Saturday, May 28, 2016

Insulation - The Itch Factor

We've finished all the insulation in the bathroom and are moving on to drywall. Along the way, we've encountered more types of insulation than I even knew existed. And anytime I meet a new flavor of the stuff, I have one question: is it itchy? Lucky me, I now have firsthand experience.  And lucky you, now you'll know before you buy.

So, on a scale of zero to Scrub Until You're Pink, here are some of the forms of insulation I have touched recently.

Fiberglass Batts
Itch factor: Haz-mat 


When you think of insulation, this is probably what comes to mind. It looks like giant rectangles of paper-backed cotton candy. This is what was already in our walls when we opened them up.

After a little direct skin contact, it becomes clear that you've stumbled into one of those evil circuses where the cotton candy is made out of a million tiny knives.  It's hideously irritating to your skin (and eyes, and lungs, and soul). Avoid if at all possible, wear gear suitable for a CDC researcher during the zombie apocalypse if not.

Roxul GreenFiber Blown In 
Itch factor: low

This is what we used in the floor, because it could easily go around the new pipes and wires running through the joists spaces. Blown-in insulation is also handy if you're remodeling or insulating an attic or other hard-to-access space. We handled this stuff a LOT, because we laid it all in manually, without the blower. (Don't ask.) And I didn't feel the need to claw my skin off at the end of the day. I even started wearing short sleeves, although I did still use gloves. Makes sense - this product is made primarily of recycled cellulose.

Stone Wool / Mineral Wool Batts
Itch Factor: Slightly itchy

This is what we used in the walls. It feels denser than its similarly-shaped fiberglass cousins, which I think makes it easier to work with. Stone wool is apparently a "natural byproduct of volcanic activity," so I guess that means it's not made from ground-up sheep statues.  It is absolutely 100,000 times less itchy than fiberglass. But it's still a long-sleeves affair; it did get a little scratchy after a while.

Itch Factor: low

This one was an oops for us. We intended to use the mineral wool in both the walls and the ceiling. Then we started working and realized... the studs in the ceiling were further apart than we thought. Our insulation didn't fit. So we ran to the local builder supply store and bought whatever they had on hand, which turned out to be this stuff. It's made of sand and recycled glass bottles. It seemed a little less itchy than even the mineral wool, although that could be just because I didn't spend as much time working with it.

XPS (Extruded Polystyrene) Rigid Foam
Itch Factor: Zero

This is a rigid pink foam. We used it to insulate areas where we couldn't get a thick, fluffy batt to fit, like behind blocking or in tiny niches. It pretty much feels like working with a more rigid version of styrofoam; it definitely took me back to some middle-school poster projects. It has no itch at all (yay!) But be warned - it makes an awful fingernails-on-a-chalkboard sound when you cut it or wedge it in place. So I spent most of the foam phase of our project hiding my non-irritated skin downstairs with my fingers in my ears.

Great Stuff
Itch Factor: Zero

Okay, this one is a little misleading. It doesn't itch, true. But it's also highly toxic, very sticky, and nearly impossible to get off your skin. So you really, really, really don't want to get it on yourself.

It's also probably the most fun.

This is a spray-on product. You use it to fill in tiny gaps that don't get covered by your main insulation methods, like around windows and in corners. It goes on as a liquid, then expands to twice its size and solidifies.

Considering that we're talking about a tiny room here, I'm pretty amazed at all the types of insulation we've used. All I can say is, this room had better be #(@*&^!@(@!!!! warm.

Now excuse me, I need to go take yet another shower.

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