What’s in Your Home? Our Super Quick Guide to Insulation and R-Value Meaning

a graphic of a home with a wall missing to the insulation inside the attic and walls

No one likes cold toes, but heating your home can be a challenge with outdated insulation, air leaks, and subpar energy-efficient materials. The best thing you can for your home and your toes is to tackle any issues with your insulation, so let’s dig into what you need to know to not go cold.

Keeping your toes (and pipes) warm

pink insulation filling an open wall
Insulation saves your home from freezing and water damage.

While we may be stating the obvious here, insulation helps to keep heat inside during the winter and cool air inside during the summer. It also helps to improve your comfort and protect the inside of your home from the elements.

How, you ask? Insulation can help to keep your home above freezing, preventing your pipes from bursting and saving you thousands of dollars in water damage.

Air sealing and insulation techniques can also help save money on heating and cooling costs, up to 20%. (Score!) With proper insulation, your home will be less likely to lose heat (or cool air), and your furnace, air conditioner, or HVAC system won’t have to work double-time to keep your home comfortable.

Learn additional ways to save money this winter on heating and cooling costs, such as installing a programmable thermostat or changing the direction of your ceiling fan, in Winter Is Coming: 10 Ways to Cut Your Utility Bill

Getting to know the R-value meaning

a professional in gloves, long paints, and long jeans installing pink insulation into a wall
Be warm with the right R-value.

To make sure your home is well-insulated, you need to know your R-value meaning. Now, the R-rating of a movie and the R-value of insulation are not the same. The R-value for insulation stands for “resistance,” or the material’s resistance to heat or air flow. (The R-rating for a movie means “restricted,” in case you were wondering.)

Your home’s R-value is determined by where you live. The Department of Energy has divided the country into seven climate zones, and each zone needs a different R-value for home insulation. Check out the ENERGY-STAR website for a quick overview of the zones and R-values. 

Spoiler Alert: Even the different areas of your home may require a different R-value insulation. If you live in Zones 5 to 8, your uninsulated attic will need insulation ranging from R49 to R60. If your floor needs an upgrade, you’ll need R25 to R30, and if you’re looking to insulate from the top down, the minimum roof insulation value is R30 for all climates.

What’s in your home?

a professional with gloves and a mask rolling out insulation over attic joints
Roll insulation is the most frequently used insulation.

Most insulation you’ll find in your home is made of fiberglass, cellulose, mineral wool, or foam, which come in six different ways – loose fill, batts, rolls, foam board, foam spray, and vapor barriers.

Loose fill is the “blown” insulation that is generally found in attics and difficult places to reach. It fills in holes and usually is blown over insulation batts.

Batts are pre-cut insulation that are used in all areas of your home – floors, walls, attics, and ceilings. It can come packaged with paper or aluminum foil.

Rolls (or blanket insulation) are used for bigger/longer areas and usually come in lengths of 20 to 40 feet.

Foam board is frequently used as an alternative to fiberglass batt insulation, is moisture resistant, and a favorite of DIYers.

Foam spray is used to fit small gaps and cracks for sealing those tiny holes where critters enter.

Vapor barriers are used during the framing of exterior walls to control moisture and stop the growth of mold and rot.

You may have more than one type of insulation in your house. In certain instances, layers of insulation and different combinations are necessary to prevent air leakage.

FAQ about insulation 

The more you know, the better you can take care of your home and its insulation. That’s why we’re tackling the most frequently asked questions about insulation right here, right now.

How can I tell if my insulation is bad?

Brown insulation that is no longer fluffy and pink
Wet insulation needs to be replaced.

There are a few signs that it may be time to upgrade your insulation.

  • Current insulation is no longer “fluffy” or is wet.
  • Insulation has shifted or sagged or is below the attic floor joints.
  • Your energy bills have skyrocketed.
  • You find your interior walls and ceilings cold and damp.
  • You feel cool drafts around windows and doors (during winter).
  • Ice dams form on your roof.


If you see any of these issues, it may be time to call an insulation professional. While insulation can be a DIY project, insulation work is a dangerous project, and you can be exposed to hazardous gases and materials. 

How often should you replace attic insulation?

pink insulation falling from the ceiling in a basement
Do you need new insulation?

While certain types of insulation can last upwards of 80 years, some require additional insulation to be added after 15 or 20 years. Your home’s insulation lifespan can also be shortened by creatures damaging the insulation, water damage from the roof, or even dust.

Also, we should note – older houses tend to be poorly insulated, so if that is the case with your home, consult a professional before making your next move.

Should I remove old attic insulation before adding new?

Nope – unless your insulation is wet, moldy, or has critter damage. If you have none of that, skip removing old insulation and roll the new right out (if you’re using blanket insulation).

Get more heating tips to keep your toes warm this winter in Fall Home Maintenance Checklist – Heating Tips

Stay on top of home maintenance

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