Replacing Insulation Whether You’re a Professional Contractor or a DIY Newbie

As the seasons change and fall turns to winter, even in Atlanta homes can feel cold and drafty. For homeowners and contractors, this could signal that it’s time to replace insulation to keep cold air outside where it belongs during the winter, and cool air inside during the heat of a Georgia summer.

Sure, you could throw on a sweater or warm socks if your insulation isn’t as effective as it used to be, but while you bundle up, your furnace might be working overtime to keep up, and your energy bills could go through the roof.

When the time comes to shield your home or your client’s home from the elements, what do you need to know about insulation? And how can you safely dispose of old insulation and install new insulation effectively? Well, it just so happens that the answers to those questions and more are directly below this sentence…

About Loose Insulation

Loose-fill insulation, also known as blown-in insulation, is made from small particles of things like fiber and foam that are composed of materials including cellulose, fiberglass, and mineral wool made from rock or slag. The small pieces make loose insulation ideal to conform to any space, regardless of the shape or size, and without disturbing existing structures or finishes. Since loose-fill insulation is so flexible in size and shape, it’s a perfect solution for any location, such as in spots where installing other bulkier kinds of insulation might be more challenging. 

For those who are concerned about choosing eco-friendly options, blown-in loose-fill insulation is a natural choice because it’s made from recycled waste materials. Cellulose loose-fill  insulation is made mostly from recycled newsprint, fiberglass insulation typically contains 40 to 60 percent recycled glass, and mineral wool tends to be made from 75 percent post-industrial recycled matter. All of these kinds of loose-fill insulation give new life to materials that otherwise might end up in a landfill.

Blown-in insulation can be installed in enclosed spaces like within walls or more open spaces like attics. They must be installed carefully and thoughtfully to achieve the correct density. So if you don’t care and don’t think, this isn’t going to work out the way it needs to.

Blown-In Insulation’s R-Value and Density

Not all insulation is the same. It’s given a rating based on its resistance to conductive heat flow; its thermal resistance. This rating is known as its R-value, and the higher the R-value, the greater the effectiveness of the insulation.

An insulation’s R-value depends on all sorts of things, including the type of insulation, its thickness, and the density, as well as the temperature, ability to hold up over time, and moisture accumulation (or lack thereof).

One unique characteristic of loose-fill insulation is how the thickness affects its R-value. As the insulation thickness increases, the settled density of the product increases because the insulation compresses under its own weight. Because of this, the R-value of loose-fill insulation does not increase proportionally to the thickness of the amount of installed insulation. It’s crucial to investigate how the thickness of your loose-fill insulation affects the R-value for maximum insulation efficiency, in order to properly weatherize a space. And thus concludes the math and science portion of this article.

Removing Insulation

Especially in spaces like attics, insulation removal can seem like a daunting task. There are several reasons that homeowners may be worried about the status of their insulation. This is because:

  • Pest infestations or water damage means insulation needs to be removed to prevent contaminants or airborne diseases
  • Wet insulation can increase the chances of mold and structural damage
  • If insulation is damaged, altered, or compromised, it can render it inefficient, leading to pricey energy bills

It’s essential to properly prepare for insulation removal, which should happen in three steps:

  1. Clear the area of contaminants like mold, asbestos, and remnants of pest infestations. Asbestos will need to be handled by an asbestos abatement company experienced in handling the insulation material. Whatever you do, do not attempt to eat any contaminants, duh.
  2. Remove insulation using a high-powered, large capacity vacuum designed specifically for insulation removal, taking care to wear protective clothing, goggles, and a mask or respirator, since blown-in insulation can be harder to contain. Luckily, thanks to 2020 you definitely have a mask available. It’s a good idea to use large rolls of plastic sheeting to isolate each area for insulation removal. Additionally, in spaces like attics where often there isn’t much floor support, it’s crucial to take caution and watch your step. Scrap wood can help create a mobile spot to move about.
  3. Properly dispose of insulation in large, sealable, heavy-duty plastic bags so insulation does not get loose. Insulation should be taken to a certified recycling or waste management center, as local regulations may dictate how insulation can be disposed of.

Installing Blown-In Insulation

Loose-fill insulation in attics and between walls can improve how well a space retains heat in cooler weather, but it needs to be installed carefully.

When blowing loose-fill insulation between walls, holes must be drilled within the spaces between studs. So make sure you have a stud finder. But don’t google that, trust us. Typically, this is done from the exterior, and the insulation material is blown in using an insulation blower with a long, flexible hose. This hole is then filled using a plug that matches the siding. It’s important to take care where these holes are drilled, so as not to damage pipes or electrical wires.

In more open spaces like attics, installing blown-in insulation is a slightly easier task. Installers should seal off the area with plastic sheeting, and don protective gear, just like they would during the removal of old insulation. 

Also, when installing loose-fill insulation in the attic, one should never stand on bare joists. One wrong step and you could go straight through a drywall ceiling. As you would with the removal of insulation, you can position plywood across joints for a stable platform on which to stand.

What else should you know about installing blown-in insulation? Here are a few helpful hints:

    • Box-off electrical boxes and recessed can lights, since insulation can cause lights to overheat and burn out prematurely, and insulation can also pose a fire risk. Use scrap plywood, and leave a space of at least 3 inches between the light and the surrounding wood. This also makes it easier for electricians to gain access to your electrical boxes for repairs without digging in your insulation.
  • Use battery-operated lights or a headlamp to see what you’re doing in dark corners of the attic
  • Take note of all recommendations on the insulation packaging, especially regarding density and thickness.
  • Get an assistant to help you. Since the insulation blower will have to remain on the floor of the level below, someone else can load the bags of insulation into the blower for you while you distribute the loose-fill insulation. 

Rent the Tools You’ll Need

When it’s time to replace insulation in your home or the home of a client, Northside Tool Rental has the equipment you’ll need to successfully complete your project. With professional-grade insulation vacuums and insulation blowers at the ready, we’re here to ensure your project goes off without a hitch.

Don’t worry about whether or not your insulation is protecting your home. Get started on your insulation project today. To learn more about how we can help, contact us now