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Insulation nation

Posted by Rona Fischman November 13, 2009 02:17 PM

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What is that stuff in the attic floor bays?

If you are lucky enough to have insulation in the floor bays of your attic, what is it made of?
If you are really lucky, you could have cellulose Ė stuff made of old newspapers. Cellulose insulation looks like dirty cottony paper-pulp. You are also lucky if you have fiberglass (that pink cotton-candy-looking stuff.) These, fortunately, are the most likely things you will see in your attic floor, besides dust.

You might find one of the older insulating materials, UFFI. If you see it in an attic floor, it looks like gray Styrofoam. UFFI (Urea formaldehyde foam insulation ) does a great job of insulating. But, when it was put in houses in the 1970s, it was found to out-gas enough formaldehyde to make people sick. It was outlawed in the 1980s. That was long-enough ago that the offending gas has dissipated. So, if you had UFFI in your house in 1985, you were pretty unhappy; now, it is a good thing.

Also in the old-insulation-that-does-you-harm category is vermiculite. It is rock that has asbestos in it. The web information on this varies from big bright alarm bells to just-never-touch-it-and-youíll-be-fine.

Then there is the old stuff, usually wrapped in brown paper. Inspectors donít think it is toxic, but they also donít think it insulates all that much. I frequently see newspaper and cardboard (doesnít do a thing except collect dust.) Last week, I saw packing peanuts (maybe they were just spilled from a bag they were being stored in Ė I hope so!) Also, I see layers of what looks like aluminum foil without anything else; I think those are left over from old fiberglass that was removed.

Today, I heard about a new foam, to be used on the attic ceiling, not the floor. It is called Icynene. It sounds like serious insulation. I am skeptical about new building materials, so Iíd love to hear from anyone who is using this. Also, applying foam to the ceiling goes against everything I have been taught by all the home inspectors about taking care of the roof. The prevailing wisdom is to insulate the floor of an empty attic, and let the roof breathe.

Just last week, I wrote about the perils of over-insulation without ventilation. Will this style of insulation make that worse?

The salesperson said that is "the new way"... But is it the better way?
Whatís in your attic?

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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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