Holy innovation, Batman! Home insulation isn’t as cut and dry as you might think. No, from the different types of insulation on the market to the climate and regulations in your area, a lot of thought goes into – and rightfully so – your insulation choices. If you live in the sunnier part of the region, you may think ‘Eh, I don’t need insulation. It’s always 75 degrees and sunny!’
Well, true. It’s a more moderate climate which means pretty easy winters (be honest, native Southern Californians, do you even know what cold is?) a little bit of rain, and then summer. But it’s that summer that gets ya. Sneaks up on ya. Like, yeah, it’s supposed to be hot, but should it feel like the armpits of Satan? Winter is a tricky little thing, too. Your poor body is so acclimated to the perpetual good weather that when there is significant weather (again, rain, it’s always just a little rain) and the sun doesn’t come out it seems unbearable! Luckily, – for the heat, at least – there’s a solution. Radiant barriers.
Radiant barriers are piece of foil over another material that sits underneath the roof of your house. That foil is reflective – if it isn’t it’s not really worth it – and it’s that reflective nature that makes the magic happen. Your house is bombarded with sun all day. That’s great and all, especially if you have solar panels, but that sunlight gets hot and that’s why we need air conditioning and insulation.
Thermal insulation is your typical fair of either pink fluff, spray foam, wool – there’s a dozen of different types – that lines your attic and home. That insulation controls heat transfer. The R-value of the various types determines how much (or how thick) insulation you need to reach the standard to keep your home from overheating or freezing. Thermal insulation should not be skimped on. What a radiant barrier does, is it reflects sunlight back off of the house. So not only is your house now able to control how hot and cold weather affect the inside, but you have the added bonus of bouncing that heat right off your roof and back into the air.
Can I Have One Without The Other?
Technically, yes. If you were only going to choose one, however, your choice should be for thermal over radiant. Temperatures will eventually drop, and when they do you will be sorely sorry that you didn’t install thermal insulation in your home. Radiant barriers cost extra and need proper space between itself and the roof, but it doesn’t affect moisture control negatively (when installed correctly) and it does decrease your energy usage. With a radiant barrier you’re likely to see a 5% – 10% drop in cooling costs. Again, there is no R-value to a radiant barrier, it’s just another blockade you can throw up. It doesn’t just work one way, either. As good as it is at keeping heat out during those sweltering months, it does just as well at keeping your heat in during those colder moments.
If you’re building your home and considering your insulation options, consider the benefits of adding a radiant barrier to the mix.