In recent years there has been growing interest in premium insulation systems in new construction. Although the use of standard fiberglass batts continues to be the prevalent choice for both commercial and residential insulation, the advantages of upgraded insulation systems are motivating builders, architects, and homeowners to consider high-performance systems even though the initial cost to install these systems may be higher.

High-performance insulation systems provide benefits over the life of the building that often exceed the initial cost of the system. It is an investment that provides a return on investment In most cases, these systems provide better thermal, acoustic, and air infiltration protection than conventional insulation alternatives. It is important to understand the benefits of each so that you can compare them and determine the system that best fits your needs.

In a perfect world or a controlled laboratory, properly installed insulation systems will perform similarly to high-density batts. However, houses aren’t insulated in a perfect world and the actual installation of any insulation product varies greatly. Many installers are paid for speed, not accuracy; and turnover is high, experience is low. The opposite is true with premium or upgraded insulation systems. Insulation install crews are trained to install the system using specific techniques and approach the project in a more professional manner. They are paid to perform to a set of expectations and that shows in the pride they take in their work. The systems offer many advantages that affect the overall performance of the system, but the common factor in the most effective insulation systems is to achieve the highest, full cavity effective R-values without gaps and voids that create a seamless air barrier. The bottom line for the installation of any insulation system is when the job is done right, the building is more energy efficient, comfortable, and quiet.

Once you decide to install an upgraded insulation system, the next step is to determine the type of system that best fits your needs. There are many different high-performance systems used today – including the BIBS system, wet-spray cellulose, and spray foam. Each system has different benefits and varying installation costs, so understanding the differences between the systems is important.

Insulation Comparative Chart

Since there are considerable differences among them, let’s examine each individually.

The BIBS system was developed by Ark-Seal International in the 1980s and was the original blow-in-wall insulation system. After decades on the market, it remains one of the most widely accepted high-performance insulation systems. The system has extensive laboratory and field-testing to support performance claims.

The BIBS system uses tested and approved fiberglass blowing wool from three approved partner manufacturers. These include OPTIMA®, InsulSafe®SP, andInsulSafe®XC from CertainTeed; Climate Pro® and Spider from Johns Manville; and Jet Stream ULTRA and Jet Stream MAX (formerly Perimeter Plus®) from Knauf Insulation. The use of any other insulation product, fiberglass or cellulose, is not accepted for use in the BIBS system. There is a specific process for installing the BIBS system and the certified training program helps ensure a proper installation. First, the proprietary BIBS system fabric is stapled to the face of the framing members. Then, approved loose-fill fiberglass insulation is blown into the wall cavity to a specified density and corresponding R-value. The density of the insulation is then tested and properly documented. One of the key benefits to the construction trade process is that drywall can be installed immediately over the BIBS system because drying time is not necessary.

Another unique benefit of the BIBS system is that it is a certified system. Contractors undergo extensive training to become a certified BIBS system installer. This certified program trains contractors on the specific process of system installation and testing. Licensed installers helps ensure the installation meets rigorous standards. Additional training and recertification, even for experienced contractors, helps maintain their skill set.

In addition to sidewalls, the BIBS system is ideal for vaulted or cathedral ceilings, under floors, crawlspaces, attics, or any hard-to-fit spaces. Field tests prove the BIBS system will not settle, and lasts for the life of the building. It completely fills the wall cavity offering outstanding thermal performance. You can achieve up to an R-15 in 2×4 construction and an R-23 in 2×6. Expert installation provides a consistent and proper installation and on-site density testing confirms the exact R-value of the cavity, and thus, confidence of superior performance.

Wet spray cellulose offers the level of performance comparative to other high-performance systems and interest in wet spray cellulose among builders has been growing in recent years. It is a dense pack system that resists air flow and in 2×6 construction can achieve an R-value up to 21, depending on the product application. Additionally, wet spray cellulose has a high sound transmission class rating, making it a good choice for sound control. The process for installing wet spray cellulose varies by contractor, but generally involves the combination of several materials, including: cellulose insulation, water, and occasionally a dry adhesive. These products are mixed at the moment of application and then sprayed in the wall cavities. Excess material scraped off or swept up and can be reused in attic open-blow applications or in sidewalls.

Wet spray cellulose contains up to 50% water content which means this type of insulation system requires drying time. Drying times vary and may take two-four weeks in damp weather or humid climates. Drying time is a component of this application and there is no way to speed up the process. Neglecting necessary drying time or disregarding local vapor-barrier guidelines can result in moisture problems, including corrosion, mold or mildew. Drying time must be factored into the construction schedule; for example, drywall installation cannot start until the insulation mixture has sufficiently dried.

Testing data on moisture and fire-retardant properties varies installation to installation and may not be readily available. These are both concerns for this type of system. Some fire-resistant chemicals may lose their effectiveness once wet spray cellulose has dried. Additionally, because density checks are not typically done, so quality assurance for wet spray cellulose will also vary. However, many view wet spray cellulose as a more responsible option without sacrificing performance. Most manufacturers use recycled materials by repurposing excess newsprint and other reusable wood fiber materials which have a lower impact on the environment than other alternative insulation systems.

Spray polyurethane foam insulation systems were introduced nearly 20 years ago in response to the energy crisis that generated significant interest in re-insulating homes and commercial buildings to make them more energy efficient. There are two basic types of foam insulation: open and closed cell spray polyurethane foams. Performance ratings and benefits vary by manufacturer. In particular, open cell polyurethane systems have gained great popularity in recent years.

Spray Polyurethane foam expands in seconds upon application up to 100 times its liquid volume and cures in 20 seconds. The excess material is shaved away and removed from the job site. Special training and strict safety precautions require installers to wear protective coveralls and a full mask. This insulation system also requires proper ventilation. Depending on local building code, open cell polyurethane foam may require a separate vapor barrier.

Spray polyurethane foam is typically one of the most expensive performance insulation systems, and yet it is one of the most effective at creating a continuous air barrier. Consumers should investigate the R-value and composition of the different manufacturers’ systems and confirm performance testing in their ES Reports. Some buyer and specifiers are concerned that foam systems are petroleum based which is a limited, non-renewable resource. In contrast, the BIBS system uses fiberglass blowing wools made from sand, one of the most plentiful and renewable resources available. Spray foam systems are very popular today due to their high performance and attainable R-values which vary on the depth of the foam installed. The performance of spray polyurethane foam as an insulation solution is another reason the BIBS system leverages this product in the BIBS hp system.

When it comes to reliability, manufacturer support, quality control, and years of experience, selecting the right insulation system is a complex decision. Considering the many factors involved in the decision-making process, it is easy to see why the BIBS system is the leading high-performance insulating system.

No matter which system you select, it is important to remember that the system’s performance is directly affected by the quality of installation. The best product will not perform as expected unless it is properly installed. That’s why it’s critical to choose a trained professional insulation contractor who will do the job right. This is why the BIBS system has a network of trained and certified contractors throughout North America.