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Helpful? 0

Should Batt Insulation Be Outlawed?

Or maybe just restricted to licensed installers

Posted on Oct 11 2010 by Carl Seville, GBA Advisor

A significant amount of my work these days is certifying homes under one or more of the available green building programs in my area, including EarthCraft House, LEEDLeadership in Energy and Environmental Design. LEED for Homes is the residential green building program from the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). While this program is primarily designed for and applicable to new home projects, major gut rehabs can qualify. , and the National Green Building StandardNational Green Building Standard Based on the NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines and passed through ANSI. This standard can be applied to both new homes, remodeling projects, and additions. . Recently, I have inspected several homes that were insulated with fiberglass batts, and, not surprisingly, the quality of the installation was dismal. What I saw could have been an instruction manual on how not to insulate a house. Batts were cut 2 to 3 inches wider than the stud spacing and crammed into the cavities. Not a single batt was split around a wire or pipe, nor were they cut around electrical boxes. Air barriers everywhere were missing. In most cases, the contractor used batts because the homeowners were unwilling to pay the extra cost of a blown-in product, and the contractor was unwilling to absorb the cost of the upgrade.

What about just doing the job right?
I have contended for a while now that even though fiberglass batts are definitely very cheap, like most things, you get what you pay for. Unfortunately, most insulation contractors pay their installers by the square foot, regardless of the quality, and they just blow through their jobs, cramming in batts as fast as they can, ignoring building codes and manufacturer’s instructions as they go.

I can’t blame the installers; they are just trying to make a living, and it’s not fun work. The insulation contractors get away with deficient work because most general contractors don’t call them on it, and on the rare occasion that they do have to come back and rework a job, they probably just absorb the costs (or make their installers redo it on their own time) and go back to doing the same poor-quality work on the next job. If installers were paid a fair wage to do a high-quality installation, we would have better-performing buildings and, ultimately, happier clients. But in an ever more competitive construction environment, this is not likely to become a mainstream practice anytime soon.

Can we outlaw a product?
In our free society, it is tough to make something illegal—unless, of course, it makes someone happy; then someone, somewhere, will definitely want to stop people from using it. So, if we can’t make fiberglass batts illegal, maybe we can limit their use to trained contractors whose work is supervised and inspected regularly, and who are held accountable for the quality. That would probably raise the installed cost of the product, likely to a level at or above the generally superior blown-in materials.

I actually don’t have a problem with batts as a product, but as an installed system, they rarely make the grade. I realize that there are some high-quality installers who are capable of doing an excellent job, but they are few and far between. We get what we pay for, and when we only pay bottom dollar for fiberglass batts, we get the performance we deserve. Unfortunately, the person who suffers is the homeowner who usually doesn’t know any better.


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1.
Mon, 10/11/2010 - 12:03

Batts, or fiberglass
by Michael @TheGreenBuilder

Helpful? 1

While I agree with your point about poor installation quality, demonizing fiberglass kind of misses the point, don't you think? You see more poorly installed fiberglass batt insulation because there is more fiberglass installed. But quite frankly, denim batts, or any batt or blanket product can be installed just as poorly, and will give the equally lousy service as a result.

Your larger point about installation quality gets more to the point, I think. In my career I've been spared the 'tract home rat race, but I've been on many a building tract where virtually everything was slam-banged together because the job was about production speed, not quality. And I've had to perform the "corrective surgery" on those homes 20 years later.

In my opinion building inspection departments are as much to blame as are the general contractors, and/or the insulation contractors who take no pride in their quality of workmanship. Hopefully along with the country's new obsession with energy efficiency in buildings will come a higher quality standard for even low cost insulation products.


2.
Mon, 10/11/2010 - 12:55

What part of YES don't you understand...
by Armando Cobo

Helpful? 0

All batt insulation should be outlawed. Insulation contractors can't install it right; most builders want cheap stuff so they don't care and building inspectors are unwilling to enforce the code where it matters. Co'mon Carl... let's do a picket E-line... :-D


3.
Mon, 10/11/2010 - 13:02

batt insulation
by Paul McGovern

Helpful? 1

If the general public could familiarize itself with only one edict. it would be to stop air flow! The effective R-Value consequence of Grade #1 vs. Grade #3 installation pales in comparison the the negative effects of air flow. Give a tight house with no insulation over a leaky house with porous insulation.


4.
Mon, 10/11/2010 - 13:22

Slim and None
by Stephen

Helpful? 0

While some points of this have validity I don't think anyone is really ready to pull the plug and completely remove batts from the construction world. There would be enormous consequences to this - not necessarily all bad, mind you, but consequences none-the-less. For example if batt insulation were gone that leaves only precious few alternatives namely foam products and cellulose.

Both Foam and cellulose require substantial costs to get up and running included but not limited to new/repurposed trucks, blowing machines, trailers, additional crew training, additional line(s) of credit, etc. On the builder side there would be noticeable changes as well including, but not limited to, massive price increases, potential scheduling conflicts, etc.

Like I said - not necessarily all bad things.

Then there's the economics of it - take Owens Corning, Knauf, Certain-Teed or any other batt manufacturer and the countless number of people that would be displaced due to this. There would be a ripple effect that would be felt in many job sectors from rail to OTR trucking to warehousing and the like.

I maintain that the insulators need to be held more accountable for their work by either the builder(s), code officials, raters or whomever; do NOT let construction continue until the insulation is installed to a GRADE I at a MINIMUM! There is only one chance to do it all right....

Having batts outlawed due to the inability to properly install is too much of a 'nanny' mentality.

These are only my personal opinions and do not reflect the thoughts and/or opinions of my employer or our employees.


5.
Mon, 10/11/2010 - 14:30

ancient roman tautology
by Luke

Helpful? -1

"If batts are outlawed, then only outlaws will have batts."
You see variations on that on bumper stickers.

Perhaps an easier policy choice would be require QII HERS verification on any job with a batt-type insulation installation.

Separate comment: I don't think outlawing batts means outlawing fiberglass. It's outlawing a form, not a material. That means one might have a healthy industry in blow-in fiberglass, cotton, cellulose, etc.


6.
Mon, 10/11/2010 - 14:38

Thanks for the healthy discussion
by Carl Seville, GBA Advisor

Helpful? 0

First - I was only being half-serious in suggesting that we outlaw batt insulation, but at least it go some discussion going. As I said towards the end of my post, I actually have nothing against batts, just how they are almost always installed. I agree that we need effective air barriers and enforcement of quality installation. If you read the manufacturer's instructions, they call for grade 1 installation. Unfortunately, rarely does anyone read or abide by instructions (It may be a guy thing). As professionals we need to help inform consumers about what constitutes a high quality insulation and air sealing job, helping to create the demand for high performance work. Until we do that, few people will be willing to pay the extra cost of having the job done right, regardless of the material used. BTW - I love the line - If batts are outlawed only outlaws will have batts. That one made my day.


7.
Mon, 10/11/2010 - 14:39

Outlawing Batt Insulation
by greencountryhomes

Helpful? -1

Carl , while I agree that there are a lot of bad installers & semi-blind inspectors , they're not all bad . We have one infamous local inspector that has " retrained " all the F/G installers in our area by letting them fail inspections , remove the F/G Batt & reinstall it properly starting about 4 or 5 years ago .He also charged a progressive reinspection fee each time he came back until it was done correctly . With just properly installed F/G Batts , lots of caulk & foam , but no flash & batt , open or closed-cell foam or cellulose , we've been able to acheive HERS ratings of 53.5 , on average , on our Energy Star homes . Our HERS Rater is also an insulation installer ( but obviously not for us , as that would be a conflict ! ) , so he is very thorough in inspecting our jobs , which I like .

Like every other product we install in our homes , it is only as good as the installers , supervisors , inspectors & verifiers involved in the project .


8.
Tue, 10/12/2010 - 08:55

Blown is better
by Doug

Helpful? 0

Great points Carl. Once you look at a high-quality blown or sprayed installation, it's hard to stomach a typical batt install any more. We have been using more foam, Spyder, and cellulose as people have become aware of the differences.
Greencountryhomes, how has your infamous inspector affected pricing in your area?


9.
Tue, 10/12/2010 - 12:32

free markets yadda yadda
by 5C8rvfuWev

Helpful? -1

It's hard to disagree with Carl Seville's repeated position:

"I actually have nothing against batts, just how they are almost always installed."

Without getting political ... yikes ... a free market economy means we let the markte (i.e., consumer) set standards. And price leads the parade, whether it is in insulation or roofing, autos or electronics, retail or travel, automotive or .... whatever, there is a huge market for low price.

What "sells" is the appearance of quality, not the substance. The label, not the content.

Until (drum roll): someone gets hurt! Then we have a legal system to hold feet to the fire when, and if, we can prove the product is causing brain damage or auto wrecks or lung cancer ....

Take a poor installation, or a crappy inspection, or a contractor who underpays laborers and rushes them to a bull-tickey deadline .... take any of them to court and if we're not thrown out the best we'll get is a tsk-tsk. The free market system involves the legal system and doesn't care about quality; until there's a way to show that poor quality equals deception (fraud) or physical harm to someone, we dont' have a recourse.

Unless of course someone has an idea on how to reduce the cost of blown in to a point where it is upfront cost effective from a consumer perspective .... until then, foam and cullulose are sorta boutique installs, I'm thinking.

Or: if someone knows how to demonstrate the quantitative harm of bad installation ... then the "system" can require vendors and installers to "do no harm": i.e., a level 1 install.

Maybe. Joe W


10.
Tue, 10/12/2010 - 12:57

Response to Joe Wilson
by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Helpful? 1

Joe,
I'm sorry, but the train has already left the station a long time ago. It's too late to depend on the free market to set standards when it comes to residential insulation -- we've already got legal mandates in our building codes. So our residential energy standards are already being set by code bodies and state legislators -- not by the free market.

As pressure mounts to reduce our country's carbon emissions to address the global climate-change crisis, the trend will be towards more rigorous energy codes. Carl Seville may yet prove to be prescient.


11.
Tue, 10/12/2010 - 14:10

Reply to Martin
by 5C8rvfuWev

Helpful? 1

I certainly agree that the "train has left the station." That really was my point, but you stated it simply. Thanks.

But the Code ... isn't it here on GBA where I hear folk loathing the way code sets minimums rather than standards? And that code enforcement is deficient in several areas, with excellence in inspections a rare commodity? My gripe is that with building standards -- just like nutrition standards -- we (the market open culture) nods at quality values but turns a blind eye to ... bad fast food, sloppy insulation, and all the rest. If quality is the cart, it's well behind the horse, I gripe.

Am I wrong? (Back to the sidelines before this gets off track) Joe W


12.
Tue, 10/12/2010 - 14:28

If consumers drive the big picture
by gavin

Helpful? -1

What if rather than rating systems and codes the owner of every new home recieves a video of there house with infrared under depresserization, let the pictures speak for themselves. I think it might then be a different conversation when the builder says well that's what you were willing to pay for. Until are installers, the ones who acctually do the work comission thier own work we have a problem. So what happens when we take the same person who was stuffing batts one day and that person is spraying foam the next day under the same mentality of get er done, will the foam application be better? Or will they just install it two fast under poor temperature and moisture condtions? When a customer sees a chip in the new counter top the understand what they are not getting. If they they saw the thermal performance of a new home that they are about to buy, would they take the keys?


13.
Wed, 10/13/2010 - 11:51

I don't think that the
by Edward Palma

Helpful? -1

I don't think that the problem is the insulation product at all. Yes there are better more expensive methods of insulation product than fiberglass batts, but all forms of insulation as well as construction methods in general fall prey to the demon of poor installation. As contractors we are all responsible for the methods and procedures of our employees, subcontractors, and ourselves. Over time we create relationships with our employees and subcontractors and set realistic, educated, high quality performance standards for each one just as we do for ourselves. Those that perform with quality and consistency are the same people that we employ and subcontractors that we continue using ten years down the road. That is why the team approach is so important from the design phase right on through to the completion of the project. Whether it be new construction , alteration, remodeling or retrofits we are responsible for supervising the performance of those that work on our projects. I am one of the people that does not understand why the Building Code only sets and enforces minimum standards. Besides being a registered Contractor for 30 years, I have been a licensed Building Official since 1990. I have brought that point up many times at educational seminars for code officials and have received mixed reactions. Some laugh at me, some seem perplexed as to why I would actually care about that, and some say that it cannot happen for various reasons, none with which I agree. These attitudes propagate apathy amongst code officials and only are detrimental to the quality on the whole of building inspections. As a result it reduces the quality of the new and existing building stock. This is the situation that exists today, which is why the new codes are addressing energy standards, air sealing, moisture issues, vapor barriers etc. In my opinion, and that is all that it is, if the codes were written to apply the highest standards to construction, then everyone would have to meet the same criteria. It would then be up to the states to mandate this, and Building Code Officials to be educated to this standard in order that they could properly enforce it. Hopefully it would eventually weed out the apathetic code officials and substandard contractors. Code Officials would become more educated to high performance buildings and sustainable practices in construction, while contractors would have to perform to the mandates also. As we deal with the reduction of carbon emissions in the building sector, and work to overcome the negative effects of climate change in our living environment, it is of the utmost importance that we perfect the code writing and enforcement process. By addressing this issue, it will in turn positively effect the performance, durability and overall quality of the existing building and housing stock through alterations and retrofits, and positively effect the projects of the future. It may sound idealistic to some but it is not an unrealistic goal.


14.
Wed, 10/13/2010 - 20:23

"Minimum" code standards
by Bob Ellenberg

Helpful? 1

Here we go again. Perhaps they should change the term to "sufficient" standards as if the fact that they call them minimum means they are not adequate or somehow deficient. The real issue with many aspects of building, as most of you have already asserted, is lack of workmanship. I have long put forth the idea that "quality" is more of a craftsmanship issue than the materials. A well exectuted job using the least expensive materials can be much better than a poorly done one using expensive materials--and that includes insulation and sealing.


15.
Fri, 10/15/2010 - 12:14

We're idiot proofing society
by Steve El

Helpful? 1

We're idiot proofing society in any number of other ways, why not take away the products that will most likely be subject to abusive installation practices?

Another thought, and this is about batt insulation and other "cheaper option" building techniques so bear with me.... with the FDIC so far in the red, sooner or later the taxpayer will start funding the FDIC. Whether that is a good or bad thing is not the point and is for some other forum anyway. It's just a statement of fact.... that day is coming. Many lending institutions benefit from participation in that program. I don't know banking enough to articulate the leap between crappily-built buildings serving as collateral for loans going out the door, the FDIC insurance protecting deposits coming in the door, I'm pretty sure I don't want to be the insurance agent for that institution, with all those crappily-built buildings on the collateral roster. So the point is, besides working to make any technique "illegal" another tool is to work to make the techniques un-financeable.

Finally, that gets me to yet another tool. I would like to see the mortgage appraissal process be revamped to place greater emphasis on property condition and improvements. Too many really nice homes are being capped in their price despite willing buyers by being appraised essentially the same as the crappy identical house next door. Yet another place to change the dollar-equation over insulation techniques and energy performance.

This was a good blog question,
Steve El


16.
Sat, 10/16/2010 - 20:13

Steve
by Robert Hronek

Helpful? 1

Your problem with appraisal comes down to appraisals made for lending are corrupted by the lenders. They have driven good appraisers out of the business and those that are left give the bank what they want. When you see an appraisal fee of $450 about half of that goes to the banks subsidiary. Then the rest goes to the company doing the appraisal company. If the appraisal works for an appraisal company he gets even less. I know guys that drive in from rural areas 2 plus hours away doing appraisal for cheap. Tell me that is a good situation. All because the lenders control the appraisers and drive down the fee so low that you are probably better off working at Wal Mart.

Even if the appraiser was competent he is not given enough time to complete an assignment that is more difficult and takes more work. The bank tracks how fast the appraiser makes the appointment for inspection and how long he takes to gets the appraisal turned in to the lender. Todays appraisals are meaningless because you have know idea if the appraiser did a good job or not.


17.
Mon, 10/18/2010 - 08:15

Bob, the words minimum and
by Edward Palma

Helpful? 1

Bob, the words minimum and sufficient are not impressive standards to set our Building Codes to. Both do not promote superiority in the building product and allow contractors to do just enough to pass the code. Ultimately it only produces mediocrity in the building stock, allows substandard contractors to function without increasing the quality of their product, and the consumer and our planet inherit the consequences. If the minimum codes are so good why do we have a glut of low performance, inefficient, toxic buildings in our existing building stock? Why do we have houses and commercial buildings that use massive amounts of energy to establish and maintain their comfort zones? Why are the codes being rewritten to become more stringent regarding energy usage, quality of construction, indoor air quality, moisture issues, etc? The quality and durability of both commercial and residential buildings has been substandard for a long time, primarily due to the "minimum standard approach", and quality of workmanship issues. Reality is it costs more in labor and materials to produce a quality job for both the contractor and the consumer than a mediocre job. The enforcement procedures do not identify or reward the designers and contractors who go above and beyond in their production of high quality, efficient buildings. In my opinion architects, engineers and contractors should treat their trade as a craft and produce the highest quality product . Unfortunately not everyone takes that approach, and the bottom line is "money and profits talk", and decisions are made accordingly. It is for these reasons that I feel that the "minimum or sufficient" codes should be made stringent, written and enforced to the highest standards, and should mandate and enforce high quality, durable, and efficient buildings. There are many educated contractors that do not need to be prompted to produce quality, efficiency, and durability in their product. Unfortunately they are not the majority yet and the building industry needs to be policed by the code officials. As we already know, the building sector contributes roughly 36% of the worlds carbon emissions to the atmosphere. It is imperative that we rehab existing buildings, build high quality efficient new buildings, renovate the existing housing market, and construct new homes to the highest most efficient standards.


18.
Mon, 10/18/2010 - 09:16

insulation product costs
by Steve Richards

Helpful? 1

As an SPF contractor, I look forward to the day when spray foam, or blown-in products for that matter, are so mainstream that the raw material cost is driven down by increased production. Many see spray foam as "boutique" and even those who use it often choose to do so sparingly, focusing on areas with the best ROI. If SPF were more widely used, and I wasn't competing with the low price of FG, we could insulate all houses top to bottom and get the air sealing and R-value numbers we should be using. The notes on quality on the follow up posts are well put. All products rely on a quality install. Spray foam is certainly not for the untrained beginner. As for batt insulation - I have one key problem with it... I rip out so much of it, it's hard to throw it away. I can't imagine using it for anything besides sound control or flash and batt, but even the flash and batt is almost at the same price point as filling the stud cavity with open cell. There are a lot of misconceptions regarding costs, and I enjoy clearing them up. As builders become more savvy to various products, they can do themselves a favor and take quick volumetric measurements to ballpark costs, then the contractor can bid the job. Most have no idea what to expect, although it's changing.
And one more note - at least for this area of the country, given my experience, an open cell application in 2x4 stud walls, yielding R-13+ and vapor permeable at ~$1.50/sf is the best bang for the buck and ROI one can hope to achieve. Compare it with anything... blown it, FG batts, cotton, rockwool, flash and batt, and all things considered, it's hard to beat.


19.
Mon, 10/18/2010 - 11:33

Batts
by Anonymous

Helpful? -1

The author writes with regard to poor installation , "I can’t blame the installers; they are just trying to make a living"

This is pewtrid! This is the problem with immorality and thus wiht many contractors! Who can blame someone for not doing their job. Who can blame someone for screwing a consumer. So some how we need another law. If it is not against the law to screw some one do it! Hey if I can default on my promise to pay someone and have no consequences do it.

WOW!


20.
Mon, 10/18/2010 - 11:47

Response to Anonymous
by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Helpful? 0

Anonymous,
Here is the typical hierarchy on many residential job sites:
1. The owner contracts with a GC.
2. The GC contracts with an insulation contractor.
3. The insulation contractor hires an hourly worker -- the person Carl calls the installer.
4. The installer stuffs batts between the studs.

If the hourly worker is paid $14/hour to stuff batts, and has been trained by the insulation contractor to do a fast, sloppy job, and if the insulation contractor calls it good and pays the installer $112 a day (minus deductions) for a day's work, then I agree with Carl -- it's not the installer's fault.

The GC should insist that the insulation contractor install the batts according to the manufacturer's instructions. And the owner should refuse to pay the GC if the work doesn't meet minimum standards. Don't blame the installer.


21.
Mon, 10/18/2010 - 17:14

Regulating fiberglass batts
by Daniel M. Wyant

Helpful? 1

By all means Carl, lets have MORE government regulation...while we are at it lets enact more worthless certifications like LEED and the others which interfere in the market, increase prices and lower quality while ensuring jobs for people like you.

Lets artificially restrict the choices available to people in the market for a home all so rent-seekers like you can feel good about themselves.


22.
Mon, 10/18/2010 - 19:15

Driving Down Quality
by Anonymous

Helpful? -1

At one time batt insulation installation was done well, as a rule. Over time the low price guys got in the act and bastardized the process. What leads you to believe that the same won't be true for today's high quality products? The Titanic couldn't sink either.


23.
Mon, 10/18/2010 - 23:48

Let's blame the consumer
by Matt Hoots

Helpful? 1

Since I am a green renovation contractor and have completed dozens of green renovations, I would like to think that my clients appreciate the fact that we pay fair wages and use good materials. I have not used batt insulation on more than 5% of my projects in the last 5 years. We use either Icynene spray foam or cellulose. While the cost is a little more, not having to deal with a complaining homeowner is worth the extra cost.

Luckily, our clients are willing to forgo some of the niceties like upgraded counter-tops, and will paint the house themselves to save up for good HVAC and insulation.

The problem is that in this economy, good enough seems to be winning more often than not, since there is not a lot of extra cash flowing to be able to sustain some of these upgrades that used to be the norm.

The solution- drive consumer demand for better building products and educate them that they may have a slightly higher up front cost, but the long term savings is worth it.

PS- as long as we calculate housing costs by the square foot, batt insulation, carpet and cheap windows are going to be used. It would be great if a Realtor as for the HERS rating instead.


24.
Tue, 10/19/2010 - 11:48

Banning Batts and code minimum
by Gator

Helpful? -1

I have never heard of a poorer argument. Let’s ban something because we don't use it properly. That is bordering on the absurd. If framing lumber is used improperly do should we ban that? How about roofing shingles, etc.? That argument can be said about any building product today. If it is used correctly it will meet its intended purpose. There is nothing wrong with batt insulation, perhaps only the paper faced kind. Any builder who is still using paper faced insulation should really find another profession.
As for code minimums, it is exactly that. A code minimum is to protect the consumer from rip off artists in this trade. It doesn't make it right. If any builder is building to a code minimum then as a consumer I would run. What happened to doing something right? What happened to honesty and pride? The whole world is now ruled by the bottom dollar. If we could we would get our houses built in China and have them shipped over here. Just so we can enjoy the lowest possible price. What a society we live in. We know better, but we don’t apply it. We are ruled by the Almighty dollar. Well if that is your bottom line perhaps as a builder you should get of the trade. Perhaps the trades are better served with people you want to make a difference and take pride in their work.
If as builders we use the correct products in the correct manner then those products will be available. Otherwise they will disappear from the market. I can think of quite a few that I have used and never used again and many of them are no longer available today. Education is also important. If as a builder you are not constantly educating yourself perhaps you also need to do something else. We have moved on from the way we built 40-50 years ago, but we have also found ways to build a poor product. The problem is we don’t use it.


25.
Wed, 10/20/2010 - 00:04

Actually....
by MichaelAnschel

Helpful? -1

We are ruled by the RenMinBi which is poised to be the global curency and will make little more than the largest debtor nation.

As for batt insulation... I think Carl was expressing frustration and suggesting (half jokingly) that since my industry does not do quality control very well, and American homeowners, as Gator points out, don't want to pay for quality products and installation, that it might be doing everyone a favor to take batt insulation off the menu.

On a serious note, I think the requirements for proof of proper insulation insulation should be much higher. The cost of testing and remediation would drive the cost of batt insulation up to reflect it's real cost. At that point foam will look inexpensive, and systems like Spyder will look down-right affordable.


26.
Wed, 10/20/2010 - 10:52

Of course outlawing the
by Doonie

Helpful? 0

Of course outlawing the product is ridiculous. What should be outlawed is untrained and/or unprofessional installers. Why the author would believe that the installer is not to blame is beyond me. As long as "trying to make a living" is an acceptable excuse, the problem will never be solved. I wonder if he sympathizes with all those poor Wall Street brokers who were trying to "make a living"...


27.
Wed, 10/20/2010 - 11:21

On trying to make a living
by Carl Seville, GBA Advisor

Helpful? 2

Doonie - When I was referring to the installers trying to make a living, my point was that the individuals who are paid to actually install the batts are often paid by the SF (usually very little) requiring them to go very fast to make even a modest wage. The contractors who hire aren't held accountable for quality work are the ones who are to blame. If the installers were paid a fair wage so they had enough time to do the installation correctly, we might have a fighting chance. Regardless, this all goes back to the issue of Americans wanting lots of big, cheap stuff, with very little regard for quality. The price pressures on residential construction are very intense, and whoever is able to sell at the lowest price usually gets the job, most likely doing inferior work. Until we see a change in attitudes where people are willing live with less space of a higher quality and be willing to pay a fair price for construction we will not experience any significant change.


28.
Thu, 10/21/2010 - 06:07

Comments on Batt Insulation and Economics
by Norman Zboray, Green with Envy Home Store, Somerset, NJ

Helpful? 0

Martin's comments are entirely true about trying to make a living and providing quality work and products. We deal with this issue 24 hours a day at our store and this is one of my main concerns going forward with our business. We offer Batts and Spray products to our customers and contractors but so does HD and Lowes. Will customers be willing to pay for our expertise or to purchase from a local company?

Concerning proper Batt installations. Proper training of employees is necessary for any product to be successfully installed. However, many manufacturers do not even offer any training on how to actually use the products that they are manufacturing. The writers on this forum are exceptions to the actual contractors or clients using green types of products. Poor installations and lack of training often leads to poor outcomes and most blame the product as being inferior. Sometimes this may be true but we can usually find at least one person at any manufacturer that actually understands the product and its applications.


29.
Thu, 10/21/2010 - 14:04

What about the other trades affect on insulation?
by Allan Bullis, CEM LEED AP

Helpful? 1

Batts no doubt are a less expensive alternative to better insulations, but they are unfortunately here to stay. I have seen many problems with batt installations, and many of the problems are around electrical and plumbing located in the walls. If the amount of wire and plumbing in the exterior walls were reduced, it would also reduce the problems with batt installations.


30.
Thu, 10/21/2010 - 14:09

Get rid of it!
by Guy the Builder

Helpful? 1

Batt insulation is useless! Batts still get in. Sheesh!


31.
Thu, 10/21/2010 - 14:57

Say what
by Sean @ SLS

Helpful? 1

"If the amount of wire and plumbing in the exterior walls were reduced, it would also reduce the problems with batt installations."

Uh no - the problem is not the pipes or the wires, it is the installation practices being used, to some extent the material itself & as Carl so succinctly points out the "price pressures" that not only affect the residential arena, but the commercial arena as well


32.
Thu, 10/21/2010 - 15:58

Should Batt Insulation Be Outlawed
by Paul T. Pierson

Helpful? -1

The problem rest regretable with everyone. But mostly with those responsible of the final work. The installer and his employer can chose to do it correctly or they can come up with excused for mnot doing it correctly.
The subcontractor needs to make sure make sure that his workers actually know how to install batt insulation correctly. Many do not.
Thers is no problem with batt insulation. There are many potential problem most of which are driven by GREED.
The batt insulation manufactures have a chart that show how much the R value is reduced, by inch, when it is compressed in the caviety.
If the architects and engineers did their jobs and the owners would listen this would improve. This kinds of stuff is why the new building codes are taking long standing responsibilities away from the design professional.
And then you have the contractors who continue to ignore their contreactural responsibilies and what the architect / engineer tells them.
Then you get "If you make us correct it it will delay the job and the owner will not like that." Are you may get "But we did not bid / quote it that way so it will be a extra to do it your way." You can get this one when it is clearly specified or show and has not been followed. Then there is the "This is the way it is done around here."
Don't you just love it. I am surprised at the number of contractors who have no problem with knowingly doing something wrong. I am just glad that my doctors do not have the same attitude.


33.
Mon, 10/25/2010 - 01:19

Quality of workmanship
by smalld

Helpful? 1

NO ONE -should use the value of work done by the dollar spent! My grandfather who devised a method of modular home in 1918 utilizing carriage bolt connection and never sought a patent, yet built prestigious homes in Alta Lake- would have said if it is worth doing then it is worth doing well. The answer may be to train and ensure your workers do it well, not good enough! The continual diatribe of observation of work done poorly couple with your prejudice toward scientific rather than empirical knowledge leads me to believe that you may in fact be industry (manufacturer) driven.
I would deeply disappointed if that were to be the case, as your site draws many inquisitive and quality driven seekers.


34.
Mon, 10/25/2010 - 18:59

Should Cars Be Outlawed?
by Bruce Ray

Helpful? -1

Or maybe just restricted to truly licensed drivers who really know how to drive?

A significant amount of my time these days is spent driving around my area, including on highways, streets and parking lots. Recently, I have been closely watching certain drivers and, not surprisingly, the quality of the driving was dismal. What I saw could have been an instruction manual on how not to drive. Cars changed lanes willy nilly, exceeded the speed limit and, aghast, took up two parking spaces for no good reason. Some SUVs were 2 to 3 inches wider than the parking place and just crammed into them. Not a single car was properly parked. Seatbelt use everywhere was missing. In most cases, the driver drove sloppily because they were unwilling to pay the extra cost of a chauffeur. And the car makers were unwilling to absorb the cost of a self-driving, self-parking car upgrade.

What about just driving correctly?
I have contended for a while now that even though cars you actually have to drive and park yourself are definitely very cheap, like most things, you get what you pay for. Unfortunately, most drivers put down their square foot on the accelerator, regardless of the quality of their driving, and they just blow through stops signs, cramming in the miles as fast as they can, ignoring traffic codes and car manufacturer’s instructions as they go.

I can’t blame the drivers; they are just trying to make a living, and it’s not fun work. The drivers get away with deficient driving because most cops don’t call them on it, and on the rare occasion that they do have to come back to traffic court, they probably just absorb the costs and go back to doing the same poor-quality driving on the next street. If drivers were instead paid a fair wage to do a high-quality work at home, we would have better-performing streets and highways and, ultimately, happier people. But in an ever more competitive employment market, this is not likely to become a mainstream practice anytime soon.

Can we outlaw a product?
In our free society, it is tough to make something illegal—unless, of course, it makes someone happy; then someone, somewhere, will definitely want to stop people from using it. So, if we can’t make cars illegal, maybe we can limit their use to trained drivers whose driving is supervised and inspected regularly, and who are held accountable for the quality of their ride. That would probably raise the cost of just about every product, likely to a level at or above the typical chauffer-delivered product.

I actually don’t have a problem with cars as a product, but as used by typical drivers, they rarely make the grade. I realize that there are some high-quality drivers who are capable of doing an excellent job, but they are few and far between. We get what we pay for, and when we only pay bottom dollar (or nothing!) for most driving, we get the performance we deserve. Unfortunately, the person who suffers is the blog reader who usually doesn’t know any better.


35.
Mon, 10/25/2010 - 20:00

Bruce, your comment sounds eerily familiar
by Carl Seville, GBA Advisor

Helpful? 1

Excellent satire of my post, thank you for taking the trouble to put it together. I can only hope that my future posts create as much discussion as this one has.


36.
Tue, 10/26/2010 - 18:58

Training and rewarding the "Best Installers"
by Bruce Ray

Helpful? 0

Carl: sorry to be smart-alecky . The point is that manufacturers have a responsibility to make products that are safe and can be used/installed properly. Part of this is insulation product design and part is education and training of the installation workforce. On design, Johns Manville offers EasyFit batts with vertical perforations, making proper installation in irregular wall cavities easier and faster.

On training, Johns Manville and Insulate America each year cap off the installer training program by holding a "Best Installer" competition. As stated below, this competition highlights how with the right training batts and rolls can be quickly and effectively installed - even when deliberate installation complexities are designed in.

Thanks for the lively discussion,
Bruce Ray
Johns Manville

Miguel Martinez Named America’s Best Insulation Installer for 2009
California-Based Installer Takes First Place – and $10,000 – in Seventh-Annual Insulation Industry Competition

“America’s Best Installer” Presented by Johns Manville and Insulate America

TUCSON, Ariz.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Insulation professional Miguel Martinez of Progressive Insulation & Windows in Chatsworth, Calif., was named “America’s Best Insulation Installer” on October 3, after winning the 2009 America’s Best Installer national finals held in Tucson. Now in its seventh year, the nationwide challenge pits America’s five best insulation installers in a fast-paced, head-to-head competition that highlights how proper product installation leads to more comfortable, energy-efficient homes.

“Considering the talent of my fellow competitors, I feel extremely fortunate to walk away with the win.”
As winner of the 2009 Best Installer title, Martinez was awarded $10,000 and an invitation to the 2010 competition to defend his title.

“Best Installer is the biggest event each year for professional insulation installers,” said Martinez. “Considering the talent of my fellow competitors, I feel extremely fortunate to walk away with the win.”

During the finals, each competitor took a turn installing insulation products into a mock-home structure complete with construction obstacles, including an arched window, electrical outlets, pipes and a vaulted ceiling. A panel of professional judges evaluated the competitors’ performance using criteria relevant to a real job site, including quality of workmanship, adherence to safety rules, speed/productivity and the amount of scrap material they created.

“Insulate America is thrilled to recognize Miguel Martinez as the country’s best insulation installer,” said Jared Ingwalson, vice president of Insulate America. “In partnership with Johns Manville this competition has grown over the past seven years, and this was the toughest competition yet. Miguel’s performance was flawless.”

Created in 2003 by Denver-based building products manufacturer Johns Manville and Insulate America, America’s Best Installer highlights the importance of a quality insulation installation. Martinez earned his way to the national championship after winning a regional Best Installer semi-final held in Willows, Calif. earlier this year.

“America’s Best Installer was created to recognize the talented professionals who work day-in and day-out to build more energy efficient homes,” said Dud Colton, manager of national accounts for Johns Manville. “Johns Manville in partnership with Insulate America is proud to have the opportunity to bring Best Installer to fruition each year.”

With October being National Energy Awareness Month, the contest served as a timely reminder of the energy-saving benefits of properly installed insulation for homeowners. According to The Alliance to Save Energy, the typical household spends an extra $300 per year on energy costs that could have been avoided due to inadequate insulation, inefficient ventilation and leaky windows.

About Johns Manville

Johns Manville, a Berkshire Hathaway company (NYSE: BRK.A) (NYSE: BRK.B), is a leading manufacturer and marketer of premium-quality products for building insulation, mechanical insulation, commercial roofing, and roof insulation, as well as fibers and nonwovens for commercial, industrial, and residential applications. JM serves markets that include aerospace, automotive and transportation, air handling, appliance, HVAC, pipe and equipment, filtration, waterproofing, building, flooring, interiors, and wind energy. In business since 1858, the Denver-based company has annual sales of approximately $2 billion and holds leadership positions in all of the key markets that it serves. JM employs approximately 6,500 people and operates 41 manufacturing facilities in North America, Europe and China. Additional information can be found at www.jm.com.

About Insulate America

Insulate America is a national cooperative group of locally-owned, independent insulation contractors specializing in quality insulation installation and other services for residential and commercial construction. The North Carolina-based organization is the largest independent insulation contracting organization in the United States with more than 250 locations in 46 states. Insulate America gives contractors the buying power to offer competitive pricing on all insulation products.

For more information, or to locate and Insulate America contractor, visit www.insulateamerica.com.


37.
Fri, 10/29/2010 - 09:16

Excellent Installation Instructions
by Carl Seville, GBA Advisor

Helpful? 0

I recently received this document from OC, put together with Advanced Energy. While I appreciate the fact that they are making an effort to provide proper installation instructions, I would like to see more effort put into making sure that professional installers are better managed so that they consistently install their products properly. Because everyone wants everything cheap, there rarely seems to be enough pressure to do the job right.


38.
Mon, 11/08/2010 - 17:26

Driving and Batts
by Steve El

Helpful? 1

Before I get to batt insulation, Bruce said "Should cars be outlawed, or maybe just restricted to truly licensed drivers who really know how to drive?" Since you ask, Bruce, I am 100% in favor of semi-annual testing in driving simulators, similar to what pilots must do. To get the simulators built, I want to see insurers invest in them as part of a discount program for people that do "stick time" at the simulator. The companies would recoup the cost in fewer claims... and just think of all the lives that would save. Another point - and the humor here is accidental because I'm serious - aside from saved lives it would increase demand for public transit!

Re fiberglass batts, as a politically possible compromise I'd reluctantly go along with licensing and regulating the labor force that gets their hands dirty installing batts. This would drive up the price of batts and that would take away the only real advantage in using them. So the end result would be the same, but politicians wouldn't have to take the heat for an out right ban.


39.
Thu, 11/18/2010 - 23:39

How fast can you build it? how cheap?
by Doug Colby

Helpful? 1

Unfortunately in our society we have gotten away from quality to quantity and cost.
I have had my spf insulation for almost 4 years now we doe fiberglass and cellulose as well. We have never installed a straight fg home as far as I am concerned the only good thing to do with fg is to use it for sound deadining and stuffing soffits to spray against. Everyone knows it comes down to price and god forbid if an American can't have it now and doesn't have to wait 6 months more to afford to do it properly.
there are numerous studies out there that show the effectiveness of fg and it isn't. Give it a few years and its pretty well junk with mice and moisture reducing the R-value. SPF when installed properly is a lifetime product when you see the R-value it is an aged R-value that will not be affected by moisture or heat or cold or even wind. What sense does it make to have 99% efficient windows or a 95% efffecint boiler when your fg insulations is only 57% efficient even when installed perfectly.
If every new house was mandated to use spf and it was done properly it would be an automatic drop in the energy requirements in new homes of 40 to 60% range.
Seems like a no brainer but some people still prefer granite counter tops over a good quality thermal envelope.


40.
Sat, 01/22/2011 - 12:47

Edited Sat, 01/22/2011 - 14:43.

Letter from NAIMA
by Carl Seville, GBA Advisor

Helpful? 0

Below is the content of a letter I just received from the VP and General Counsel of the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association. Please forgive any errors, as It came via snail mail and was scanned and saved with OCR software. I have not yet formulated a response, that will be forthcoming in a future post:

VIA REGULAR MAIL
January 17. 2011
Mr. Carl Seville
Advisor to Green Building Advisor
Seville Consulting
RE: Green Building Advisor Article "Should Batt Insulation Be Outlawed?”

Dear Mr. Seville:

Thank you for your article emphasizing the importance of proper installation of insulation. The North American Insulation Manufacturers Association ("NAIMA") is aware of many qualified contractors who properly install a variety of insulation products, but NAIMA is an advocate of the importance of proper installation in order to achieve full thermal performance. Indeed, NAIMA’s published literature states: "Carefully read the manufacturer’s directions printed on packaging of batt or roll insulation to be sure the material is correctly installed." In another NAIMA publication, it is stated that "[t]he performance of any insulation product is dependent not only on selecting the proper product but also on installing it correctly." NAIMA also provides guidance and training materials to insulation contractors.

What is true of all insulation products is that when properly installed, insulation delivers significant energy savings. What is also true of all insulation products is that all can be improperly installed. All insulation products must be installed correctly in order to achieve the intended thermal performance. The National Association of Home Builders ("NAHB") has stated that "you can choose the right insulation, but it will not do the job it’s supposed to do if it is not installed properly." The NAHB’s statement is directed towards all types of insulation products: batt and blanket, loose-fill, rigid board insulation, spray foam insulation, and others.

Therefore, to single out fiber glass batts is unfair and inaccurate. If there is a problem with batts, there is a problem with all batts, including cotton, plastic, denim, rock wool, slag wool, or any other type of batt. Moreover, the rate of improperly installed fiber glass batts must also be weighed in balance with the fact that fiber glass is the most widely used insulation product in North America. Put simply, more fiber glass batts are installed so more are likely to be improperly installed.

Many insulation products when incorrectly installed not only fail to deliver their optimum thermal performance, but may cause serious damage or destruction to the building too. Just consider a few of the following examples that effectively illustrate the need to apply equitably the phrase "when properly installed?
In your article, you mention that blown—in products might have been a preferable alternative. though more expensive. As noted above, there is not an insulation product, or any other product for that matter, that is foolproof`. Spray foam insulation, which must be installed by experts, can be over-sprayed or under-sprayed. For example, a Maryland inspector reported about an insulation contractor who completely foamed all the walls, roof sheathing, ridge vents, attic fan. and soffit vents. The fan and vents ceased to function. In addition, significant fire and explosion hazards exist during installation of spray foam products. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration ("OSHA") has identified several fatalities and incidents due to severe asthmatic attacks and first ”explosions associated with the use of isocyanurate-containing materials (which is one of the chemical hazards in spray foam products).

Other examples of misapplication of spray foam include under-spraying that leaves gaps and holes similar to those described in your article on fiber glass batts. These gaps or voids will result in decreased R-value. If during a retrofit foam insulation is applied over a 48 inch space using only a two or three inch opening at one side, the foam will begin to expand and cure before it has reached the full depth of the cavity. This would block any more foam from filling the cavity, so random voids would result. Even proponents of foam insulation caution that "spray foam products must still be sprayed correctly.”

Most other blown—in products can also be under-sprayed, fluffed, or subject to settling. For example, cellulose insulation settles over time. Third party documentation estimates that settling of cellulose insulation shows an average settling value of 19 percent Therefore, if cellulose insulation is improperly installed without accounting for settling, cellulose insulation will lose about 19 percent of its R-value when it settles. Therefore, proper installation of cellulose insulation is required in order to improve energy efficiency. The installer must take into account installed thickness and settled thickness, which means additional product must be added to compensate for that settling factor.

Too much cellulose insulation above ceilings, however, can impact the ceiling structure of the home. Based on US Gypsum weight limit recommendations for backloaded standard drywall and the installed density of shredded newspaper insulations, there is potential for ceiling drywall to sag at R-values above R-30 for regular cellulose insulation when installed over 1/2 inch ceiling drywall with framing spaced 24 inches on centers. Cellulose insulation, if improperly installed, can cause fires when the insulation is placed near a heat source. In fact, the Consumer Product Safety Commission ("CPSC") regulates cellulose insulation as a recognized fire threat. To protect against that fire threat, CPSC regulations mandate the proper installation of cellulose insulation: "Based on available fire incident information, engineering analysis of the probable fire scenarios, and laboratory tests, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has determined that fire may occur where cellulose insulation is improperly installed too close to the sides or over the top of recessed electrical light fixtures, or installed too close to the exhaust flues from heat producing devices or apparatus such as furnaces, water heaters, and space heaters.

These fires may result in serious injuries or deaths. Presently available information indicates that fires may occur where cellulose insulation is improperly installed even though the cellulose insulation complies with the Commission`s amended interim standard for cellulose insulation."'

CPSC has actually issued regulations that mandate proper installation to avoid house fires, yet even a legal mandate cannot stop improper installation as attested to in the enclosed article, "Going Green May Make You See Red." Improper installation of cellulose is so serious that this warning label must be affixed:
Manufacturers of cellulose insulation shall label all containers of cellulose
insulation with the following statement. using capital letters as indicated:

CAUTION
Potential Fire Hazard: Keep cellulose insulation at least three inches away from the sides of recessed light fixtures. Do not place insulation over such fixtures so as to entrap heat.
Also keep this insulation away from exhaust flues of furnaces, water heaters, space heaters. or other heat-producing devices.
To be sure that insulation is kept away from light fixtures and flues, use a barrier to permanently maintain clearance around these areas. Check with local building or fire officials for guidance on installation and barrier requirements.
Request to Installer: Remove this label and give it to the consumer at completion of job.

Reflective insulation must be positioned adjacent to an air gap to be effective; otherwise heat will simply conduct through to the next solid layer that it touches. In other words, if the reflective insulation is positioned improperly, it will not deliver the intended thermal performance.

If you are so anxious to outlaw insulation products, would it not be prudent to start with those products clearly identified as threats to life and safety`? Certainly outlawing fiber glass batts should be a low priority. Perhaps in future columns you can join with NAIMA and many other insulation producers in advocating proper installation for all insulation products. To single out fiber glass actually does a great disservice to your readers because it suggests that it is somehow a unique issue to fiber glass when, in reality, it is an issue for the entire insulation industry.

Sincerely,
Executive Vice President. General Counsel
North American Insulation Manufacturers Association


41.
Sat, 01/22/2011 - 14:15

Silly protective association
by MichaelAnschel

Helpful? 0

Carl- this letter is laughable. It reads like one of those "I'm-so-angry-right-now-say-everything-that-comes-to-mind" letters that ought to be torn up before sending. So self awareness. Pure defensiveness. And, my favorite, justification by others faults. Very mature.

Statistically they are at a disadvantage, but i would challenge them to find any building performance inspector who would go on record to say the majority of fiberglass installations are done properly. They manufacture a product that is notoriously difficult to install properly, and failing to install it properly results in significant drops in intended performance. Period. Sorry folks.

Factually, they seem a bit off... Who installs 1/2" gyp board on ceilings? Standard recessed lights (which are evil) can't butt into pretty much every insulation type. IC rated cans, most of which allow for direct contact with insulation (still evil) are the only thing can type that should find it's way into an insulated ceiling in the first place.

Note that they did not address the Spyder blown in fiberglass system that you are currenty advocating for either, not that it matters. I say let them continue whining in their thin skin suits.

Rock on.


42.
Sat, 01/22/2011 - 14:45

Response to Michael Anschel
by Martin Holladay, GBA Advisor

Helpful? 0

Michael,
You asked, "Who installs 1/2" gyp board on ceilings?"

Answer: Almost everybody. It is the most common finish material for ceilings in the U.S.

Do you use 5/8"?


43.
Wed, 06/22/2011 - 10:46

have your batts and eat cake too
by Gregory La Vardera

Helpful? 0

Anybody condemning batts needs to study mineral wool more closely. Look on youtube, watch videos of mineral wool installed in stud framed walls in swedish factories.

Mineral wool is easier to install than fiberglass batts. Mineral wool completely fills stud cavities. Mineral wool is easy to cut, and because it has "dimension" it is easy to cut and fit at obstructions - its very carpenter friendly, and handles and cuts like a big loaf of bread, not a saggy and droopy blanket.

Caveats. Vapor retarders bound to batts are worthless. You can't make an air tight boundary with these and mineral wool does not come with this. Use a separate vapor retarder membrane that can be installed continuously. Put an independent wiring chase inside of your vapor retarder to keep wires and boxes outside of the primary insulation cavity. You'll have a better performing wall and a tighter house, all with the same sub-contractors you always used.


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