Air Sealing vs. R-Value: Which should be your main concern?

Nowadays, consumers seem to know a lot about R-Value, or the thermal resistance of a particular building material. But is R-value really the most important thing to consider when insulating a home or building?

When it comes to insulation, R-value is of course a main concern when considering materials — but the problem with focusing solely on R-value is that it simply doesn’t account for air movement.

Consider the following illustration: When you pour hot coffee into a styrofoam cup, your coffee (and your hands) are well insulated; the material, styrofoam, has a decent R-value.

But the R-value of the styrofoam doesn’t matter after you’ve poked a few holes in that same cup. With your cup full of holes, the insulation is now compromised — and your hands are burnt.

A building could be made of material with great R-value, but if its assembly hasn’t accounted for air sealing, you’ve got a big problem. Water and heat lines are easily compromised by cold air, and can tens of thousands of dollars to fix. Poor air sealing also accounts for about 90% of ice dam problems — a big issue in Northern Minnesota.

At Northstar, we take a holistic approach to insulation. That means we not only install insulation products with great R-value, but with every project we take air sealing into account.

During our building assessment, we use an infrared camera to track cold air leaks. If the leaks aren’t immediately obvious, we move on to blower-door testing.

Blower-door testing forces air through a home or building, allowing us to easily identify the weak spots, or spaces where too much air is being lost. These spaces are usually located near your roof, windows, and doors.

Wondering whether your home has air sealing problems? Run through our free self-inspection checklist and call Northstar today to schedule an initial inspection.

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