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When Is R-13 Insulation NOT R-13 Insulation?

When I can see the insulation installation during a pre-drywall inspection, I am able to speak with my clients about this question:  when is R-13 insulation NOT R-13 insulation?

Basically when it's compacted too tightly, it leaves gaps, is smashed inward beside studs or slips down inside the wall.

But start at the beginning.

The number associated with R-value is insulation's ability to RESIST heat transfer.  Hence the R.  More fully stated, R-value is Resistance Value. 

Heat seeks cold.  Heat moves toward cold.  Insulation is an attempt to prevent heat from passing through the thermal barrier it provides. 

Your thermos prevents the heat in liquids from getting out, or cooling.  Your cooler at the beach prevents heat from getting in and warming your drinks or food.

Heat will transfer to cold until two substances, gas or liquid or solid, reach a thermal equilibrium.

Convection is the physics of the transfer of heat (gas or liquid) with the warmer moving toward the cooler.  This can happen anywhere, even inside your walls.  When heat and cool interact, moving with each other, the process is called a convective loop.

So, when is R-13 insulation NOT R-13 insulation?  When it is installed such that it creates a convective loop.  When air can circulate about such a loop happens.  Physics.

R-13 insulation is about 5" thick, but can be squished into a 2x4 wall, or to 3.25" without much reduction in R-value. 

But any more than that, like to 2" or less, reduces its R-value to 6.6.

Around the window to the left the insulation was smashed in to a depth of less than 2".

This was very consistent through the house, with many windows, and doors, showing such an installation.

It creates a long, convective loop  up and down the windows.

While it seems like a small space, added up this can be a real energy waster.  It represents poor installation.

Obviously, when the edges of insulation are squished or stapled in beside the studs, and all over the house, and the vapor retarder (the paper) is not touching the insulation, there will be convective looping.

When this is all over the house, added up, this can be a real energy waster.  It represents poor installation.

See the little flap of paper?  That is intended by the manufacturer to fit over the stud, and be stapled to the stud.

This way the insulation comes to the edge of the studs on the side and completely fills the void.  A filled void means less convective looping.

And, of course, gaps are mere silliness.  There should never be gaps.  Can you say convective loop  boys and girls?

There is a huge misunderstanding of the paper flaps on the sides of insulation.  I have had builders' reps call me before to say they have never heard about them prior to reading my report.  Really?

Go to any DIY site, or insulation manufacturer site, and the flaps are explained clearly.

Additionally, there are new batt insulation out which has "Stapling Optional," or some similar phrase, printed on the vapor retarder.

It is thought that such insulation is so sticky or whatever that gravity and weight will not affect it, and it doesn't need to be stapled to the studs.

However, I have thermal image after thermal image, house after house, where, on a one-year warranty inspection, the insulation is shown to have slipped down the wall.

I can't invent this stuff.  And builders seem to want to argue the point.  One representative, no doubt thoroughly trained in thermal image science, said that not only was I wrong, but I needed a new thermal camera.

Alrighty then!

My recommendation:  insulation should be a one-time installation.  Properly done it should provide a proper thermal barrier for the life of the home.  It can always be added to in attics, for example.  Standards change.  But well done insulation should be permanently well done.  And improperly done insulation, where convective loops  are created, is permanently improperly done.  Physics.

 

 

 

 

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 36 commentsJay Markanich • October 26 2014 03:51AM

Comments

Jay.  We 

Posted by Dagny Eason, Fairfield County CT, CDPE Homes For Sale and Condo (Dagny's Real Estate) over 4 years ago

What Dagny?  What is it?  C'mon, you know you can talk to me.  Don't be shy.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

Convective Shmonvective. You and your fancy pants big words that confuse builder reps and installers. Just say "hey buddy, you screwed up." That will work great I bet.

Posted by Scott Seaton Jr. Bourbonnais Kankakee IL Home Inspector, The Home Inspector With a Heart! (SLS Home Inspections-Bradley Bourbonnais Kankakee Manteno) over 4 years ago

You're right Scott.  Short and sweet.  I just returned from conference with a two-day energy audit class in Las Vegas during which I heard the words convection and convective about 1000 times.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

Smushing can definitely make things worse, not better.  Great explanation.

Posted by Debbie Gartner, The Flooring Girl & Blog Stylist -Dynamo Marketers (The Flooring Girl) over 4 years ago

Hi Jay, once again I get an education from you. Perfect explanation and easy for people like me to understand.

Posted by Jackie Connelly-Fornuff, "Moving at The Speed of YOU!" (Douglas Elliman Real Estate in Babylon NY) over 4 years ago

I learned a bit about convective loops Jay. Thanks for the physics lesson.

Posted by Tom Arstingstall, General Contractor, Dry Rot, Water Damage Sacramento, El Dorado County - (916) 765-5366, General Contractor, Dry Rot and Water Damage (Dry Rot and Water Damage www.tromlerconstruction.com Mobile - 916-765-5366) over 4 years ago

I'm really curious to know what happened to Dagny Eason Jay. I find myself finishing her Comment #1.

Posted by Tom Arstingstall, General Contractor, Dry Rot, Water Damage Sacramento, El Dorado County - (916) 765-5366, General Contractor, Dry Rot and Water Damage (Dry Rot and Water Damage www.tromlerconstruction.com Mobile - 916-765-5366) over 4 years ago

The thermal images do indeed make your point. That is information that everyone should have.

Posted by Barbara-Jo Roberts Berberi, MA, PSA, TRC - Greater Clearwater Florida Residential Real Estate Professional, Palm Harbor, Dunedin, Clearwater, Safety Harbor (Charles Rutenberg Realty) over 4 years ago

     I see "professional installers" do this in new construction, Jay.   "Stapler?  We don't need no stapler!  Just shove the insulation between the studs."

Posted by Fred Griffin presently on Leave of Absence, Licensed Florida Real Estate Broker (Fred Griffin Real Estate) over 4 years ago

Jay Markanich , that would especially not fly here we have to be R-21 in walls now.

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

Heat loss, the cost to keep a place warm or cool makes insulation so so critical. Thanks for the physics lesson... it all makes perfect sense!

Posted by Andrew Mooers | 207.532.6573, Northern Maine Real Estate-Aroostook County Broker (MOOERS REALTY) over 4 years ago

Jay, we see this all the time. There are a few good installers in this area, but many just throw it up and move on.

Posted by Mike Cooper, GRI, Your Neighborhood Real Estate Sales Pro (Cornerstone Business Group Inc) over 4 years ago

Good morning Jay,

I can see why this post was featured!! Excellent lesson in physics..you make it sound so easy!!

Posted by Dorie Dillard CRS GRI ABR, Serving Buyers & Sellers in NW Austin Real Estate (Coldwell Banker United Realtors® ~ 512.750.6899) over 4 years ago

Necessarily Debbie.  When people put plywood in the attic for storage it has a very deleterious effect.

I'm glad Jackie!  That's the idea!

Air moves Tom.  Dagny once promised me banana nut bread if I could come to her AR meeting (in CT!).  Maybe she left her comment early to make some to mail to me?

Barbara-Jo - thermal images are pretty definitive.  But still, the builders argue!

It's all about speed Fred.  In and out.  Get'r dun!

 

 

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

You don't have such severe swings in temperature there Don.  Why the 2x6 walls mandate?

Andrew - where you are the standard is quite different from here and here quite different than Florida.

That's the idea Mike.  I am quite familiar!

Thank you Dorie.  I am glad you enjoyed it and have been ejumakated.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

Very interesting.  I know and understand more about insulation.  Those installations would have never occurred to me to be defective.

Posted by Chris Griffith, Bonita Springs Listing Agent (Downing-Frye Realty, Bonita Springs, FL) over 4 years ago

Excellent explanation here. I spent a couple of weeks with a buyer looking at new energy efficient homes and talking with builders. Rarely did insulation come up. I guess because it is a given, right?

Posted by Gary L. Waters Broker Associate, Bucci Realty, Fifteen Years Experience in Brevard County (Bucci Realty, Inc.) over 4 years ago

Most people have little understanding about insulation Chris.  And a little defect here and another there, and soon you have real inefficiency!

Gary - thanks.  It doesn't come up.  Everyone assumes it's okay.  We all know what happens when we ASSume...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

Great Post!. this is one of the main reason I participate in Active Rain. I like the posts where I actually learn something. Thank You.

Posted by Bill Reddington, Destin Florida Real Estate (Re/max Southern Realty) over 4 years ago

As alway Jay, you are a wealth of knowledge.   I cant recall ever seeing insulation being stapled into new homes.  So glad I read your post!

Posted by Annette Thor, Residential & Commercial Real Estate Broker in CT (Connecticut Homes and Commercial Fairfield Cty,CT reinct.com) over 4 years ago

Thanks Bill.  Happy to add to your data base!

Annette - and thank you for your kind words.  When I see insulation stapled, it has been done incorrectly, on the inside of the studs.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

The only time I ever used insulation on a wall I used that little paper strip as a hold when the insulation was stapled to the surface of the stud not the inside surface. It may not have been the way the professionals did it, but it stayed up.

Posted by Ed Silva, Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally (RE/MAX Professionals, CT 203-206-0754 ) over 4 years ago

I find this most interesting.  I leave it to the experts to advise buyers on what is required regarding insulation.

Posted by Joan Whitebook, Consumer Focused Real Estate Services (BHG The Masiello Group) over 4 years ago

Jay Markanich - something new I learned today through your post. (Isn't ActiveRain source of knowledge - with you always sharing your experience and expertise? Thanks.)

Posted by Praful Thakkar, Andover, MA: Andover Luxury Homes For Sale (LAER Realty Partners) over 4 years ago

Great information. Your posts are always education and sometimes entertaining. It is interesting how the builder wants to reinterpret the facts when they don't go their way!!

Posted by Gerard Gilbers, Your Marketing Master (Higher Authority Markeing) over 4 years ago

Ahh poor quality insulation installs are something I deal with also. I prefer the blown in system and would pay the extra cost any day. Here we have a climate zone that requires higher over all wall insulation values to help reduce that heat transfer and convective looping is a concern.

Posted by Rob Ernst, Reno, NV-775-410-4286 Inspector & Energy Auditor (Certified Structure Inspector) over 4 years ago

Good morning Jay. Once again you are spot on. I have seen that a time or two during my inspections. It is interesting what builders try to get by with.

Posted by TeamCHI - Complete Home Inspections, Inc., Home Inspectons - Nashville, TN area - 615.661.029 (Complete Home Inspections, Inc.) over 4 years ago

Jay, once the insulation job is done it is done! Why, you have to ask yourself, not just do it right! Enjoy your day!

Posted by Wayne Martin, Real Estate Broker - Retired (Wayne M Martin) over 4 years ago

For someone who has trouble (sometimes) unscrewing a light bulb I can understand this.  Good stuff Jay

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty AR LLC) over 4 years ago

Ed - and that would have been the right way to do it!

Praful - learning is the reason I enjoy coming to AR.

Gerard - they can interpret all they want.  A cold or hot room is that way for a reason.

And why would that be Rob?  Is it warm there?

Michael - I find that often supervisors think squishing is the way it is supposed to be installed.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

Wayne - the builders seldom want a pre-drywall inspection.  Once the drywall is up, as you say, the insulation is done!

James - a lamp in my office did not work the other day.  I looked at everything - connections, switch, timer on the wall, everything, and it still would not come on.  Then I got the bright idea that it might be the bulb...

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

You need to invent insulation super glue, which apparently some people believe already exists !

Posted by Sally K. & David L. Hanson, WI Realtors - Luxury - Divorce (EXP Realty 414-525-0563) over 4 years ago

Do I imagine that Billy Jays, who reads my posts faithfully, has just been given an idea S&D?

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

It's a heating dominate cliamate here. Anything zone 5 or higher requires more insulation, Virginia is climate zone 4. 

Posted by Rob Ernst, Reno, NV-775-410-4286 Inspector & Energy Auditor (Certified Structure Inspector) over 4 years ago

If you read gardening sites Virginia is a Zone 2 Rob!

But I know what you mean.  Every discipline has its own zones!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 4 years ago

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