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Home Insulation: What the Heck Are R-Values?

When it comes to selecting insulation for your home, delving into all the options and terms can be as intimidating as assembling a major piece of furniture with directions that help, oh yeah, no one ever.

There are different kinds of insulation that include but are not limited to: batts and blankets, loose-fill and blown-in, sprayed foam, and reflective. And the optimal insulation R-value varies by climate, type of home or how it’s built, and type of cooling and heating used in the home.

The type of insulation you choose will depend on several factors: where you’ll be installing it and what resistance value or “R-value” you desire. The R-value measures a material’s resistance to conductive heat flow and the greater the number, the more resistance it has.

The value rating depends on the type of insulation, the thickness and its density. In fact, two different types of insulation can have the same R-value but vary in thickness because of how they are made and their respective density.

Because the amount of R-value that best suits your home will depend on your climate and other variables, Energy.gov and Energystar.gov publish maps of the U.S. that outline recommended home insulation R-values. (The maps on each site are similar but other information varies.)

The basic question of whether you already have enough insulation can be answered by a professional home energy auditor. (You may already have an idea based on the draftiness in your home and whether your energy bills have crept up.)

An energy auditor will come to your home and use tools and expertise to detect air leaks in your home and assess your overall energy efficiency. The auditor will make recommendations on ways to make your home more efficient, which may include adding insulation. Check with your utility company to see if it offers home audits.

For more information about insulation, contact your local utility or a trusted insulation contractor. For tips about electrical safety, visit SafeElectricity.org.