The colder weather is here, which means we’re likely to become more aware of drafts in our homes. As the wind whips outside, everyone wants to make sure their home is warm and toasty, but a lack of insulation—or the wrong kind—can make for a frigid few months. 

According to National Resources Canada, more than 16% of Canada’s annual energy goes to heating our homes. Aside from noticing a hefty utility bill, checking for air leaks as well for signs of moisture damage in the interior and exterior of your home can help determine if your insulation needs to be replaced or installed. Some of the most common areas of a home requiring insulation are attics, basements, crawl spaces, and garages.

Types of Insulation

What type of insulation should you be using?

Insulation is installed in your home’s building envelope—which separates the interior of your house from the exterior elements—or within exterior facing walls. It helps decrease the amount of heat entering your home when it’s hot, and traps warmth inside when it’s cold. Exterior wall insulation also brings the added benefit of reducing noise from both internal and external sources. 

Insulation is measured in terms of its resistance value, or R-value. R-value is related to both the thickness and density of the insulating material. The higher the resistance value, the slower the rate of heat transfer through the insulating material. 

Keep in mind you can mix the type and material of insulation in a space. Before purchasing insulation materials, you should consider your budget, the longevity of the material, its ease of installation, and the R-value you require for both the space you want to insulate as well as the insulation coverage recommended according to your local climate. For example, ceilings below an attic require an R-value of R-60 in Ontario and R-31 in Alberta but ceilings without an attic above require only R-31 for both these provinces. Many R-value calculators and charts exist online to help you determine the amount of insulation needed according to your province’s building codes. 

The different types of insulation methods include:

  • batt or blanket insulation;
  • blown-in/loose-fill insulation;
  • structural insulated panels; and
  • spray foam insulation.

Batt Insulation or blanket insulation

Batt or blanket insulation

This is the most common form of insulation, which consists of blankets and/or rolls constructed from fibreglass, cellulose, mineral wool, and natural fibres like sheep wool, or plastic.

Best use: Wall cavities, ceilings, floors, attics, crawl spaces.


  • Great if you’re looking to install insulation on your own.
  • Can be easily cut to fit and conform in any space, including surface irregularities.
  • Widely available at hardware stores.
  • Blankets come pre-cut to easily fit standard wall framing and between studs, trusses, and floor joists.
  • Inexpensive compared to other options.


  • Lower R-value than other insulation materials.
  • Fibreglass can irritate your skin, eyes, and lungs, requiring the use of protective gear and clothing during installation.
  • It can easily rip and tear.
  • Compresses easily which reduces effectiveness.

Longevity: Average of 15 to 20 years but can last for 80 to 100 years if undamaged.

Cost: $0.64 to $1.19 per square foot depending on the material and where it’s purchased.

R-value: R-2.9 to R-4.3 per square inch depending on the material.

Blown-in insulation or loose-fill insulation

Blown-in or loose-fill insulation

Blown-in or loose-fill insulation is blown into cavities using a machine. It’s a paper-like material that may be made up of cellulose fibre, fibreglass, or mineral fibre.

Best use: Small enclosed spaces such as roofs, attics, and crawlspaces.


  • Great to use to top up existing insulation and to fill in cracks and small or oddly shaped spaces and crevices such as around pipes and ductwork.
  • Can be collected with a vacuum and re-used in different locations.
  • Non-cellulose options are lightweight enough for attics.
  • If made up of cellulose fibre, blown-in insulation is 85% recycled paper, making it environmentally friendly.


  • After the material settles, gaps will appear at the top of cavities, requiring additional insulation to be added.
  • If made of fibreglass it can irritate the lungs, eyes, and skin.
  • Holds moisture which can cause performance issues and generate mould.
  • In very cold temperatures, it can lose its effectiveness.
  • If made up of cellulose fibre it’s too heavy for standard ceiling construction.

Longevity: 20 to 30 years under ideal conditions.

Cost: $0.30 per cubic foot

R-value: R-2.2 to R-3.8 per square inch depending on the material.

 Structural insulated panels (SIPs)

Structural insulated panels (SIPs)

Also known as rigid foam boards, these panels are made up of two boards with insulating foam in between them. They are typically made of polyurethane, polystyrene, or polyisocyanurate.

Best use: Newer homes or homes under construction in roofs, walls, behind siding, flooring, and foundations. Also good for exterior walls to create a more air-tight seal.


  • Moisture and water-resistant.
  • Can be used for both interior and exterior insulation.
  • Reduces heat conduction through wood and steel studs.
  • Easy to cut and handle due to its lightweight.


  • Must be used with other types of insulation such as spray foam in order to fill any gaps and ensure an air-tight seal around any obstacles, such as piping.
  • Has to be cut and sealed properly to fit around wiring and pipes to prevent air leaks.
  • More expensive when compared to other options.
  • Not ideal for pre-constructed homes but instead for homes currently under construction.
  • Usually, cannot be recycled.
  • Not insect or pest-proof so should be laced with insecticide.

Longevity: 100 years or more. 

Cost: $14 per four-by-eight feet depending on the material.

R-value: R-4 to R-7.7 depending on the thickness and quality of the material.

Spray-foam insulation

Spray-foam insulation

Made of liquid latex or polyurethane foam, this type of insulation is designed to fill gaps and crevices within walls and other surfaces. It can be sprayed directly onto the surface or poured into enclosed cavities using a pump applicator. It can be either open-cell or closed-cell foam, the latter being denser and having a higher R-value.

Best use: Open-cell foam is best for small gaps and cavities such as those around windows and doors. Closed-cell foam is ideal for larger projects but must be applied by a professional.


  • Flexible application is good for small gaps, cracks, and crevices.
  • Expands and sets quickly.
  • Can be painted and/or trimmed after setting.
  • Completely stops airflow.
  • Reduces sound penetration.


  • As it is typically made of polyurethane and isocyanate it produces toxic gas and chemicals during the application process. Once the material has cured and hardened, after about 24 to 72 hours, it is safe to return to the area without protective gear.
  • Installation is messy and can leak out of the space once the material expands and hardens.
  • Requires a specialist to apply in large areas.

Longevity: 80 to 100 years.

Cost: Between $1.00 and $1.20 per square foot.

R-value: Open-cell is R-3.7 per inch and closed-cell is R-6.2 per inch.

Insulation options for your home

Taking steps to add insulation can make your home more comfortable by reducing drafts and more durable by improving air, moisture control, and in some cases soundproofing. The important thing to remember is that insulation will pay for itself in the long run. The amount you can save on heating and cooling bills can help make up for the cost of materials and hiring a professional to make sure the job is done correctly and safely.


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