The Five Different Types of Fireproof Insulation Materials

Unless you want to add a zero or two to your energy bill, insulating your home is essential. By sealing air leaks in crawlspaces, basements and attics, insulation can reduce heat transfer and significantly reduce home heating and cooling costs. And when we say spectacular, we mean it. According to Energy Star, most homeowners can save an average of 15% on heating and cooling costs (or an average of 11% on total energy costs) simply by using the right insulation. And yet, despite its obvious benefits, very few people use it. Only 10 percent of single-family homes in the United States are properly insulated, which means most of us are paying much more for our energy supply than we actually need. If you’ve decided that 2021 is the year you’re finally going to lower your energy bills and take control of your drafty home, first congratulate yourself on your smart decision. Second, there are a few things you need to know about the different options before you proceed.

No matter where you buy your insulation, who installs it and what brand you choose, make sure it is fire resistant. If the primary purpose of the insulation is to provide load bearing protection against heat transfer, choosing a fire resistant option will protect your home from calamities. Not only does it help slow down large fires, but it can also stop small fires caused by electrical circuits in their path. Fire resistant insulation materials are available in five main variations: Fiberglass, mineral wool, foam, reflective insulation and fiber mats. Here’s what you need to know about each of the five most common varieties.

1. Fibre mats

As notes, fiber blanket is one of the most common types of insulation used in the home. They are made of different types of materials, collectively known as asbestos. We all know the name asbestos, and most of us think it’s the last thing you should bring home without thinking. However, despite the associated health risks, there are very few alternatives. Substitutes such as low-temperature polymers and aluminum oxides are available, but they do not have the effectiveness and availability of asbestos. As such, it remains a common material used in a variety of applications, from bonding to shingles to home insulation. Risks aside, asbestos is an incredibly strong and durable material that can withstand both heat and chemicals. Since it does not conduct electricity, it can help reduce the risk of fire in electrical circuits. While most insulation is classified as fire resistant, it should be noted that this usually just means it is fire resistant. When exposed to very high temperatures, most forms of insulation are flammable. Asbestos lends itself well to this. Although asbestos insulation is not completely fireproof, it can withstand temperatures in excess of 3,000 degrees, making it one of the most effective forms of protection.

2. Glass fibre

Fiberglass (or glass wool, as it is sometimes called) is currently the most widely used form of insulation in residential and commercial buildings. It is manufactured by weaving very fine glass threads into the material before applying specially formulated resins as binders. When used as insulation material, it is blown in at the desired location or packed in sheets or rolls to facilitate installation. Fiberglass is not only waterproof but also noncombustible, with R-values ranging from R-2.9 to R-3.8 per inch. Because of its affordable price, high availability and efficiency, fiberglass is an excellent insulation option. There is one drawback, however. Because of the way it is manufactured, special care must be taken when handling it. If handled roughly and without proper protective equipment, small pieces of material may become detached and cause eye, skin and even lung damage if inhaled. Like other insulation materials, fiberglass is not completely fire resistant, but it regularly withstands temperatures up to 1220 degrees.

3. Mineral wool

As notes, mineral wool actually refers to several types of insulation. This sometimes applies to glass wool. In other cases it is rock wool, a form of basalt insulation. In most cases, however, this applies to slag wool. This is especially true in the United States, where slag wool is one of the most common and popular forms of insulation. Mineral wool has an R-value between R-2,8 and R-3,5, making it an effective form of insulation. While it cannot withstand the same high temperatures as some other options, it is not flammable. It is generally used in conjunction with other forms of insulation to improve fire safety properties.

4. Reflective insulation

As the name suggests, reflective insulation is a popular and effective form of insulation. It is made by gluing a reflective material (usually aluminum, but sometimes other materials are used) to plastic film, cardboard or kraft paper. It is generally used between floor joists, rafters and wall joists for roof insulation, but it can also be used as a filler material on insulation boards to improve performance and heat transfer. It is generally not used alone, but in combination with other forms of insulation material, with the overall effect depending on variables such as weather and location.

5. Foam

As Hunker explains, pulp is made from recycled newsprint. Paper may not seem like the best fireproof material in the world, but with the addition of chemical fire retardants, cellulose is fire retardant to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. However, it is not fully flame retardant – at temperatures above 300 degrees Celsius, refractory chemicals can ignite, making the insulation flame retardant. Cellulose foam has better heat resistance, but can burn at very high temperatures. Because some forms of cellulose and polyethylene foam insulation are known to emit toxic gases associated with migraines, eye irritation, respiratory problems, and even liver and reproductive damage (polyisocyanurate and polyurethane foams are among the worst), hard foam insulation using polystyrene foam is generally preferred. There are many options, two of the most popular being Icyneen, an open-cell foam that combines carbon dioxide and water, and Air Krete, a non-toxic solution obtained by extracting magnesium oxide from seawater.

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