire.  The images below show the original photo on the left, and the photo with a thermal image overlay on the right.  As you might guess, the red areas are warm.

Thermal image of fibeglass batts

  • A 2×6 wall with electrical outlet boxes; should you stuff the insulation around it, leaving nasty gaps around the box?  No.  You would need to cut out a rectangle in the batt so it fits around the outlet box without being compressed, and you would need to install a thin piece of fiberglass behind the outlet box.

Poorly installed fiberglass batt in wall

  • An attic with a bazillion electrical boxes, wires, pipes, truss chords, etc…; should you stuff the insulation around all of these obstructions, significantly reducing the insulating value?  No.  You would need to make a bazillion cuts and fits in the fiberglass batts to fill all of the gaps and voids.

The alternative to making all of these cuts and fits is to use something that fills in every little gap and void, such as loose fill fiberglass or cellulose in the attic, dense pack cellulose in walls, and spray foam at rim joists.  These methods take far less time.

Fiberglass batts are extremely difficult to install properly. As you read through the examples above, you were probably wondering who would ever take the time to actually do all of these things.  My experience has told me no one. I can’t say fiberglass batts are impossible to install properly… but I have yet to find fiberglass batts installed properly in an attic.  All of the little voids that are left in fiberglass insulation equate to an exponential level of heat loss.  The photos below came from a five-year-old custom built home in Edina that I inspected.

Poorly installed fiberglass batts Poorly installed fiberglass batts 2

Poorly installed fiberglass batts 3 Poorly installed fiberglass batts 4

Fiberglass batts are itchy. I can touch the stuff with my hands and I’m fine, but once that stuff gets on my forearms, it’s bad news.  My skin gets red, bumpy, and itchy.  Even if you’re just walking on it, the fibers get released in to the air and they float for a long time.  Your skin doesn’t even need to make direct contact with it to be affected.  This makes fiberglass nasty stuff to work with or be around.

So why are fiberglass batts still used today? For small jobs, such as re-insulating a wall or two, it might not make sense to hire an insulation contractor to fill the walls with dense pack cellulose, and it’s not cheap to have spray foam installed.  As for attics, again, there is no special equipment needed to install fiberglass batts.  To blow loose fill fiberglass or cellulose, a huge insulation blower and hoses are needed, so it turns in to a fairly large project.  It’s far easier to buy a few rolls of insulation at the store, drive ‘em home in your car, and roll them out in the attic.

If you have an upcoming insulation project, I suggest using something other than fiberglass batts.  In the near future, I’ll post a blog discussing all of the alternatives to fiberglass batts.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections – Email – Edina Home Inspections

        

 


About the Author

Reuben

Reuben is a second generation home inspector with a passion for his work. He grew up remodeling homes and learning about carpentry since he was old enough to hold a hammer. Reuben has worked for Structure Tech since it was purchased by Neil in 1997, and is now co-owner of the company. Reuben’s favorite customers are the ones who have a lot of questions; he grew up thinking he was going to be a school teacher because he enjoyed teaching others so much. In a sense, that’s a lot of what home inspections are about, so Reuben truly does what he loves. Reuben has an A.A. degree in liberal arts and has attended most of the Building Inspection Technology classes at North Hennepin Community College. Reuben and his wife are the proud parents of two young childen, Cy Alexander and Lucy Nicole, and have a German Shepherd named Stanley. With two young children Reuben doesn’t have much free time, but he still tries to play disc golf as often as possible during the summer. Reuben lives in Maple Grove, MN. Professional Qualifications / Memberships: *ASHI Certified Inspector *President, ASHI Heartland Chapter *Member, Minnesota Society of Housing Inspectors (MSHI) *Licensed Minneapolis Truth-in-Sale of Housing Evaluator *Licensed Saint Paul Truth-in-Sale of Housing Evaluator *Licensed Maplewood Truth-in-Sale of Housing Evaluator *Licensed Hopkins Truth-in-Housing Evaluator *Licensed Robbinsdale Point of Sale Evaluator *Affiliate Member, Southern Twin Cities Association of Realtors

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10 Comments

  • logo design team 2 YEARS AGO

    Hi just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of the images aren't loading properly. I'm not sure why but I think its a linking issue. I've tried it in two different web browsers and both show the same outcome.

    • Reuben Saltzman 2 YEARS AGO

      I'm guessing it was a temporary issue with my server - the logos all load properly for me now.

  • martha garfias 2 YEARS AGO

    i need replaced insulation in the attic my house is 59 years old I looking the best insulation for the attic investment one time

  • Richard O. Hammer 2 YEARS AGO

    In your price comparison, are those fiberglass batts faced? The paper facing costs extra. You are making a comparison with unfaced options.

    • Reuben Saltzman 2 YEARS AGO

      Richard - yes, that's the price of unfaced batts. This is the only fair way to attempt to compare apples to apples.

  • Kansas City Home Inspectors 4 YEARS AGO

    Hey Reuben Whats up with Home Depot? Your right... batts should be used on small jobs only! Cheers