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.)
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 radon 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”…