Shopping for tiny house insulation (or looking beyond the Pink Panther)

by andrewodom on June 22, 2011 · 7 comments


When Crystal and I first began our adventure we decided that the only way to stay within our budget was to always be aware of deals/bargains/steals and shop carefully for even the most mundane of things. This means not paying top dollar for an item just because you can. While we have committed to sustainable and earth-friendly products (which are already more pricey than their unfriendly counterparts) we also knew that recycled products and repurposes products would be our saving grace. Remember the wood we salvaged for our floor? Had we not had our eyes open we would have moved right past this beautiful barn wood and probably settled on our initial idea of cork flooring at just over $4 a linear foot.

Who would have thought though that a trip to Lowes this past weekend (which was initially just to buy some hinges and a bucket of paint) would have resulted in our biggest score yet? That’s right. In one acidental trip we saved $728 !!!!! How did we do it?

Walking down the insulation aisle I noticed a few packages of rather dusty insulation. I was immediately drawn to the Energy Star label on the package and began reading more about the product. Made by DOW, the SafeTouch insulation is a batt insulation material made from 93% polyester fiber and 7% recycled plastic bottles. The material contains no fiberglass, so there are no respirable glass or mineral fibers to cause itchy skin, red eyes or respiratory problems–so there’s no need for a dust mask, gloves, or goggles. It has no formaldehyde binder to hold the fibers together; there’s not even an acrylic binder. And the product apparently requires no flame retardant, which is added to cotton insulation and virtually all other plastic insulation materials. I noticed a couple of things though.

  • It was on clearance
  • There were relatively few bags of it left
  • It came in R-19 and R-13; both larger sizes than we initially planned to use

I though about it as we continued to walk the aisles. I mentally compared it to other products we had thought about. I ran some numbers in my head. It was no easy choice and mostly because a $400 purchase would really take a chunk out of our construction fund (which is in need of some renovation anyway!) Ultimately though we purchased both R-ratings in order to do the floor and the walls/ceiling. It was a monumental feeling to have purchased something so big for our tiny house and to have saved so much money. We celebrated our victory. But we did so mostly because for months we had talked about insulation, researched insulation, knew prices, and shopped as comparatively as we could.

In light of our financial and construction victory I thought I would give a little 101 course on insulation so you too can get wise to the fillers out there.

There are basically four different types of insulation for use in residential construction:

  1. Blankets – Batts and Rolls
  2. Loose Fill – Cellulose and Fiberglass
  3. Spray Foam – Open and Closed Cell
  4. Foam Board – EPS, XPS and ISO

Choosing the best type of insulation for your home can be a real challenge, but the goal is always the same. An even layer of insulation that completely fills every space between the framing. Front to back, top to bottom and every little nook and cranny in between.

Blankets – Batts and Rolls – R-3+ per inch
This is the most common type of insulation available in the large home improvement stores. It’s sold in large compressed bundles of varying widths and thicknesses to match the space between the framing and the depth of the framing.

Loose Fill Insulation – R -3.5+ per inch
Loose fill insulation is exactly that. Tiny fibers and chunks of insulation that loosely fill the space in between the walls, floors and ceilings of your home.

Spray Foam Insulation – R-Value ranges from R3 to R8 per inch
Spray foam insulation is a combination of chemicals which are heated and sprayed out of a machine through a hose. The spray foam chemicals mix together at the tip of the hose creating a thick paint-like goo that sticks to anything it touches including wires, pipes and ducts. Within seconds, the foam begins to expand to trapping a gas inside billions of tiny bubbles. As the foam expands, it forms a continuous even layer of insulation and creates an air tight seal.

Foam Board Insulation
Perhaps the least understood insulation product on the market is known as foam board or rigid insulation. It comes in sheets like plywood or drywall and in thicknesses from 1/2″ to 2″. Like spray foam, foam board has billions of tiny bubbles which are set in a medium like polystyrene or polyurethane.

  • http://www.chiotsrun.com Chiot’s Run

    Great that you found such a great deal.  When we build our tiny cottage we’re planning on using wool insulation for it’s mold & VOC mitigation qualities.  

    Keep the updates on the house coming – can’t wait to see a few more photos! 

    • anotherkindofdrew

      I have heard good things and bad things about wool insulation. The bad being that it really compacts and ends up clumping in the bottom of your wall cavity. I am not sure though and can’t find anyone to validate the claim one way or the other. 

      We will definitely keep the updates coming. We are going to be planting grass on our land, building a storage shed, and laying the cement pad in the coming month so I think we’ll have some pics to share!

  • http://www.simplystephen.ca/ simplystephen

    Hey Andrew…though I can’t currently find the details I recently read that tens of thousands of books get thrown out every day. Creative uses are being applied, including wall barriers and insulation. To reuse is the ultimate environmental contribution. Have you looked at alternatives like this?

    • anotherkindofdrew

      We have looked at a number of alternatives. There is much to be considered though including our commitment to buying American, reusing locally sourcable materials, and our status of living in the home all year round, full-time, for the foreseeable future. I do hope you understand when I say we are not quite as keen on being the guinea pig for certain methods considering this is our home and we are raising a baby.

      • http://www.simplystephen.ca/ simplystephen

        I certainly understand your need to build a safe home using local sources. If I can find the product link for you, it may shed some more light on an interesting approach to insulate. It may be more tried, tested and true than we think. Since you started, I have loved your approach and solutions for your tiny home.

        • anotherkindofdrew

          Thank you for understanding Stephen. And thank you for your kind words about our blog. We try to remain honest and resourceful without breaking our ethics or our pocketbook. Sometimes it is WAY easier said than done.

          As for the insulation, what if you took the books (especially paperbook) and rolled them (like those newspaper logs) and created a sort of wall in the cavity of your stick framing? Do you think that tightness in the paper (if the books were older and made from pulp wood) would act as sufficient insulation? And if the books weren’t quite as old what problems might be faced by the acid content in the pages?

          • http://www.simplystephen.ca/ simplystephen

            Solutions and solid choices are difficult, especially when you start factoring in ethics, values and resources available. Each decision will meet your current needs and help develop a foundation for future decisions. It is all good.

            If I can find the linkage to the article or website, I will pass it on.

            As a not to your solution, I have read about limestone spray solutions for straw bale houses, since it acts as a fire retardant and extra insulator with no harmful toxins. That could work with paperbacks. It was all just a thought since saving money is important to all of us…and I know we both care (as well as many of our readers) about the environmental impact of our resources.

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