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How to Install Insulation in Open Walls

By Kris Jensen-Van Heste

Insulation is the home improvement that keeps on giving. It keeps you comfortable, saves you a fortune in heating and cooling costs and even buffers noise within your home.

Before You Buy Insulation

Before shopping for insulation, it's important to understand its R value, or its resistance to heat flow. As you'd expect, the higher the R value, the greater the resistance to heat loss. The Federal Trade Commission mandates that each package of insulation carry a label that includes its specific R value as well as health and safety precautions.

Which R value is right for you? That depends on several things, including where you live and what type of heating system you have, as well as whether you're insulating for energy efficiency (a wall along the exterior of your home) or noise reduction (interior walls). The US Department of Energy has created a zone map on its website with corresponding R values to help homeowners determine minimum insulation values.

Kinds of Insulation

Insulation comes in various forms: loose fill, rolls and batts.

1. Loose Fill Because it's forced through a tube and blown into the space, loose fill is best suited for unfinished attics and hard-to-reach areas. This necessitates professional installation, however.

2. Rolls Blanket-type insulation comes in two forms: rolls and batts, either of which is a good choice for insulating interior open stud walls. Both batts - a rectangle of insulation, sold flat in packages - and rolls typically come in 8-foot lengths, a standard ceiling height. Insulation is sized to fit between studs, usually spaced 16 or 24 inches apart; be sure to measure the space between the studs before buying.

3. Batts Generally made of fiberglass, insulation batts and rolls are available either with face coverings or without. Brown Kraft paper is a common facing. Fire-retardant foil sometimes is used to cover batts that will be left exposed in unfinished spaces, such as a garage or basement. Insulation also comes wrapped in plastic to protect you from the itchy fibers, which is a good choice for first-timers.

If you're insulating an exterior wall, use faced insulation because the facing acts as a vapor barrier that blocks moisture from forming on your drywall. For additional moisture protection, you can staple sheets of plastic or nylon film to the "warm-in-winter" side of the insulation.

What You'll Need to Install Insulation
  • Insulation
  • Respirator or filter mask
  • Polycarbonate safety glasses or goggles
  • Staple gun
  • Tape measure
  • Utility knife (for trimming)
  • Long-sleeved shirt and long pants
  • Work gloves

How to Install Insulation

Insulation is very easy to work with; it doesn't require strength or tremendous skill. The rolls or batts should fit snugly between the studs, and the only trimming you'll have to do is around windows, doorframes, electrical outlets and plumbing. It cuts easily with a utility knife and is extremely lightweight.

To calculate how much rolled or batted insulation to buy, measure floor to ceiling and multiply by the number of between-the-studs spaces you need to fill. That's your total lineage. Measure the distance between the studs; that will determine the width of the insulation you buy. To calculate the number of rolls or batts you need, divide the total lineage by the length of the batt (usually 8 feet) or roll (different lengths available) you'll be working with.

1. If you're working with batts, you likely have 8-foot lengths and won't have to trim for length at all. Gently press the insulation into the opening between the wall studs, trimming around electrical outlets.

2. If you're working from a roll, you can either trim for length with the insulation rolled out on the floor, or you can start with the edge of the roll at the top of the space you're filling, roll down to the bottom and trim there with a utility knife.

3. Snug-fitting insulation will stay put without fastening, but faced insulation is available with stapling flanges - extra paper facing on each side that allows you to staple it to the side of the wall stud. Open-faced insulation can't be stapled, so it needs to fit snugly for friction to hold it in place.

Tips

  • The most important thing to remember is to never compress the insulation. While it seems that wouldn't change its effectiveness, in reality, you severely compromise the R value by removing the air between the fibers. If a roll or batt is too long for the space, it must be trimmed and never folded over itself for optimum performance.

  • When you're finished, launder your work clothes in a load separate from your regular wash and run the rinse cycle twice.

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