There are several types of foam insulation used in the walls and ceiling of residential and commercial buildings: rigid foam, rigid board made of mineral wool and liquid foam alternatives . Each has certain advantages and disadvantages. This article looks at the first option – rigid foam insulation.
What is it?
Rigid foam insulation, also called foam board or board-stock, is made from foam plastics and is a popular choice for insulating foundations and building exteriors. It can be used inside wall cavities as well. It is sold in rigid board-style sheets of varying sizes. Rigid foam can be supplied with a foil facing to further improve its insulating qualities.
- Rigid foam offers very high R-values compared to loose-fill insulation, and some of the best among foam options. Ratings range from R-4 to R-6.5 per inch, even without a foil facing to improve matters.
- Some rigid foam products are water resistant and can be buried to insulate foundation exteriors.
- Expanded polystyrene board ( EPS or "beadboard" ) is the only type which does not use HCFCs in its production, so is the greenest choice.
- EPS can be bought with foil and plastic facings so that it is water resistant and can be used underground.
- Extruded polystyrene board (XPS or "blueboard") has a slightly higher R-value than EPS and is more resistant to moisture.
- Polyisocyanurate board ("polyiso") offers even better insulating value, reaching from R-6.5 to a massive R-8 per inch. It is the least ecological option (see below).
- Polyiso board is manufactured with various facings (plastic or aluminum, for example) to further improve its R-value.
- Rigid foam insulation in wall cavities must be tightly fitted to stop air infiltration.
- Joints between sheets and boards must be taped to prevent air flow.
- Rigid foam is susceptible to sunlight. UV rays damage it, so it must be stored and installed appropriately.
- The air bubbles inside expanded polystyrene board (EPS or beadboard) stop heat transfer but can accumulate moisture and thus become ineffective. A moisture barrier may be needed, depending on the installation location.
- Basic beadboard is too brittle to be used underground.
- Extruded polystyrene board (XPS or blueboard) uses HCFCs in its production, which deplete the ozone layer.
- Polyisocyanurate board (polyiso) uses the worst HCFCs in its production.
- Polyiso suffers from decreasing R-values over time. At installation it can reach R-9 per inch but, over the following 2 years or so, will reduce to R-7. Foil facing adds R-2 to that.