What You Should Know About Blown-In Cellulose Insulation

0101/1111/20202020 | By Pamela Vargas-Touchard |
Cellulose Insulation: Child holding a house

Blown-in cellulose insulation is one of the most common insulation types now used in attics and in an existing closed wall. It is considered preferable by many as a result of its eco-friendly properties and its ability to conform to corners, uniquely shaped spaces, and around obstructions such as ducts or electrical wires and other penetrations. 

If you are still in the process of deciding which insulation material is best for your upcoming project, we also recommend reading our post, A Brief Guide to the Various Types of Attic Insulation. 

What is Blown-In Cellulose Insulation? 

Blown-in cellulose insulation is quickly surpassing batt style or blown-in fiberglass insulation as the construction standard for homes and businesses.  

Why Blown-In Cellulose? 

It is eco-friendly 

While fiberglass insulation is not nearly as toxic as other types of insulation, it cannot be considered eco-friendly either. The fiberglass particles are an irritant to the skin and can be dangerous if inhaled into the respiratory or digestive tracts. Plus, batt style insulation must be cut to fit penetrations, tight corners, or irregularly shaped spaces, which leaves gaps that increase the transmission of heat or cold. 

Cellulose insulation is made from almost 100% recycled wood and paper products, which means it meets most green building certification requirements. There is no danger or irritation associated with working with the material, and its ability to more comprehensively insulate every available inch of the intended space means the R-value is consistently upheld. 

In addition to its lack of toxic chemicals or particles, cellulose insulation is considered eco-friendly because: 

  • It can boast a much cleaner and pollution-free production process when compared with other alternatives 
  • When it is removed from a building as the result of a renovation or remodel, it degrades without contributing harmful chemicals or off-gassing into the soil, water, or air. 
  • It has high energy-efficiency ratings 

Blown-in cellulose insulation is fire retardant 

Also called loose-fill cellulose insulation, this product is very fire retardant. This is because it is treated with borax, boric acid, and/or ammonium sulfate (all of which are considered non-toxic in this application). In fact, cellulose insulation has a Class 1 Fire Rating 

It is completely safe to use it around contemporary light fixtures and/or recessed cans. However, you may want to speak to your insulation contractor about other options if your wiring is outdated or you are installing it in direct contact with antique or vintage light fixtures that were not produced to the same fire-rated standards as their counterparts are today. 

It is affordable 

You may have seen that blown-in cellulose is more expensive than fiberglass, but that is not necessarily the case when you consider the big picture. The products themselves are fairly comparable in price, especially if you are comparing the price between blown-in fiberglass insulation and blown-in cellulose. 

The installation fees (labor charges) are typically higher for cellulose than they are for fiberglass batts. However, this difference will pay for itself in terms of energy savings during the first several years and there is the invaluable benefit of a more eco-friendly product. 

Beyond r-values 

While R-values are the industry standard for “grading” insulation materials, there is more to it than that. R-values only taking the specific product into consideration. The draftiest home in the world won’t benefit from much by replacement insulation with a high R-value because the home’s insulation system - air sealing, moisture control, ventilation, and insulation - all work together as a whole. 

Cellulose insulation goes beyond R-value because it also reduces air infiltration and convection more effectively than fiberglass, which further enhances its insulation properties. In fact, studies have shown that cellulose insulation can reduce airflow by as much as 30% when compared with other products. 

It’s better for high-moisture areas 

Here in the Bay Area, we are just as concerned about products that work to prevent moisture accumulation as we are about heat conduction and air leaks. If you do experience a significant roof leak or a burst pipe in the attic, cellulose fibers are better at absorbing the liquid and preventing it from seeping into structural components, which lead to further damage and costly repairs. 

That said, if the situation is left untreated, that absorbed moisture can lead to mold and mildew issues, so always consult your insulation contractor after roof repairs or plumbing leaks are fixed to make sure your insulation is standing up to the job. If not, it’s always better to replace damaged insulation sooner rather than later. 

How Is Blown-In Insulation Installed? 

Even though it winds up being a loose-filled product, cellulose insulation comes in tightly-packed bales. These are loaded into hoppers after which: 

  • Rotating prongs are activated to loosen and fluff it all up 
  • The loose fill is then blown through long flexible tubes that are directed into the attic or wall spaces 
  • It is blown in until it fills the desired space or covers existing insulation 
  • It is allowed to settle over time (no pressure is needed to “press” it into place or compact it into a more dense product. In fact, its lack of density is part of what makes loose-fill insulation work so well 
  • The walls or patches used to get the tube into the wall are closed up and patched and painted to look like new 

Once it is installed, we recommend that homeowners take a peek into their attic space(s) at least two times per year to keep an eye on red flags such as moisture, signs of a pest infestation, or any pockets where insulation has shifted or “blown” into a new formation - a sign that you may need to enhance air sealing. 

Would you like to learn more about blown-in cellulose insulation and whether it’s the right insulation replacement product for your home or business? Contact us here at Attic Solutions.

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