5 Most Common Thermal Insulation Materials

There are plenty of cheap and common insulation materials available on the market today. Many of these have been around for quite some time. Each of these insulations have their own ups and downs. As a result, when deciding which insulation material you should use, you should be sure to be aware of which material would work the best in your situation. We have considered differences like R-value, price, environmental impact, flammability, sound insulation and other factors below. Here are the 5 most common types of insulation materials:

Insulation Material Price/Sq Ft. R-Value/Inch Green? (Environmentally Friendly) Flammable? Notes:
Fibreglass R-3.1 Does not absorb water.
Mineral Wool
R-3.1 Does not melt or support combustion.
Cellulose
R-3.7 Contains the highest amount of recycled content.
Polyurethane Foam

R-6.3 Makes a great sound insulator.
Polystyrene (EPS) R-4 Difficult to use around imperfections, can become costly.
pink fiberglass insulation

Fiberglass Insulation.

1. Fiberglass
Fiberglass is the most common insulation used in modern times. Because of how it is made, by effectively weaving fine strands of glass into an insulation material, fiberglass is able to minimize heat transfer. The main downside of fiberglass is the danger of handling it. Since fiberglass is made out of finely woven silicon, glass powder and tiny shards of glass are formed. These can cause damage to the eyes, lungs, and even skin if the proper safety equipment isn’t worn. Nevertheless, when the proper safety equipment is used, fiberglass installation can be performed without incident.

Fiberglass is an excellent non-flammable insulation material, with R-values ranging from R-2.9 to R-3.8 per inch. If you are seeking a cheap insulation this is definitely the way to go, though installing it requires safety precautions. Be sure to use eye protection, masks, and gloves when handling this product.

mineral wool

Mineral Wool.

2. Mineral Wool
Mineral wool actually refers to several different types of insulation. First, it may refer to glass wool which is fiberglass manufactured from recycled glass. Second, it may refer to rock wool which is a type of insulation made from basalt. Finally, it may refer to slag wool which is produced from the slag from steel mills. The majority of mineral wool in the United States is actually slag wool.

Mineral wool can be purchased in batts or as a loose material. Most mineral wool does not have additives to make it fire resistant, making it poor for use in situation where extreme heat is present. However, it is not combustable. When used in conjunction with other, more fire resistant forms of insulation, mineral wool can definitely be an effective way of insulating large areas. Mineral wool has an R-value ranging from R-2.8 to R-3.5.

cellulose

Cellulose Insulation Material.

3. Cellulose
Cellulose insulation is perhaps one of the most eco-friendly forms of insulation. Cellulose is made from recycled cardboard, paper, and other similar materials and comes in loose form. Cellulose has an R-value between R-3.1 and R-3.7. Some recent studies on cellulose have shown that it might be an excellent product for use in minimizing fire damage. Because of the compactness of the material, cellulose contains next to no oxygen within it. Without oxygen within the material, this helps to minimize the amount of damage that a fire can cause.

So not only is cellulose perhaps one of the most eco-friendly forms of insulation, but it is also one of the most fire resistant forms of insulation. However, there are certain downsides to this material as well, such as the allergies that some people may have to newspaper dust. Also, finding individuals skilled in using this type of insulation is relatively hard compared to, say, fiberglass. Still, cellulose is a cheap and effective means of insulating.

polyurethane insulation spray application

Polyurethane Insulation.

4. Polyurethane Foam
While not the most abundant of insulations, polyurethane foams are an excellent form of insulation. Nowadays, polyurethane foams use non-chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gas for use as a blowing agent. This helps to decrease the amount of damage to the ozone layer. They are relatively light, weighing approximately two pounds per cubic foot (2 lb/ft^3). They have an R-value of approximately R-6.3 per inch of thickness. There are also low density foams that can be sprayed into areas that have no insulation. These types of polyurethane insulation tend to have approximately R-3.6 rating per inch of thickness. Another advantage of this type of insulation is that it is fire resistant.

polystyrene material

Polystyrene (Styrofoam).

5. Polystyrene
Polystyrene is a waterproof thermoplastic foam which is an excellent sound and temperature insulation material. It comes in two types, expanded (EPS) and extruded (XEPS) also known as Styrofoam. The two types differ in performance ratings and cost. The more costly XEPS has a R-value of R-5.5 while EPS is R-4. Polystyrene insulation has a uniquely smooth surface which no other type of insulation possesses.

Typically the foam is created or cut into blocks, ideal for wall insulation. The foam is flammable and needs to be coated in a fireproofing chemical called Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD). HBCD has been brought under fire recently for health and environmental risks associated with its use.

Other Common Insulation Materials
Although the items listed above are the most common insulation materials, they are not the only ones used. Recently, materials like aerogel (used by NASA for the construction of heat resistant tiles, capable of withstanding heat up to approximately 2000 degrees Fahrenheit with little or no heat transfer), have become affordable and available.  One in particular is Pyrogel XT. Pyrogel is one of the most efficient industrial insulations in the world. Its required thicknesses are 50% – 80% less than other insulation materials. Although a little more expensive than some of the other insulation materials, Pyrogel is being used more and more for specific applications.

Asbestos.

Asbestos.

Other insulation materials not mentioned are natural fibers such as hemp, sheep’s wool, cotton, and straw. Polyisocyanurate, similar to polyurethane, is a closed cell thermoset plastic with a high R-value making it a popular choice as an insulator as well. Some health hazardous materials that were used in the past as insulation and are now outlawed, unavailable, or uncommonly used are vermiculite, perlite, and urea-formaldehyde. These materials have reputations for containing formaldehyde or asbestos, which has essentially removed them from the list of commonly used insulation materials. .

There are many forms of insulation available, each with their own set of properties. Only by researching each kind thoroughly can you discover which will be the right kind for your particular needs. As a quick overview:

  • Aerogel is more expensive, but definitely the best type of insulation.
  • Fiberglass is cheap, but requires careful handling.
  • Mineral wool is effective, but not fire resistant.
  • Cellulose is fire resistant, eco-friendly, and effective, but hard to apply.
  • Polyurethane is an all around good insulation product, though not particularly eco-friendly.
  • Polystyrene is a diverse insulation material, but its safety is debated.

 

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27 Responses to 5 Most Common Thermal Insulation Materials

  1. Inayat Durrani says:

    I have a study project for thermal insulation solution. I have a red hot exhaust pipe with temperature of hot gases of about 800 degree celcius. The space available above it is 13mm and a motor above it have temperature bearing capacity of 50 degreee celcius. I want a its thermal insulation so that temperature reduces to 50 degree celcius so that motor operates efficiently.

  2. Brian Bannon says:

    13mm is a very small space to insulate. I do not know of any insulation, 13mm thick, that will reduce the temperatures to your requirement. You may want to investigate reflective shields.

  3. lorenzo says:

    a layer of aerogel blanket should work. the best would have to be a solid layer of aerogel cast on the exhaust pipe or engine, but a blanked should do.
    you can find 8 mm thick blankets online and maybe squeeze in 2 layers in your 13 mm space.
    hope this helps

  4. carol gunsallus says:

    bales of hay or rolls of hay which is best anyone out there with coments ????

  5. carol gunsallus says:

    we r trying to insulate a school bus …quickly… thanks

  6. Typical insulations for piping systems will not be a good choice for a school bus due to fiberglass fibers making children itch! It would seem that a 1″ thick Styrofoam type of insulation (found at Lowes/Home dept) would work nicely. The panels can be easily cut and glued to the structure.

  7. Aliyah says:

    What is the best thermal insulator out of polyestyrene, fibre glass and bubble wrap???
    And why?

  8. Will jones says:

    Aliyah
    What are you insulating? What temperatures, interior or exterior application

  9. thomas says:

    i need help for providing a heat insulation for 500 degree C.which insulation should i prefer
    provided the rate of material should not be expensive

  10. Will Jones says:

    Thomas,
    There are several choices. If you are simply insulation a component and not utilizing a removable insulation jacket then type E needled fiberglass, Pyrogel XT-E and Silica would all do a good job. To get a touch temperature below 60C you would need appox. 90mm (3.5″) of type E needled fiberglass . If Pryogel XT is used then 50mm (2″) would lower the touch temperature to below 60 C. Cost is relative.

  11. albertus ng says:

    I’m designing a fiberglass box delivery (motorcycle delivery) for frozen processed food. The fiberglass itself is good for thermal insulation. However since it was originally designed for container instead of thermal insulation, I decided to add an additional heat insulation, inside. What is the most suitable materials, considering thinner is better (as to safe the inner space)?

  12. shivam dwivedi says:

    I need to know of any insulation that can be applied on a pipe of dia 1.4 meters transfering hot gases with temperature ranging from 800 ‘ celcius with a length of 16 meters.
    my objective is to stop surface heat loses and to reduce temperature drop due to same it.

    • Shivam,
      First thing is an insulation which will perform at 800 C, Ceramic insulation blankets will do the job. Next, we need to design for a “touch temperature”. A Pipe at 1.4 meters diameter has a tremendous heat loss. Using 3EPlus to calculate the BTU loss and insulation thickness, 24cm of insulation is required to get the surface temperature below 60 C. The BTU per hour savings is 254583 BTU/FT ( 30.48 cm) of pipe. This is a significant savings.
      Will

  13. Jeremy says:

    Looking to cool off my garage very cheap… thoughts on using recycled paper egg cartons?

    • Recycled Egg cartons is an excellent idea. The design by nature has lots of dead air space, it is light weight and easily handled. If the garage has no ceiling, rather exposed rafters I would put a small exhaust fan at the peak at the exterior wall and get the really hot air out of the space. That should do it!!

  14. Shivam,
    First thing is an insulation which will perform at 800 C, Ceramic insulation blankets will do the job. Next, we need to design for a “touch temperature”. A Pipe at 1.4 meters diameter has a tremendous heat loss. Using 3EPlus to calculate the BTU loss and insulation thickness, 24cm of insulation is required to get the surface temperature below 60 C. The BTU per hour savings is 254583 BTU/FT ( 30.48 cm) of pipe. This is a significant savings.
    Will

  15. biodun says:

    Am work on developing a lagging material as a project…can someone tell me some of the standard methods for testing insulating materials…that I can I use to compare the thermal conductivity of the lagging material..

    • Brian Bannon says:

      Most commercial insulation manufactures can provide you with the K factor. You can also contact NIA…the National Insulation Association

  16. Nilesh says:

    I want to use thermal insulation in thermal mug. which material is best out f the above?

  17. Abdullahi Suleiman says:

    Please who has an idea of how to design, construct and test a cupola furnance.

  18. vaibhav says:

    I want to insulate a copper piece of 80 degrees. Insulation thickness should be nearly 1 mm. Do you any material which can fulfill my need ?

    • Brian Bannon says:

      1mm is very thin and with copper you are going to need something flexible….I assume the copper diameter is less than 1.5″? if so an Armaflex Pipe insulation is probably best

  19. salman says:

    i want to put an insulation between two heat sinks,as one is to be hot and the other one is to be cold . my problem is its thickness should be only 3mm and it should be flat sheet.

  20. vaibhav says:

    what will be the cost of armflex & where can i get it.

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