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2x6 wall insulation


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By Jason in Elyria, OH on 2/21/2011


   Looking around and trying to pick the minds of local subs, I have so many different responses to my question. What is the best way to insulate exterior 2x6 walls? Some swear by fiberglass batts, others say blown-in wet cellulose, and another says spray an inch of foam to seal all cracks, etc., then blown in cellulose over top of the foam. Has anyone else ran into this problem? We are doing geothermal heating/cooling, and doing hydronic radiant floor heating in the slab, and also a staple up system on our ranch that we are building in the very near future. We are looking for something that is effective with insulation values, and that will last a very long time.

   The problem is, the fiberglass people say that their product stands the test of time and has been used forever, and will always stay in place and not break down. They say that spray foam will crack over time with the house shifting, which in turn will lead to much lower R-values. The spray-foam people say that the blown cellulose will settle with time and will lose its R-value significantly. But then again, the spray-foam subs and cellulose subs both say that fiberglass is a complete waste of money. One word, CONFUSED!!! Anybody have any recommendations on this? Thanks in advance.


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By Peter in Burlington, WA on 2/24/2011


There is no one "best" insulation method that applies to all types of construction and environments. It's not uncommon for a combination of methods to be used in order to properly address all issues.

This is a VERY important decision with considerable impact on your health, home durability and energy expenditures for years to come. Do NOT base it on any one particular subcontractor or another. All methods of insulation have their advantages and their drawbacks. Those negative things you have been told are not unheard of, but they aren't necessarily always true.

For example, recent tests on fiberglass insulation has shown that it doesn't perform as well (under some circumstances) as previously thought, but it is still a good all-around insulation. Blown-in cellulose can settle, but if done properly, it won't. Spray foam can crack, but if done properly, it shouldn't.

I will be using two inches of spray foam followed by compressed fiberglass batting in the remaining space. This both seals the construction and reduces the cost of going with all foam. This combination method is also used with cellulose instead of the fiberglass.

This would be a good issue to consult a building professional on; one who does not have a financial interest in what you purchase. If you have a knowledgeable consultant, it shouldn't cost much to get his opinion. With an existing heat load analysis for your home, it might take another two or three hours at whatever his regular rate is in order to come up with an insulation plan. If you don't have a heat load analysis, it might be good to get one done at the same time. I have also seen O-B's comb the Internet to learn about vapor barriers, R-values, air exchange and material specs, but that isn't for everyone and certainly does take time.

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By Patricia in Cheshire, CT on 3/8/2011


We have started looking into the same. 2x6 exterior walls, radiant, hydronic heat in slab, entire first-floor and second-floor baths. We have been discussing it with many subs, and came to the conclusion that if we want everything to stand the test of time, we'd need two-lb. closed-cell foam for a couple of inches, then open cell to fill the rest of the wall. The overall R-value, as well as the ability of the closed-cell foam to act as a vapor barrier (husband worked at DuPont, don't let anyone tell you any different with regard to the vapor barrier qualities of closed cell) all this outweighs the additional upfront cost of the foam.

The contractors we spoke with ad nauseum all had different ideas; some said open cell only and then fill with batts. Others suggested blown in, and others even suggested we consider only doing the roof. We came to the conclusion that they all want to get away with only what they know how to do. We're in Connecticut, and after this winter, we're even more convinced that we are making the right decision with regard to the foam. Hope this helps.
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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 3/11/2011


I also agonized over insulation. There are a lot of trade-offs, and a lot of conflicting data. My first choice was foam, but I simply didn't want to pay two or three times what I would pay for other methods, or use a less expensive form of foam that hasn't been around very long. Then I started looking into dense-pack cellulose. I was convinced this is what I wanted to do--and the cost was only about 20% more than fiberglass batts. Of course, I still wanted the benefits of foam in terms of sealing all gaps. So I caulked the gaps once the house was framed. All of them: around each stud bay, along the rims, etc.  

Shortly before it was time to insulate, I had a problem--it turned out my low bidder chose to bid fiberglass batts rather than the cellulose I specified. So I had to find an alternative. I started doing more research and realized that dense-pack cellulose is blown in wet. The manufacturers and contractors say it won't be a problem, because the cellulose is treated. That ensures you won't get moldy cellulose. But the studs and sheathing aren't, so I was still worried about mold. I also found a study performed in Canada that showed it took as much as 11 months for the cellulose to dry out.  

In the end, I decided to go with blown-in fiberglass. The cost was about the same as cellulose. Same benefits in terms of how it is installed. I saw the studies that showed it loses R-value as temperature decreases, but I believe that was mostly due to convection, and I figured a well-sealed shell would mitigate that problem at least somewhat. I did decide to foam the rims, just to make sure they were well sealed as well as insulated. 

I'm happy with the results. A neighbor built his house about a year before I built mine--and he decided to pay for the foam insulation throughout. We compared power bills last month. My gas bill was about the same as his, despite my house being about 10% bigger--and we had at least a week or 10 days of below-zero temperatures. I have no problem recommending blown-in fiberglass. 

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By Jason in Elyria, OH on 3/15/2011


Well most of the insulation bids are complete. I got a bunch of bids in this field so that we could explore our options. We had three, all spray-foam bids; most exceeded $40,000. All fiberglass in walls and ceilings as well as garage were all less than $10,000. A highly recommended place from multiple people will do a "Flash and dash" system, which basically is an inch of 2-lb. closed-cell foam, then fill the rest of the cavity with blown-in wet cellulose. Some fiberglass will be used in the vaults and ceilings, but their whole package was around $12,000. After comparing all of our bids and seeing what exactly is going into each sub's bid, we feel we cannot see the worth of spending $30,000 more just for foam. I do not think it will ever pay itself back. So it looks more and more like we will be going with the hybrid package.
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By Patricia in Cheshire, CT on 3/16/2011


You need to compare R-values. One inch of closed cell does nothing; you may as well do batts. It needs to be at least two inches of foam. Our house is 7,200 square feet. Our bid is less than $40,000 for five inches of closed cell, which gives us an R-value of 35. I'd check with these guys again about the foam. The soy green foam is a lower R-value and is more money, not worth it. We looked at Bayer, Guardian, and BASF. None of the bids (four total) have come back over $40K and that is to cover all exterior walls and roof.
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 3/20/2011


I realize this is too late for you as you are already framed. But my post may have utility for the readers still in the planning phase.

For the spray-foam bids you are getting, I can't help but think you could have upgraded to SIP or ICF and come out with tighter construction at lower cost (I would guess that either of these cost more than stick-frame, but when comparing finished walls to finished walls, maybe not so much?). Clearly 2x6 is an upgrade that was selected either for strength or for additional insulation properties, so you were not looking for bottom-dollar construction practices.

Around here I have recently seen some blown-in white fiberglass that actually looks pretty good. I cannot verify its performance, but it is definitely tight and won't settle.

I might add that insulation is regional. In the south you see radiant barrier insulation, which has no value whatsoever up north.


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By Jason in Elyria, OH on 3/22/2011


Patricia,

We did in fact check with the insulation contractor to upgrade the foam. He said that if we added another inch, to make it a total of two inches, that it would be about $5K more. He said in his own opinion that it was not worth it and would never pay itself back. Being our dream home and a place that we will stay forever, I feel that it in fact probably would pay for itself in the long run. It will probably end up being a budget decision right before they apply it. We will see.

I contacted all the spray-foam contractors; they are sold on their prices and are unwilling to budge. If we had a lot more in our budget, we would love to go this route, but that will never be the case for us.

I did look towards going ICF, but unfortunately there are no local contractors who have done this a lot. I spoke with a friend of a friend, and he advised that he found one sub to do this. However, he had multiple blowouts and tons of issues while trying to install this system for this person. I could not ease my mind with the thought of an incompetent person working on my foundation. I do love everything ICF though, we just could not get a good person around here to do it for us.


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By Arne in Houston, TX on 9/8/2011


One solution would be to use rigid polyiso board on the exterior of the frame, which when properly installed will create a thermal break between the exterior siding and the frame. You use special tape to seal all the joints. 


Rigid polyiso board is very common, made by Dow. I believe Owens Corning makes polystyrene board that is even lower in cost as another option.

Having done the rigid board on the exterior, on the inside of the frame you can use blown-in material or batts if you are getting a gouging from spray-foam contractors. Even an inch of exterior rigid board insulation will provide a thermal break that will partially mitigate some of the negatives of insulating only between the studs.

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By Roger in Beverly Hills, CA on 3/1/2019


This is a VERY important decision with considerable impact on your health, home durability and energy expenditures for years to come. Do NOT base it on any one particular subcontractor or another. 
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By Office in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, CA on 3/4/2019


thank for you sharing
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By Roger in Beverly Hills, CA on 6/8/2019


There is no one "best" insulation method that applies to all types of construction and environments. It's not uncommon for a combination of methods to be used in order to properly address all issues.
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