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Building Science

Fiberglass Insulation Manufacturer Tackles Installation Quality

Owens Corning has published a document and video to help insulation contractors achieve the RESNET Grade 1 installation standard

Image 1 of 2
How to install fiberglass batts correctly. Owens Corning has put out a 12 page pdf guide and a really nice 11-minute video on how to achieve RESNET Grade 1 with fiberglass batts. Let's hope other fiberglass insulation manufacturers follow suit.
Image Credit: Owens Corning
How to install fiberglass batts correctly. Owens Corning has put out a 12 page pdf guide and a really nice 11-minute video on how to achieve RESNET Grade 1 with fiberglass batts. Let's hope other fiberglass insulation manufacturers follow suit.
Image Credit: Owens Corning
Right and wrong ways to install fiberglass batts. This diagram is used in the 12 page document published by Owens Corning (and written by Advanced Energy in Raleigh, North Carolina) but is originally from the ENERGY STAR Version 3 training materials.
Image Credit: Owens Corning

One of the major fiberglass insulation manufacturers (the color in the lead photo gives away which one I’m talking about) is getting serious about the installation quality of fiberglass batt insulation. They’ve put out a video (embedded below) and a document showing how to achieve RESNET Grade 1 installation quality with fiberglass batts. Have you seen these things yet?

Owens Corning’s push for Grade 1 installation

Owens Corning, of course, is the company I’m talking about. The photo at right, from their 12-page guide, Achieving Grade 1 with Fiberglass Batts (pdf), shows their trademarked pink insulation. The guide begins with some general information about what it means to get to RESNET’s Grade 1 in insulation installation quality. It also includes a nice checklist that builders and insulation installers can use to help ensure they get Grade 1 when installing fiberglass batts.

The guide closes with four pages of photos on the right and wrong ways to install insulation. They hit on some of the critical areas that cause most of the problems preventing installers from getting Grade 1 assigned to their work by the home energy raters who inspect the work. One of these pairs of photos is displayed at the bottom of this page as Image #2.

If the style of that image looks familiar, you may recognize that it’s from the Energy Star Version 3 training materials. Owens Corning has referenced the Energy Star Thermal Enclosure Rater Checklist (TERC) in this document so installers know why they’re getting docked, at least for Energy Star homes. (Advanced Energy, which put together the ESV3 materials, also prepared this document for Owens Corning.)

The insulation installation grading protocol is from Appendix A in RESNET’s Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Standards. I wrote about how to grade installation quality of insulation a while back, so you can check that article for more details about what’s behind the grades: 1, 2, or 3. (The short version is that Grade 1 is the best, and the parameters that govern the grade are the percentage of area with missing insulation and how much compression or incompletely filled areas there are.)

A helpful video for installers

In addition to the 12-page guide, Owens Corning also produced a really nice video. In 11 minutes, they cover pretty much everything installers need to know to get to grade 1 installation quality. It’s on YouTube, but you can watch it right here, too.

A good start, but…

I think this represents good progress for the fiberglass insulation industry. Fiberglass insulation, especially in batt form, has a pretty bad reputation among home energy pros. I’m going to say something now that I’m sure will lead to some interesting discussion below: The problem isn’t the material. The problem lies in the design and installation. Fiberglass batt insulation can work just fine in assemblies designed to make good installation possible and when installers take the time to do it right. Yes, it will cost more, but as usual, you get what you pay for.

Owens Corning has made a good start. They need to push harder, though. A lot harder. They put out these materials last summer, but if you don’t know where they are, you’ll have great difficulty finding them. I looked all over the fiberglass insulation part of their website and couldn’t find them. I had to go back to an email I received last summer to dig up the links. Come on, OC. Put these things front and center so anyone going to your site will see them.

Still, kudos to Owens Corning for this start. It’s much better than trying to pretend the problem doesn’t exist or squashing negative publicity about fiberglass batts. (Oh, come on. No manufacturer would do that. Would they?)

Fiberglass insulation isn’t going away. Let’s make sure it’s done right.

Allison Bailes of Decatur, Georgia, is a speaker, writer, energy consultant, RESNET-certified trainer, and the author of the Energy Vanguard Blog. Check out his in-depth course, Mastering Building Science at Heatspring Learning Institute, and follow him on Twitter at @EnergyVanguard.

13 Comments

  1. Dan Kolbert | | #1

    Glad they're facing up to it
    Only a few decades overdue, but better late than never. It has ben fascinating reading the recent research showing that in a good assembly batts can achieve their stated R value as well as anything else.

    Of course in the real world, we all know that means it's rare to almost never that we see good assemblies or installations, but at least we will have better tools to grade against.

  2. Dillon Vautrin | | #2

    Put a link to the video on the product.
    On the package and vapor barrier is where the link should be.

  3. Malcolm Taylor | | #3

    Regional differences
    It's funny - It was only reading GBA that I found out that poor FG installations were a problem. I've never touched the stuff because our local subs do such a good job that I couldn't emulate it. A lot comes down to the inspections. Less than perfect workmanship would bring us a fail.

  4. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #4

    Response to Malcolm Taylor
    Malcolm,
    Don't keep us in suspense: Where is this Shangri-La where builders can find conscientious fiberglass installers? Where exactly do you live?

  5. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #5

    Only see it installed well....
    I've only seen glass installed well.... Not perfect but Very good. Thinking back to the second home we built, 1988, we even laid two layers in the trusses, which was because then you eliminate all that open space between batts as your batts rise above the truss's bottom chord.

    Never had a bad install since day one. But since day one I had subscribed to Fine Homebuilding. And now GBA avid reader...though not a subscriber. I know, I should be. I did offer to change out the fluid in a certain thermal solar system..... Lol.... Cheers aj

  6. Malcolm Taylor | | #6

    Reply to Martin
    I live on Vancouver Island. I'm fairly sure the high quality is attributable to the high standards demanded by the building inspectors here. The insulation and air sealing inspection is very thorough and a single unsealed wire penetration can get you pink-slipped. So while GBA has been a great education for me in a number of areas, the complaints about batt insulation being inherently hard to do properly has always left me shaking my head. I guess if you instil the right culture in any trade good things happen.

  7. User avater GBA Editor
    Allison A. Bailes III, PhD | | #7

    Response to Malcolm Taylor
    OK, Malcolm, you've got me. I'm going to have to come out there to BC and see first-hand how you folks have solved the batt insulation problem. A lot of problems can be solved with good enforcement from building officials, but in many places, enforcement is spotty so the builders and trades get away with whatever they can.

  8. Malcolm Taylor | | #8

    Martin
    Imagine what the performance would be like if the same installers could be convinced to switch to rock wool?
    Your point is well taken though. Fiberglass is a material that needs a high degree of attention to do correctly and unfortunately, at the same time, the insulation trade has a high turnover of unskilled workers, so the risk of poor installations is quite large. I guess we are the lucky few.

  9. Kye Ford | | #9

    The problem with fiberglass
    The problem with fiberglass is that its well fiberglass. Nobody wants to touch it, let alone take the time to work with it to do a correct install.

    From the picture above I can tell that this is either an inspector pulling back a single batt or what is going to be one hell of an itchy installer when the job is done. No mask or suit ...bummer.

    When I use to install fiberglass(I love my dense pack blower), I would insist on doing the entire job myself because everybody hated working with fiberglass and would therefore rush the job and do a crappy job. So I would suit up in a full body disposable painters suit, head sock, glasses, gloves and respirator and I could practically roll around in the stuff without having any itch.

    This is the only way to roll when working with fiberglass. Get suited up, so you are comfortable get a sharp knife and then and only then will you be able to do a grade 1 install.

  10. Nick T - 6A (MN) | | #10

    touch or no touch
    I have found that the batts by big Pink these days "soft touch" or "eco touch" (?) pretty much have none of the 'shards of glass' vibe to the them and even with my super sensitive skin have almost zero itch. Occasionally I'll notice an itch her or there for a second... but generally was very surprised the first time i used it.

  11. A Lange | | #11

    rock wool
    I am showing my ignorance here, but why is rockwool (also in batts I presume) mentioned above as superior to fiberglass in the context of ease or correct installation. I am not question their composition differences, but what I read as performance difference due to installation.

  12. User avater GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #12

    Response to Enga Lokey
    Enga,
    As far as I know, most of the installation errors that plague fiberglass batt installations can also be committed by sloppy installers of mineral wool. The only thing to say about mineral wool is that it is a little easier to cut accurately because it is stiffer. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of opportunities to screw up an installation job.

  13. A Lange | | #13

    thanks
    Thanks for the clarification. As always, clear and concise.

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