Pros and Cons of Bubble Wrap Insulation

Pros and Cons of Bubble Wrap Insulation

Insulation
By Mateos Glen Hayes March 02, 2022

When it comes time to get new insulation, you’ll have a lot of different materials to choose from. These include fiberglass, foam, and denim, among others; and sometimes it can be difficult to know which one is right for you. This is in part because everyone is trying to sell you something instead of giving you all the information possible.

At the end of the day, the insulation that will work best for you is the one that fits what you need and is appropriate to your climate. Raising your R-value will save you money on energy bills and will also keep pollutants out of your interior air.

You may have heard of foil bubble wrap, but even though it has been on the market for a while now, it isn’t often talked about all that much. Some people have recommended against using it, and others have suggested it is in fact quite effective. Who is right? Let's find out. 

How Effective is Bubble Wrap Insulation? 

Are Foil Barriers Good at Increasing R-Values?

Are Foil Barriers Good at Increasing R-Values?

While it is often referred to as insulation, the technically correct term for bubble wrap is 'radiant barrier'. This is because it is designed to reduce heat transfer by radiation, thereby reducing heat loss and increasing energy efficiency. In theory, this makes foil bubble wrap a miracle material that will instantly boost your R-values and rid you of your heat loss woes; and that is much more effective than the more standard material like drywall.

The truth, however, is a bit more complicated than that. A radiant barrier can work quite well given that there is an air gap on one side of the material. What that means is that reflective bubble wrap cannot be used in every location, and will be far more effective in certain places than others. For example, if you staple this stuff to your attic ceiling, the gap between the silver bubble wrap and the rafters will make an excellent radiant barrier, keeping your attic from becoming a steam room in the summer.

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This may not always be the case for foil bubble wrap that is used on walls, under the subfloor, or on HVAC ducts where there is no space for an air gap. Improper use of silver bubble wrap won’t lead to any improvement in R-values, and could actually cause problems by creating areas of condensation and therefore moisture formation.  

Best Applications of Bubble Wrap Barriers

Bubble Wrap Works Best When Installed in the Right Places

Bubble Wrap Works Best When Installed in the Right Places

The best way to get the most out of reflective bubble wrap is to use it in the correct setting, namely in a hot or mixed climate where you have a big need for keeping the atmosphere cool inside your home. You may not want to use it in colder climes because it won’t work so well in those kinds of environments.

Placing radiant barriers along your roofline will yield much better results than using them to line a flat ceiling. Finally, be sure that there is an air gap. The way that bubble wrap works are that it absorbs the heat and the air gap keeps it from bleeding through into the ceiling and outside. Without this air pocket, the bubble wrap will conduct heat and that will go right through the material and through the ceiling to the outside. 

Does Bubble Wrap Increase Thermal Efficiency? 

Bubble Wrap Keeps Your Home Cool During the Summer

Bubble Wrap Keeps Your Home Cool During the Summer

Properly applied silver bubble wrap can measurably increase your home’s R-value and as a result, keep your home cooler during the hottest parts of the year. You could even see interior temperatures lower by as much as 20 degrees. Reflective bubble wrap barriers can even be applied to windows for even more energy savings; although this will basically block your windows and prevent most natural light from getting through.

Another important point is to refrain from using bubble wrap barriers in conjunction with insulators such as foam or fiberglass. This is due to what we mentioned above about the importance of an air barrier. If you spray foam or add fiberglass and apply a foil bubble wrap layer over that, you won’t have much of an air pocket to work with and the usefulness of the radiant barrier will be limited. 

Pros

When Attached Correctly, Bubble Wrap is the Perfect Thermal Barrier

When Attached Correctly, Bubble Wrap is the Perfect Thermal Barrier

Given that it is used correctly and in the right places, reflective bubble wrap radiant barriers can come with plenty of advantages. This is great news for those who want to boost their home’s R-value and save money on energy bills. 

Good for Keeping Things Cool 

As mentioned before, when silver bubble wrap is used in the best ways, it will do a great job of keeping a space cool during the summer. Because bubble wrap is typically lined with a metallic reflective layer, it is quite good at conducting heat and therefore cooling down a space such as your attic.

The reflective aluminum bubble wrap insulation can massively reduce temperatures given the presence of an air barrier and proper installation. Consulting with insulation contractors will ensure that you reap the benefits of this setup.  

Long-Lasting 

Because they are of relatively simple construction, foil bubble wrap barriers tend to be pretty long-lasting. These barriers do not degrade over time and won’t suffer from compacting or disintegration like certain insulators do.

On top of this, reflective bubble wrap is immune from moisture absorption, making it invulnerable to water damage. This means that the material will not rot, saving you the pain of dealing with major water damage costs if something were to go wrong. 

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Thin & Lightweight 

Foil bubble wrap barriers are also quite thin and lightweight. And since they are not as thick as insulators such as fiberglass or foam spray, these barriers are relatively easy to install. This is good news if you want to add a DIY bubble wrap barrier since it does not require as much technical skill or protection as when applying foam insulation.

This also means that silver bubble wrap barriers aren’t as costly as these insulators since the installation itself will be more affordable. 

Non-Toxic 

Silver Bubble wrap barriers are not made with any toxic or carcinogenic materials, making them safe to handle without wearing any protective gear. In other words, you won’t need to worry about a latent risk of being exposed to toxic materials as the material ages.

By contrast, fiberglass insulation is latently dangerous since it gives off tiny glass particles when it is handled and installed. Without proper protection, these particles can cause irritation to the skin and cause long-term health issues if inhaled.  

Cons

Silver Bubble Wrap Can Be Finicky to Work With

Silver Bubble Wrap Can Be Finicky to Work With

Thermal barriers such as bubble wrap do have some downsides that are important to bear in mind if you plan to use them. 

Finicky Installation

While the installation of bubble wrap isn’t a super technical affair, it can get tedious fast — especially when you have to tack the material to the center of the studs in each cavity of your rafters. Fiberglass or some other insulator will generally be faster to install since you’re literally spraying it in. Because reflective bubble wrap barriers require an air pocket between the material and the surface it is applied to, this material cannot be installed just anywhere; and that can be inconvenient for many homeowners.

Expensive 

The installation may not end up costing too much, the material itself is more costly due to it being a metal-based product. This means that full insulators can actually be more cost-effective in certain applications, especially if you live in a cooler climate.  

Electrical Hazard 

If you get an electrical fault somewhere in your home, foil bubble wrap barriers can pose a safety issue since metal conducts electricity. This could also result in a heightened fire risk since this is insulation we are talking about and aluminum burns very hot. Of course, careful planning and installation will almost completely eliminate this risk.

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MG

Written by
Mateos Glen Hayes

Written by Mateos Glen Hayes

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