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Stay Away from Foil-Faced Bubble Wrap

This R-1 product can be used to make Halloween costumes, but should never be used as insulation

Posted on Mar 21 2014 by Martin Holladay

Most brands of foil-faced bubble wrap are only 3/8 inch thick or less, and have an R-value of only 1.0 or 1.1. Since the product often costs more per square foot than 1-inch thick rigid foam rated at R-5, why would anyone use bubble wrap as insulation?

The R-value of foil-faced bubble wrap is so low that it has few, if any, advantages over rigid foam. Of course, the product’s foil facing can be used as a radiant barrier — but if you want a radiant barrier, cheaper products are available. (The bubble wrap layer is unnecessary, since it adds cost to the material without adding any useful thermal performance.)

Exaggerated R-value claims

Since the main benefit from foil-faced bubble wrap is due to its radiant-barrier facing, the product is basically worthless unless it faces an air space. A decade ago, when I was the editor of Energy Design Update, I noticed that many manufacturers of foil-faced bubble wrap were promoting their products for use under concrete slabs on grade. In this application, the shiny foil is clearly not facing an air space, so the exaggerated R-value claims made by bubble-wrap manufacturers were particularly outrageous. My article exposing the bubble-wrap scammers appeared in the September 2003 issue of EDU.

In that article, I reported that one manufacturer, WE International, made absurd claims about a thin (5/16-inch) product called Concrete Barrier rFoil. The manufacturer’s website boasted, “Concrete Barrier can serve three purposes underneath concrete: R-10 insulation, a vapor barrier and a radonColorless, odorless, short-lived radioactive gas that can seep into homes and result in lung cancer risk. Radon and its decay products emit cancer-causing alpha, beta, and gamma particles. barrier. … How does it compare to 2-inch foam board? It works just as well.”

Similarly, Insulation Solutions, the manufacturer of a 3/8-inch thick product called Insul-Tarp, claimed that the flexible tarp has an “R-value equivalent” rating of R-5 to R-10.

After these lies were publicized, three manufacturers wrote letters to EDU apologizing for the “oversights” and “typographical errors” that appeared on their websites.

Blurring the line between product R-values and assembly R-values

Many of the manufacturers and distributors that publish exaggerated R-values deliberately blur the bright legal line that separates product R-values from assembly R-values.

According to federal law, the R-value of an insulation product — for example, a piece of 1-inch thick polyisocyanurate — is the R-value of the insulation alone. That’s the R-value which insulation manufacturers are required to report on their packaging and in their advertising; the requirement is spelled out in the Federal R-Value Rule, a law that applies to manufacturers, retailers, and builders.

The R-value of a building assembly is something different. For example, if you build a wall with a layer of interior polyisocyanurate, followed by horizontal 1x4 strapping and drywall, the air space between the polyiso and the drywall has a measurable R-value. If you want to calculate the R-value of the entire wall assembly, you would need to calculate the R-value of the air space and add that R-value to the R-value of all the other layers. Once you’ve done that, you’ll know your wall assembly R-value.

Here’s the key point: polyiso manufacturers can’t claim the R-value of an air space in their labeling or advertising (unless the advertising makes a very clear distinction between the product R-value and the R-value of a hypothetical building assembly).

Product distributors are violating federal law

Fortunately, most (but not all) manufacturers of foil-faced bubble wrap have removed the blatant lies from their websites. Instead, manufacturers tempt the unwary with vague promises; for example, they claim that their bubble wrap “has a high R-value” or that it “resists the transfer of heat.”

The scoff-law websites with the greatest number of lies about foil-faced bubble wrap are those maintained by distributors — including a few large corporations like Home Depot, Ace Hardware, and Amazon — rather than those maintained by manufacturers.

For example, Amazon claims that a type of foil-faced bubble wrap product manufactured by EcoFoil (“HVAC Duct Wrap Insulation”) has an R-value of R-8. But a careful reading of the manufacturer’s technical data sheet and the referenced ICC-ES Evaluation Report reveals that the R-8 value claim is based on an assembly that includes the R-value of a 2-inch air space.

Similarly, Ace Hardware is advertising Reflectix, an R-1 foil-faced bubble wrap product, with a blurb that claims that the product has “R-values ranging from R-3.7 to R-21.”

That’s a little like Starbucks saying that a cup of coffee is a satisfying meal — as long as you remember to accompany the coffee with a 12-inch submarine sandwich (not included).

Yes, a few manufacturers are still lying

Although the major manufacturers of foil-faced bubble wrap have (almost) cleaned up their act, some still include exaggerations on their websites.


“Last September, the editors of Energy Design Update (EDU) questioned the astounding claims for R-value made by various manufacturers and distributors of foil-faced bubble pack insulation. Curiously, the November issue of EDU was full of qualifications from manufacturers, down-rating their R-value claims. To help resolve these competing claims, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) decided to fund a quick study on the actual installed performance of foil bubble pack and competing subslab insulations. ... The foil bubble pack tested was next to useless as subslab insulation.”
Foil Bubble Pack: Subslab Insulation?

“The bubble-pack insulation had a low insulating value compared to the polyurethane panels and the XPSExtruded polystyrene. Highly insulating, water-resistant rigid foam insulation that is widely used above and below grade, such as on exterior walls and underneath concrete floor slabs. In North America, XPS is made with ozone-depleting HCFC-142b. XPS has higher density and R-value and lower vapor permeability than EPS rigid insulation. board. It’s cost benefit was the poorest of all insulating materials tested.”
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation research report

“Manufacturers of reflective bubble pack insulations have claimed R-values for 5/16˝ thick duct wrap as high as 5.6. Independent testing of some manufacturers’ products has shown that the actual R-value is approximately 1.1 when the product is tested in accordance with ASTMAmerican Society for Testing and Materials. Not-for-profit international standards organization that provides a forum for the development and publication of voluntary technical standards for materials, products, systems, and services. Originally the American Society for Testing and Materials. C 518.”
NAIMA: Facts About the Performance of Reflective Bubble Pack Insulations in Duct System Applications

“We found no basis for the manufacturer’s claim of 77% reduction in heat loss due to Ultra CBF rFOIL in an under-slab application. This heat loss reduction significantly exceeds even that of 2-inch extruded polystyrene insulation installed under the full slab, while the insulating value of Ultra CBF rFOIL is much less.”
Washington State University Extension Energy Program

One manufacturer that trumpets exaggerated R-values is EcoFoil (a.k.a. rFoil, a.k.a. Covertech Fabricating). The EcoFoil website describes the company’s duct wrap as an R-8 product, even though the R-8 claim is based on an assembly that includes an adjacent air space. The company also claims that “EcoFoil [foil-faced bubble wrap] under concrete insulation is superior to traditional, outdated forms of concrete floor insulation such as polystyrene or foam sheets.” This statement is false.

Elsewhere, EcoFoil claims that its 5/16-inch-thick bubble wrap product, which is called “Under Concrete Insulation,” has an R-value of R-3.8. It does not.

Another bad apple is Insulation4less, which retails a thin product called Prodex Total. On its website, the company states, “Prodex Total has a nominal thickness of 5 mm (13/64 inch) closed cell polyethylene foam covered on both sides with .0012 (00.03 mm) aluminum foil facing. ... R-value R-16 unaffected by humidity.”

Prodex may be unaffected by humidity — but it is seriously affected by gross exaggeration.

These are not examples of victimless crimes; there are victims. One victim is a blogger who reports using this sub-slab assembly: “In basement, install Insul-Tarp over crushed rock, single layer of wire mesh, and Wirsbro [hydronic] tubing, pour concrete (pump hose will go through stairwell hole).”

Unfortunately, Insul-Tarp has an R-value of R-2 or less. For years, however, the manufacturer of Insul-Tarp claimed that the product was rated at R-7 or more. The blogger who specified Insul-Tarp believed the false claims, which is why he wrote, “This is what the Insul-Tarp looks like. The exterior is some kind of tough fabric, then there are two layers of thin white foam, then a layer of bubble wrap. Hard to believe this can be equivalent of 2 inches of styrofoam.”

Indeed, it is hard to believe — so hard, in fact, that the Federal Trade Commission initiated court action that forced Meyer Enterprises, the manufacturer of Insul-Tarp, to stop making false claims. According to the FTC complaint, Meyer Enterprises “claimed Insul-Tarp’s R-value is 7.54, but in reality Insul-Tarp’s R-value could not be more than 2.”

Duct insulation scams

These days, most of the remaining confusion about foil-faced bubble wrap concerns duct insulation. As building codes ratchet up — many jurisdictions now require ducts to include R-8 insulation — manufacturers of bubble wrap have switched tactics. Instead of marketing their bubble wrap to concrete contractors, an increasing number of manufacturers are marketing bubble wrap to HVAC contractors as an easy-to-install duct insulation.

Online ads for “R-8 bubble wrap” lure unwary contractors into the marketers' net. Claims that bubble wrap can achieve R-4, R-6, or R-8 when used as duct insulation are based on a rarely attempted installation technique that requires contractors to install a series of spacers to maintain a consistent air space between the duct and the bubble wrap. This type of insulation is fussy and is unlikely to be durable. The manufacturers hardly care whether the assembly works, however, since they are basing their sales on obfuscations and contractors’ misunderstandings.

Few contractors bother to learn about the difference between product R-values and assembly R-values. A classic example of what’s going on at job sites around the country was described in a Q&A thread here at “Reflectix is still claiming R-4.2 for its bubble wrap, and my HVAC guy is hooked.”

The only remedy to these misunderstandings is the drumbeat of education. To stop these scams, energy experts need to educate building inspectors as well as contractors.

Martin Holladay’s previous blog: “When the Gas Pipeline Shuts Down.”

Click here to follow Martin Holladay on Twitter.

Tags: , , , , ,

Image Credits:

  1. Ace Hardware
  2. Amazon
  3. EcoFoil
  4. Insulation4less
  5. Image #8: Martin Holladay

Mar 21, 2014 6:47 AM ET

I am embarrassed to admit
by Lloyd Alter

I am embarrassed to admit that I used it in my unwinterized cabin to cut the chill a bit in the shoulder seasons in the room with the fireplace; I wanted something really thin outside the sheathing and behind the siding. Completely useless and waste of money. Perhaps I should add a coat of that fancy NASA ceramic insulating paint.

Mar 21, 2014 7:09 AM ET

Edited Mar 21, 2014 7:11 AM ET.

Response to Lloyd Alter
by Martin Holladay

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but here is something else to think about: In addition to wasting your money, you also created a potential future problem by installing a wrong-side vapor barrier.

Installing a vapor barrier on the exterior side of your wall sheathing is not a good idea in Canada. If you ever decide that you want insulation between your studs, your mistake will come back to haunt you.

Mar 21, 2014 8:42 AM ET

still pushed as high as R4.0 around here
by Jin Kazama

Just last week i saw an add at local hardware store , clearly pushing " additional R4 value " on a bubble/foil product.

The only usage i've ever found to this product is wraping drains as it seals pretty hermetically with acrylic tapes and is fast to layout.
But the low insulation is not much of an help.

BTW what would you consider as minimum insulation on flat roof plastic ( ABS ) drainage pipes that are passed through conditionned space ?

Hard to design keeping in mind we do not wish them to freeze near the input on the roof??

Mar 21, 2014 8:57 AM ET

Response to Jin Kazama
by Martin Holladay

So, you are designing a "flat" (low-slope) roof that drains to a central ABS drain pipe, and you want to know how to insulate the drain pipe.

Here's my answer: never design a roof that slopes to a drain pipe. These types of roofs eventually fail, because they get clogged by leaves, pine needles, tennis balls, and Frisbees.

So the answer is: design your roof to drain to an eave -- or at the very least, to scuppers (plural).

Every roof drain that I have seen depended on heat loss from the building to stay ice-free. Not a great plan.

Mar 21, 2014 9:03 AM ET

Edited Mar 21, 2014 9:04 AM ET.

Water heater tank wraps
by Mark Fredericks

This bubble wrap is also sold as an insulating blanket wrap for hot water tanks. I foolishly installed one of these a few years ago only to learn that it provides very little insulating value. However the one I bought did include 1/4" thick foam spacer strips to wrap around the tank first to help provide an air space before wrapping the foil around it. I don't remember the R-value claims of this product but the spacer strips were clearly indicated in the installation instructions so its possible their claim could have been reasonable.

Now that I have this foil wrap installed do you think there's any value in keeping it when I add more insulation to my water heater tank?

Mar 21, 2014 9:33 AM ET

Response to Mark Fredericks
by Martin Holladay

If you want to install insulation around your water heater, the best products are those made of vinyl-faced fiberglass insulation. Here are links to two products:

Now that you have installed the bubble wrap, there is no reason to remove it -- unless there is a problem with the tape holding it in place. I see no reason why you can't install a fiberglass blanket around it.

The usual warnings apply: don't cover up the pressure/temperature relief valve, or the thermostat or other controls. If it is a gas water heater, don't cover up the burner area (where the combustion air enters) or the area around the flue.

Mar 21, 2014 10:49 AM ET

Halloween Costumes
by Greg Labbe


Until you produce evidence, I won't believe you its even good for Halloween costumes- too expensive, unrecyclable and kids will complain about being too cold!

Mar 21, 2014 10:52 AM ET

Use in tropical countries
by Jon R

I frequently see this used as the sole insulation under the corrugated roof of tropical buildings. In this case, it is facing air gaps on both sides. It works, but foil faced EPS would be better. Or white paint on the top of the roof and a greater roof slope (more convection).

Mar 21, 2014 10:52 AM ET

I witnessed
by Steve Johnson

I saw an entire house get covered in this stuff (exterior). This was a few years back. What a waste of time and energy (not to mention money).

Mar 21, 2014 11:11 AM ET

Response to Greg Labbe
by Martin Holladay

How's this for a Halloween costume? I couldn't find a good photo of a costume using foil-faced bubble wrap, unfortunately, but this example comes close.


Bubble wrap 2.jpg

Mar 21, 2014 12:21 PM ET

Response to Jon R
by Martin Holladay

You wrote, "I frequently see this used as the sole insulation under the corrugated roof of tropical buildings. In this case, it is facing air gaps on both sides. It works, but foil faced EPS would be better."

I agree that it works, and that foil-faced rigid foam would be better.

Another observation: in this application, an ordinary radiant barrier (without the bubble wrap) would work just as well, and would be cheaper.

Mar 21, 2014 1:22 PM ET

Edited Mar 21, 2014 1:24 PM ET.

Used it on garage door
by S M

I used this product on my west- facing uninsulated metal overhead garage door on my old house. Summer afternoons would really make the inside of that door a scorcher. This product worked great for that - I just wanted to block the infusion of radiant heat that my uninsulated garage accumulated on the sunny summer evenings. I used foil tape to secure the cut pieces in each section of the overhead door.

Mar 21, 2014 1:26 PM ET

makes a good beer cozy
by Matt Dirksen

I admit I had bought some years ago to staple to the underside of the trusses in the attic (before I could afford to do the r-50 cellulose), and I had extra to play with.
Here is what I have used it for so far:
1) beer cozies
2) to keep freeze dried food packets warm while rehydrating on backpacking trips
3) made squares out of it to sit on with the camp chairs
4) a great replacement for the ground cloth under the tent
5) makes an awesome sled (very slippery on snow)

and the list goes on....

Mar 21, 2014 4:18 PM ET

Great -- another thing wrong with my house
by T Tub

I am becoming depressed by all the [good] info on this site showing how key parts of my home build were wrong and either cannot be fixed or will require lots of $$$ to fix.

My geothermal radiant heating system was provided by Eagle Mountain. Insul-Tarp was, and still is, part of their radiant heat slab construction ( Fortunately I insulated my perimeter frost walls/footers before back-filling or else my slab heat loss would be greater than it is. And like Mark (above), I too bought Reflectix for wrapping around my hot water tank. At least that is an easy fix.

I better start playing the lottery to hopefully win enough money to fix everything or demo and rebuild... :(

Mar 21, 2014 5:10 PM ET

Edited Mar 27, 2014 10:31 AM ET.

Missing positives
by aj builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a

With an air gap and taking into account adding an air barrier and using foil where the radiant levels are high, the stuff though marketed horrendously does do a job.

Should anyone buy the stuff... not very often.

Also... Martin... underslab... you are thinking there is no air gap... there is an airgap, that is what the bubbles are, air gaps. I am not saying I love the stuff... but your blog makes it sound like there is no air gap when there certainly IS and air gap. Your saying that just a sheet of less expensive radiant foil would be better is nonsense. The bubbles also stop conduction. In a slab conduction is the primary heat transfer. I do agree with you not to use it underslab unless it falls off a truck and is free.

Addendum to Martin; Twice I agreed with you that this stuff is of lessor value...

now I have but thrice
to agree
to said...

aj ;) 5 days left till a real Spring here in the Adirondacks! Fifty degree days are near.... Update... tomorrow may go above 40 degrees... Monday... word has it that the sun will shine and we may go over 50 degrees! May need bubble foil to stay cool... to keep the beers cool... instead of sunscreen... to ward off make solar cookers... what else??

Mar 21, 2014 5:22 PM ET

Edited Mar 21, 2014 5:23 PM ET.

Response to AJ Builder
by Martin Holladay

You wrote, "There is an airgap, that is what the bubbles are, air gaps."

Fortunately, we know what the air gaps do. They change the R-value of the product from R-0 (that's the R-value of the plain foil radiant barrier) to R-1.1.

If you perform an R-value test according to ASTM C518, the material is placed between two plates -- which is a similar situation to sandwiching the bubble wrap between dirt and concrete. The effect of the bubble wrap (a type of air gap with thermal bridging) plus foil is captured by the test. In a way, it's like testing a miniature building assembly.

In short, the bubbles help -- but not much. If you are impressed by R-1.1, this is the product for you.

Some manufacturers add one or two very thin layers of flexible foam to the sandwich, and make a thin "tarp" with an R-value as high as R-2.

Wow! R-2! Remember, it costs more than R-5 foam.

Mar 21, 2014 7:21 PM ET

The best application I've seen for it is...
by Dana Dorsett

...the cushioning binder wrap of a pallet of cases of wine. Inside the bubble wrap there was 1" sheets of Type-I EPS between the wine cases and the aluminized polyethylene bubble wrap. It needed something to hold it all together and a tougher skin to protect the low-density EPS (shrink wrap wouldn't be enough) so a bubble wrap made some sense.

In that application the low-E of the bubble wrap gives in another bit of thermal performance to protect the cases on the sunny side of the pallet from cooking while on the loading dock in full sun (R3.8 foam wouldn't quite do it, I'm sure.) The high thermal mass of the cargo then gives it quite a bit of tolerance over fairly dramatic and extended temperature changes in-transit, as it makes it's way from Napa Valley to Boston.

Price/performance isn't a much of an issue when you're shipping $15,000 worth of temperature sensitive wine per pallet. The warehouse guys on the receiving end collected both the EPS and aluminized bubble wrap, posting both on a web bulletin board under the "free" section rather than dumpster-izing it when the pile got too big. At that price it's surely "worth it", for some applications.

Mar 22, 2014 7:55 AM ET

works for me
by Hobbit _

I made window shades out of it. No expectations of "R-value"
per se, especially as there's a half-inch gap around all the
edges as it hangs in the interior box, but it definitely
stops that typical chilly feeling of one's body heat radiating
away when sitting next to a cold window. That's not insulative
against conduction as defined by R-value, but it's definitely
doing its job as a radiant barrier in that application.

I also made a little doghouse around the warm pipes on top of
the water-heater, which simply helps contain the warmth around
them instead of letting it float away into the basement. Again,
not insulation, just a bit of air containment. Other than
that, it makes great light-duty padding for any number of
suitable situations around the house.

The mylar is electrically conductive, so don't use it around
anything involving exposed voltage...


Mar 22, 2014 11:21 AM ET

?? ProDex. ?? same category??
by Lee Peterson

See a lot of ads and claims about R19 for the product ProDex.
Does this fall into the same useless category?

Mar 22, 2014 8:40 PM ET

Edited Mar 22, 2014 8:41 PM ET.

Response to Lee Peterson
by Martin Holladay

It violates the laws of physics for a 3/16 inch thick product to have an R-value of R-16. The R-value of this product is probably less than R-1. Figure it this way: R-4 per inch, divided by 16, times 3 = R-0.75.



Mar 23, 2014 1:31 PM ET

by Malcolm Taylor

I think Jin lives in Montreal where 90% of the housing stock is either semi-detached or row houses with flat roofs. I agree that in a green site build where the designer has many options a sloped roof is preferable, but the type of construction Jin describes is what has been successfully done and continues to be the norm in Montreal. Given those constraints do you have any advice for Jin?

Mar 24, 2014 6:03 AM ET

Response to Malcolm Taylor
by Martin Holladay

Q. "Do you have any advice for Jin?"

A. Yes. I provided my advice in Comment #4, where I wrote, "Design your roof to drain to an eave -- or at the very least, to scuppers (plural)."

This advice applies to low-slope roofs (the type that Jin is discussing).

Mar 24, 2014 11:20 AM ET

The laws of phyics... (response to #20)
by Dana Dorsett

If it were vacuum insulated goods 3/16" thick with aluminum facing aluminum across even 1/8" gap and minimal thermal bridging you'd probably beat R16(!). Vacuum insulated glass window units with indium tin-oxide hard-coat low-E on both sides of a 1-2mm gap regularly hit R10 or better.

But of course bubble pack has air, not vacuum in the gaps, which both convects and conducts heat energy from one side do the other.

Mar 25, 2014 6:53 PM ET

Young men have died installing this product
by Richard Beyer§ion=news

Labor government failed to heed safety warnings before the deaths of four workers in 2009 and 2010.
Ms Wiley-Smith told the hearing she and a colleague were given two days to plan and cost the scheme, which aimed to insulate more than 2 million homes.
She told the court she got a call from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet after 5pm on the Friday of the 2009 Australia Day weekend and was told she and another colleague had until Monday to have the details ready, including the risks involved.
Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program: Bureaucrats given 'two days' to plan national scheme

In my opinion, we are just breaking ground on the corruption involved with insulation's savior of our economy. The truth is slowly leaking out on Spray Foam, now it's foil. Most insulation products use deception to sell their product. Our government is slow to act and most probably may never act. The fines associated with deceptive marketing is far less then the profit made. Seems to be the cost of doing business in America and abroad.

Mar 26, 2014 4:50 AM ET

Edited Mar 26, 2014 5:19 AM ET.

Response to Richard Beyer
by Martin Holladay

This is an interesting footnote to the field of radiant barrier controversies. Evidently the Rudd government in Australia was offering incentives to encourage the installation of residential insulation. Evidently some radiant barrier manufacturers or distributors convinced a government official that radiant barriers are a type of insulation, and should therefore be eligible for the government insulation subsidies, just like fiberglass.

Some poorly trained workers were installing aluminum foil on an attic floor with staple guns. The staples pierced electrical cables while the workers were sitting on the foil. The workers were electrocuted.

The controversies arose from a few questions, including:

1. Should the government have been providing insulation incentives to installers of radiant barriers?

2. Were the poorly trained installers rushed to the field for political reasons, so that the government could show fast results for their program to insulate Australian homes?

Mar 26, 2014 5:37 PM ET

Uses for the product
by Jay Walsh

We've heard a lot of things it is not good for, how about some it is good for.

I've used it with great success as a reflective/radiant shield behind my steam radiators in my 140 year old house. The fact that it's flexible helps to get it in behind some which are in tight spots.

Any other good uses for this product out there?

Mar 26, 2014 5:42 PM ET

One minor usage of bubble wrap
by Robert Opaluch

This winter I used some foil-faced bubble wrap cut-to-fit between a removable insect screen and skylight glazing to reduce convection and heat loss in my girlfriend's rented home. It did help reduce annoying cold drafts from these poorly-located, upward and slightly west-facing skylights. Since its a rental we could not put in better quality, higher R-value cellular shades. Rigid foil-faced foam board would have been better too, but this bubble wrap stuff was in the garage (free and available).

Mar 26, 2014 5:59 PM ET

Edited Mar 26, 2014 6:21 PM ET.

gas-filled radiant barriers were invented by DOE
by Sally Leong

Mar 26, 2014 6:33 PM ET

Response to Sally Leong
by Martin Holladay

The gas-filled panels described in your link are a different animal entirely than the products discussed in this blog. The LBNL researchers are developing new products filled with argon, krypton, or xenon.

Mar 26, 2014 6:36 PM ET

Edited Mar 26, 2014 6:38 PM ET.

by Ed Dunn

I have always regretted it that a client had me use this crap under slab instead of 2" of foam. They had hydronic heat. Yikes! This was back in the year 2000. Could not find any good info to verify the manufacturers claim. I really had my doubts and am glad they were eventually exposed.

Mar 27, 2014 11:01 AM ET

The only way...
by Derek Roff

Martin says, "The only remedy to these misunderstandings is the drumbeat of education." I fear that he is correct, but I am frustrated by the fact that there is no chance of effectively enforcing the laws that we already have, and eliminating false advertising on this, and many other products and services.

GBA is a lifeline to better information.

Mar 27, 2014 11:09 AM ET

Its' Good to be Skeptical
by Gerard Celentano

These products are marketed first and foremost as a radiant barrier, which they are. Claims by the manufacturer are exaggerated and they're expected to be. Good marketing and sales are supposed to create the most positive spin and it's up to an educated consumer to figure out if it's for him. I think anyone who believes high R-values about a product like this gets what he deserves. I had an application where I looked at Insul-tarp and figured out in about 15 minutes (surfing on my iPhone) that the claims had to be grossly exaggerated and it wasn't the product for me.
Radiant barriers have legitimate uses, as described by some above. If these products yield an R-3 per inch (give or take) then it's comparable to many other products out there. They should simply be used where it is the best product for the application.
I don't get upset when a company is trying to sell their product and takes some license to do it. We see exaggerations and mis-information every day in our lives and accept it (think of anything anyone of Capitol Hill says). A much larger problem is when entities publish equally bogus information, but their political agenda is harder to discern. You don't know which way to filter the story until you know which way it was slanted. Worse is when they try to give credibility to their mis-information by shrouding it in pseudo-science. Many large companies use government (and government like) entities in this manner, and that propaganda is difficult to navigate. The examples are too numerous to comment on, but they're far more damaging than what these bubble wrap guys are doing.
Some of us seek out sources that tell us what we want to hear, while others of us seek out sources that we trust to tell us something close to the truth. Others still, obtain information from may sources, but understand the bias of the source, and use that to draw our own conclusions. It would be nice if there were a source you could truly trust at its face value, but I've yet to find one (no insult to anyone intended).

Mar 27, 2014 11:31 AM ET

Response to Derek Roff
by Martin Holladay

In your comment, I sense a gentle reprimand, and you are correct: my statement that "the only remedy to these misunderstandings is the drumbeat of education" was too categorical.

It is entirely reasonable to expect the FTC to do a better job of enforcing federal law than it has done for the last 15 years (as long as I have being paying attention to this issue). As I have noted repeatedly in articles over these years, it doesn't take long at all to locate websites with absurd and illegal claims about the performance and R-value of so-called "insulating" paint, radiant barriers, and bubble-wrap products.

The Federal R-Value Rule is the law of the land, and it should be enforced. Shame on the FTC for letting these marketers fleece gullible homeowners and builders.

Mar 27, 2014 11:34 AM ET

Response to Gerard Celentano
by Martin Holladay

After tipping my hat to Derek Roff for his appropriate reminder, it's time to turn to your comments, Gerard.

I'm sorry, but I disagree. You wrote, "Claims by the manufacturer are exaggerated and they're expected to be. ... I think anyone who believes high R-values about a product like this gets what he deserves."

On the contrary: our federal legislators decided to pass a law (16 CFR 460) specifically to address the type of crime detailed in my article. American citizens have every reason to expect this law to be enforced, in order to protect consumers.

Mar 27, 2014 11:54 AM ET

Edited Mar 27, 2014 1:18 PM ET.

car windshields
by charles CAMPBELL

Best use here in the deep south is to block solar gain through car windshields. Ordinary radiant barriers are not quite stiff enough. No more cracked dashboards, or steering wheels and belt buckles that are too hot to handle. Also dramatic reduction in A/C load.

Mar 27, 2014 1:24 PM ET

No reprimand intended, unless...
by Derek Roff

I intended no reprimand, Martin. Unless you have resisted using your secret super-powers, that would have allowed you to fix this regulatory problem. It is a sad irony that those with power to fix the problem lack the will, and those with the will lack effective tools to address the problem. You named education as the best tool in our [meaning the GBA community] limited resource kit, and I think you are right.

I appreciate the incredible educational resource that GBA is for me, and I thank you for reinforcing my point, that we shouldn't be alone in trying to solve this kind of problem.

Gerard's comment reminds me of the moral philosophy expressed by W. C. Fields, "You can't cheat an honest man, and never give a sucker an even break." Fields' goal was humor, but a lot of businesses seem to have chosen this as a mission statement.

Mar 28, 2014 10:27 PM ET

Seems this story is old news
by Richard Beyer

Seems this story is old news in the U.S. after all and as I stated above...

"Our government is slow to act and most probably may never act. The fines associated with deceptive marketing is far less then the profit made. Seems to be the cost of doing business in America and abroad."

Published on 3/22/2002
New Fact Sheet Challenges Performance Claims of Reflective Bubble Pack Insulation Manufacturers

Mar 29, 2014 5:24 AM ET

Response to Richard Beyer
by Martin Holladay

Indeed, this story is old news; as I noted in the third paragraph, I have been writing articles on the topic since 2003. (I also quoted from the NAIMA fact sheet that you reference in one of the sidebars above.)

Perhaps you are implying that it isn't worth reporting on a topic that is "old news." I think it is -- in part because the scammers are still using exaggerations to market their products, and in part because the FTC has failed to shut these people down.

Mar 31, 2014 8:46 AM ET

Edited Mar 31, 2014 8:51 AM ET.

I used Prodex under my garage
by Robert Fritz

When I built my garage approx 3 years ago I used Prodex under the slab. I also installed radiant tubing, because i wanted to take the chill out of our NY winters if i happened to be working in the garage. I haven't hooked up the radiant yet so I don't know how effective the Prodex will be. What recourse do I have against the company's false claims? I see that the govmint got money from the foil faced bubble wrap makers but that doesn't help me with my situation.

Mar 31, 2014 9:09 AM ET

Edited Mar 31, 2014 9:10 AM ET.

by Keith Morris

Thanks for this.

As you may know, yurt manufacturers are another group apparently duped by bubble foil manufacturer's claims, as this is typically all that is offered as 'insulation' packages for the walls, usually covered by a canvas interior wall.

I will be insulating a yurt in Vermont that was done in this way (not surprisingly, the bubble wrap is inadequate. We will do ~4+" of blown cellulose into the cavity created by the 'studs' ("wind and snow load kit") and ~6+" between the rafters.

As the foil is already around the outside, will a typical pe vapor on the inside (hidden by the canvas) prevent the possible condensation problems?


'Farmtek' is another major retailer of this product engaged in serious exaggeration- selling it for barns and chicken coops, etc.

Mar 31, 2014 9:37 AM ET

Response to Robert Fritz (Comment #39)
by Martin Holladay

I'm sorry to hear that you chose to install Prodex as insulation under your hydronically heated slab. It certainly would have been better if you had installed real insulation.

If you are interested in pursuing a lawsuit against Prodex, you should consult a lawyer. I'm doubtful that you will succeed in such a claim, but I'm not a lawyer. One problem that you are facing is that Prodex is a foreign company with headquarters in Costa Rica.

Mar 31, 2014 9:43 AM ET

Edited Mar 31, 2014 9:46 AM ET.

Response to Keith Morris (Comment #40)
by Martin Holladay

Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm not surprised that when "a yurt in Vermont" is insulated with bubble wrap, "the bubble wrap is inadequate."

I'm not familiar with methods for insulating yurts. I do know that traditional Mongolian yurts (or gers) are insulated with felt.

I visualize yurts as having fabric walls, but perhaps your American yurt is different. I would hesitate to insulate fabric walls with cellulose, but it's hard to visualize the job you describe -- especially since I don't know what the walls and roof of your yurt are made of.

In general, it's a bad idea to install a vapor barrier like foil-faced bubble wrap on the exterior side of a cellulose-insulated wall in Vermont. The foil would represent a wrong-side vapor barrier. Adding interior polyethylene to this type of wall would only make the situation worse, since the interior poly would prevent the wall assembly from drying in either direction.

Apr 1, 2014 2:03 PM ET

foil-faced bubble wrap
by Joel Rovnak

I was planning on using this in an attic space on the outside of a second-story, south-facing wall to help control heat gain from the attic. I was counting primarily on the radiant barrier over the existing uncovered sheathing on a 2X4 insulated wall. Material has to go through a 2X2' access and work around a lot of trusses. Is it worth the expense and effort ? It's hard to keep the upstairs cool without freezing downstairs.

Apr 1, 2014 2:21 PM ET

Response to Joel Rovnak
by Martin Holladay

It's hard to visualize where you want to install the bubble wrap. You describe the location as "on the outside of a second-story, south-facing wall." That's usually where the siding goes. Do you want to install it between the wall sheathing and the siding?

Then you write that the "material has to go through a 2X2' access and work around a lot of trusses," so it sounds like you are working inside an attic. Do you intend to install it on the underside of the sloping top chords of your roof trusses?

The bottom line is this: if you want to prevent heat transfer through a wall assembly or a roof assembly, it's almost always better to install insulation, not bubble wrap.

For more information on radiant barriers, see Radiant Barriers: A Solution in Search of a Problem.

Apr 1, 2014 3:08 PM ET

foil-faced insulation
by Joel Rovnak

The attic surrounds the exterior wall of the second story. Basically a box inside an attic with another attic above. Those walls are just sheathed with no siding. The roof takes full sun and is very hot for lots of radiant heat hitting that wall at a 45 degree angle. The attic is over the first floor ceiling and an adjacent porch. Access is in the porch ceiling. I have ventilated the attic, but that won't stop the radiant transfer.

Apr 1, 2014 4:13 PM ET

Response to Joel Rovnak
by Martin Holladay

This type of wall is usually called a kneewall. For information on ways to insulate kneewalls, I suggest that you read this article: Two ways to insulate attic kneewalls

Apr 2, 2014 11:46 AM ET

hvac duct insulation
by Allan Marshall

If your against bubble wrap on ducts, then what do you recommend. It seems all types are dependent on proper installation. I have found bubble wrap to be helpful in many situations, but it does need the airspace to be effective.

Apr 2, 2014 11:59 AM ET

Response to Allan Marshall
by Martin Holladay

Real duct insulation (the type that has an R-value, rather than one that depends on the R-value of an air space) is usually made from fiberglass insulation with a vapor-barrier facing. Here are links to two brands:

Apr 3, 2014 9:38 AM ET

Fiberglass duct wrap
by Allan Marshall

Thank you for the links. Present California code is R-8. None of these seems to meet that. These wraps are very hard to retrofit on to exposed ducting that might be hanging from joists. I'm constantly seeing fiberglass hanging from duct from previous installers. It is not a very installer friendly product.

Apr 3, 2014 11:49 AM ET

Response to Allan Marshall
by Martin Holladay

Owens Corning makes R-8.3 fiberglass duct insulation. Here is a link:

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