Are you hoping to improve your home’s energy efficiency by adding more attic insulation? What about a product called “radiant barrier” that you’ve heard about? Is one type of insulation better than the other?
Learn the difference between radiant barrier vs. thermal insulation as well as how to make the right selection for your Albany, New York area home.
To understand how insulation works, it’s helpful to realize that heat flows in three ways: convection, conduction and radiation.
- Convection describes how heat flows through liquids and gases and explains why hot, light air rises while cold, dense air sinks.
- Conduction describes how heat flows through solid objects and explains why a metal spoon handle becomes hot when you place it in a cup of steaming water.
- Radiation describes how heat travels outward in a straight light and that anything solid in its path absorbs this energy and heats up.
Thermal insulation—including fiberglass, cellulose and spray foam—slows conductive heat flow and, to a lesser degree, convective heat flow. During the winter, it acts like a blanket around your home, keeping the heat in. In the summer, it acts like a cooler, keeping the heat out. Thermal insulation is a major part of achieving a comfortable home even as the temperature rises and falls outside.
Radiant barrier, or foil insulation, consists of a highly reflective film mounted to a substrate material such as cardboard, kraft paper, oriented strand board or plastic. The purpose of a radiant barrier is to reduce summer heat gain and lower a home’s cooling costs, but not in the same way thermal insulation does.
Unlike fiberglass, cellulose and other traditional thermal insulation, radiant barrier isn’t installed on the attic floor—instead, it’s installed in the attic ceiling just below the roof. This is because foil insulation reduces radiant heat gain rather than slowing conductive and convective heat flow. Positioning a radiant barrier in the attic ceiling allows it to reflect radiant heat entering through the roof to keep the attic significantly cooler.
It’s common to find fiberglass batts with foil facings, which creates a combined thermal and radiant insulation product. However, it’s not advisable to install faced insulation on the attic floor because the radiant barrier can trap moisture within the fibers. Plus, the foil loses its effectiveness if it becomes dusty, which is likely to happen while lying flat on the attic floor.
Radiant Barrier vs. Thermal Insulation: What’s Best for Upstate New York Homes?
Properly insulating your home is a critical part of keeping heating and cooling costs down, no matter where you live. But deciding which option or combination of options is best depends on your climate.
Radiant barrier is effective in hot climates, especially when ductwork runs through the attic. Studies show that radiant barrier can reduce cooling costs by 5 to 10 percent in places where the air conditioner runs most of the year. However, in cold climates, it’s usually more cost-effective to install extra thermal insulation rather than adding a radiant barrier. Therefore, foil insulation is rarely used in Upstate New York since it’s much better designed for sunny, hot Florida and Arizona climates.
Albany, NY Area Insulation Contractors
Now that you understand radiant barrier vs. insulation, the answer is clear: thermal insulation is best for cold climates. When you’re ready to boost the insulation in your Albany home, choose the specialists at Builders Installed Products to complete the job. We’ll recommend the best thermal insulation for your attic based on your budget, performance expectations and any existing insulation already in place. Contact Builders Installed Products today to schedule the insulation services you need!