What Is The Cost Of Blown-In Insulation?
Blown-in attic insulation is one option of several, but many homeowners find that it is the most cost-effective and efficient option. It's more effective for smaller, tighter spaces like the attic because you don't have to be able to physically access every area to apply it. It's also helpful when you want to insulate a larger portion of your attic: An increasing number of homeowners are converting their attics into living spaces, in which case the floor is not the only area that requires insulation. Before installing blown-in attic insulation, consider the following cost factors.
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Table of Contents
- Installing Blown-In Insulation
- Potential Rebates and Savings
- What is Blown-In Insulation?
- Blown-In Insulation Types & Options
- R-Value and Insulating Capacity
- Risks of DIY Insulation
- Making Attic Insulation More Effective
- Find A Pro
Installing Blown-In Insulation
Homeowners can either install blown-in insulation themselves or hire a professional. Incorrect application could result in a failed project, in which case you will have to pay to have the job redone. The professional cost to install blown-insulation is around $1,300.
If you do it yourself, wear clothing that covers your arms and legs as well as a face mask while working with any type of insulation. You might discover that you can't reach certain areas of your attic. In this case, hire a professional to take over the job so you don't injure yourself. To increase your chances for success:
- Conduct an Energy Audit: Determine whether your attic contains any leaks. You might feel drafts coming in through cracks in the wall, for example. Fill these areas with spray foam insulation before you use the blower. Conducting a professional energy audit can help you identify hidden problems.
- Apply Tarps to Interior Areas: Lay down a tarp underneath the attic hatch and along the blower hose's path. You'll catch most dust and debris this way so it doesn't invade the rest of your home and cause respiratory illness.
- Purchase 10% Extra: Always err on the side of caution when purchasing loose fill insulation. Overestimate so you don't finish the job with less material than you need.
- Focus on Common Leak Areas: When sealing potential air leaks prior to insulating the attic, focus on the most common problem areas. These include windows, pipes, air ducts, exhaust vents and chimneys.
The cost to install DIY blown-in insulation is not considerably lower than hiring a professional. Average expenses amount to approximately $980.
Potential Rebates & Savings
Many of the federal energy efficiency tax credits expired between 2011 and 2012, but individual states often encourage residents to improve their homes with energy-efficient appliances, hardware and insulation. You might be able to claim a portion of the expenses required to insulate your attic on your state tax returns.
Your energy bills should decrease once you insulate your attic because insulation prevents heat loss and gain. Experts estimate that consumers save nearly $800 per year when they insulate. During the summer, hot air won't be able to penetrate your living spaces through the attic; in the winter, hot air will remain trapped in your house and not escape through the attic.
When combined with proper ventilation, attic insulation also prevents moisture buildup. Since humidity encourages the development of mold and mildew, you'll save yourself the cost of mold abatement. Reducing humidity also makes living spaces more comfortable, and your HVAC system does not have to work as hard.
What is Blown-In Insulation?
Unlike batt insulation, blown-in insulation fills every nook and cranny in your attic. Batt, or rolled, insulation leaves gaps because the material cannot fill every inch of space -- even when cut to specific sizes and shapes -- because the installer is limited to a cohesive piece of material. Blown-in varieties overcome this obstacle because the installer sprays the material into the walls and floors, filling them completely before moving on to the next section. The increased material density associated with blown-in insulation makes it more reliable, especially for non-climate-controlled areas of the home like the attic. Other benefits of this strategy include:
- Speed: It takes less time to install blown-in insulation, which means installers require less time to complete the job and customers pay less for labor.
- Asthma & Allergy Protection: The virgin material used for blown-in insulation is less likely to irritate the respiratory systems of homeowners with asthma and allergies.
- Sound Barrier: Since blown-in insulation fills more space, it creates a more effective noise impediment against exterior sounds such as rain, wind and human-made sounds like lawn equipment and music.
Besides the increased density, another advantage of blown-in insulation is that it allows the installer to reach areas that remain inaccessible by hand. Since batting requires physical contact to mold the insulation into place, installers sometimes neglect critical areas, leading to air leaks and other issues. Blown-in insulation utilizes a pump and a hose that sprays loose-fill material into every corner of your attic. As long as the hose can reach, the installer can complete the job.
Blown-In Insulation Types & Options
The material used for blown-in attic insulation varies depending on your specific needs. Fiberglass, cellulose and rock wool fiber are the main options. These are different from the pour-in insulation materials, such as polystyrene beads, which are not as easy to apply. Each fill material offers superior density, ease of application and energy efficiency over standard batting. However, it requires precise installation to work properly.
Unlike other forms of insulation, each of the blown-in types is made from recycled materials, such as newsprint in the case of cellulose. They make excellent choices if you hope to increase your home's carbon footprint. The amount of recycled materials included in each product varies, so ask the manufacturer in advance if you are concerned about this facet of the material.
If you're concerned about settling, fiberglass offers a convenient solution. It is less likely to settle over time than cellulose or wool, so you won't have to worry about adding new insulation in a couple years. Fiberglass is also less likely to constitute a risk during a fire. Unlike cellulose, it won't feed the blaze, which may result in less damage to your home. Additionally, it performs well in moist, hot areas like attics.
Fiberglass contains the smallest percentage of recycled materials (approximately 35% recycled glass), whereas the other options have a larger portion of recycled content. However, fiberglass blown-in insulation provides a superior sound barrier; if you use your attic for living space or if you constantly hear noises in your living areas below, consider using fiberglass insulation to help control sound.
Fiberglass is best used for:
- Homes without recessed lighting, extraction vents and other fixtures that penetrate the attic space.
- Attics with sufficient space for thick applications, since fiberglass requires more thickness to achieve the same R-value as the other forms of insulation.
- Homes without pest problems, because the material does not contain any chemicals to repel them.
Since cellulose is made from newsprint and other pulp materials, it doesn't constitute a health safety risk. Consumers who install fiberglass in their attics might notice an increase in asthma or allergy symptoms, so cellulose makes a healthier alternative. Cellulose is flammable because of its newsprint content, but most manufacturers treat their insulation with fire-retardant chemicals to offset this concern. In addition to preventing burning, these chemicals repel insects, rodents and other pests that commonly invade attic spaces.
With more than 70% recycled content, cellulose also makes a green choice. Air leakage is less likely with cellulose insulation, which makes it appropriate for use in an otherwise drafty attic, and it performs well in extremely cold temperatures. Since attics are rarely subject to climate control, the superior cold weather performance protects vents, pipes and other infrastructure.
Three types of cellulose insulation exist:
- Loose Fill: This is the most common type, and it does not require additional pressure on the material.
- Stabilized: This usually incorporates adhesive and produces a low-dust material.
- Wall Cavity Spray: This is a spray-on application that expands after it is dispensed.
Since cellulose insulation can absorb moisture over time, it usually requires a vapor barrier between the insulation itself and the wall or floor. Otherwise, you run the risk of developing mold or mildew in your attic. Since attic spaces are typically more humid than other areas of the home, don't discount the importance of this step.
Rock Wool Fiber
The last option for blown-in insulation in your attic is rock wool fiber. Just as fiberglass is made from glass fibers, rock wool is manufactured from the remnants produced by the steel industry. Its anti-flammable properties make it a safe and reliable option, and it tolerates extreme heat better than the other options. If you live in a hot climate with high humidity, consider using rock wool fiber insulation. It also works well for applications around chimneys and vents.
The primary downside to rock wool fiber lies in its availability. While you can usually track down fiberglass or cellulose insulation in your local hardware store, rock wool can be harder to obtain. You might have to order it on the Internet or ask your home improvement retailer to order it for you.
Rock wool fiber is best used for:
- Consumers who value energy-efficient and green construction materials
- Homes with noise problems, since rock wool is an even more efficient sound barrier than fiberglass
- Applications in extremely hot or cold environments
Although it's more expensive than cellulose or fiberglass insulation, rock wool fiber appeals to many homeowners because of its energy efficiency. You'll save more money in electricity and natural gas bills, which can cover the added expense over years of use.
R-Value & Insulating Capacity
Each type of attic insulation has an R-value (resistance value), which measures its ability to resist the transfer of heat. Higher R-values signify greater heat resistance; this means that heat can't escape as easily in the winter or enter the home as readily in the summer. For proper insulation, you must use sufficient material to achieve the recommended R-value for the space, but you don't want to exceed it.
Different climates necessitate varying R-values.
- Homeowners who live in the Northeast and Midwest areas of the country need higher R-value insulation in their attics than those in the southwest and central regions.
- The country is divided into seven regions to help homeowners determine how much insulation they require.
- Attics always require greater R-values than other areas of the home.
The R-value indicates the inches required to achieve a certain degree of heat resistance. The recommended R-values for attics range from R30 to R60, depending on the geographical area, and are calculated based on the local climate.
- Fiberglass insulation has an R-value of R2.20 per inch
- Cellulose insulation has an R-value of R3.21 per inch
- Rock wool insulation has an R-value of R3.10 per inch
These R-values apply specifically to attic applications. For wall applications, the values either increase or decrease depending on the material. When choosing an insulation material, consider the required thickness rather than the R-value by itself. For example, to achieve R-30 in Zone 1, the required thickness of the insulation material varies among the different materials:
- Fiberglass would need 13.6 inches of insulation
- Cellulose would require 9.3 inches of insulation
- Rock wool would need 9.6 inches of insulation
If space is a problem, you might need to use cellulose to maximize the density. Otherwise, you won't be able to achieve the correct R-value. Alternatively, if you're filling open areas in the attic, which is a common situation for unused living spaces, fiberglass or rock wool might suffice without compromising the quality of your insulation.
Risks of DIY Insulation
Some homeowners choose to install blown-in attic insulation themselves, but this strategy poses several safety and logistical problems that you should consider before you rent a blower and purchase several pounds of insulating material. Insulation can be dangerous, and attics are difficult places in which to work. Plus, expert installers know exactly how to insulate your attic for optimum energy efficiency and safety. Other risks of DIY insulation include:
- Maneuverability: Attics often feature low ceilings, exposed joists, scarce flooring and other hazards that make it difficult to maneuver in the space. You don't want to step through the floor or encounter an area you can't access because you don't have the necessary experience.
- Respiration: All insulating materials give off dust and debris during installation. Fiberglass and rock wool are the most hazardous, but even cellulose can cause irritation. Hire a professional if you don't have the equipment necessary to protect yourself or if you suffer from any respiratory or skin illness.
- Precision: If you've never installed insulation before, you might have difficulty wielding the blower's hose. Additionally, it may be difficult to accurately direct insulation into small or awkward cavities.
- Accuracy: As mentioned above, attics require insulation with specific R-values. If you don't add enough insulation with the blower, you'll waste your money and forego all the benefits of insulation. It's better to hire a professional who knows how to estimate and achieve specific R-values.
- Material Pricing: While consumers can purchase insulating materials at hardware stores, professionals have access to contractor pricing from manufacturers. You'll pay less for the same material, but you'll walk away with an expert job.
- Preparation: Experts know how to prepare your attic for blown-in insulation. They'll cover soffit vents, address exposed pipes and ductwork and prevent dust from circulating throughout your home.
Unless you have worked with insulation before, consider hiring an expert installer. While you'll spend more money on the job, you'll come out ahead in terms of project quality. Additionally, it will cost more money to redo a failed project than to hire an expert in the first place because you'll have to purchase double the insulation material.
Making Attic Insulation More Effective
Blown-in attic insulation only serves as a temporary Band-Aid if you don't address underlying problems first. For example, if you have a leak in your roof and you fail to patch it, the moisture will leach into your insulating material and breed mold along with other problems. Additionally, if you don't have proper ventilation in your attic, the insulation won't be able to do its job.
Examine your entire home for signs of moisture accrual. If you see sagging ceilings, dark spots on the walls or other evidence of a leak, hire a professional to find and repair it. This way, you won't throw away the money you spent on insulation. Other ways to increase the effectiveness of attic insulation include:
- Securing extra insulation around the attic hatch
- Removing existing insulation that looks grainy, compressed, waterlogged or flat
- Hiring a professional for asbestos removal if you notice insulation that looks shiny
- Addressing recessed fixtures and hardware from the floors below, such as recessed lighting
Ask your installer about issues related to the attic's location. An attic positioned over the garage or another non-climate-controlled area, for example, might require a different approach than one centered over the house.
Find A Pro
As you can see, blown-in insulation will not only make your home more comfortable, but can also save you money in the long run. If you could use some extra insulation, be sure to check out our insulation lead form where ImproveNet can connect you with up to four pros in your area!
Last updated on Aug 18, 2016
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