What Is the Difference Between Faced and Unfaced Insulation

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Having your home properly insulated is among the best investments you can make. Insulation will keep your home warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, so you’ll be more comfortable no matter the season. It can also save you a considerable sum of money on heating and cooling. 

The key phrase above is “properly insulated.” If the insulation is installed incorrectly, you’re setting yourself up for problems down the road. Today, we’re going to answer a critical question that will help you avoid these issues. What makes faced and unfaced insulation different?

The short answer to that question is that faced insulation has a layer made of paper or another material, while unfaced insulation does not. The difference this one simple factor makes is surprising, so keep reading for the long answer and more information to help you make the best decision for your home. 

Faced vs. Unfaced Insulation

Knowing the difference between faced and unfaced insulation is useful, but it doesn’t help you when it comes to deciding when to use one rather than the other. 

Faced Insulation

Owens Corning R-13 Faced Insulation Roll

The layer we mentioned that faced insulation has earlier is, fittingly, called a “facing.” This is because the layer should always face the living space when you’re installing it, which makes it an easy term to remember.

The facing is usually made from kraft paper. Kraft, in this case, doesn’t refer to the company. It comes from the German word for “strength” because the process used to create it results in sturdier than normal paper.

The insulation itself tends to be fiberglass. You will usually see it sold in a roll, and it’s installed by stapling it to the wooden joists or beams in your home. 

How Much Does Faced Insulation Cost?

Including the labor required to install it, faced insulation typically costs between $0.50 and $2 per square foot. Costs will vary depending on where you’re located and the type of insulation you’re using.

If you want a more specific answer, get in touch with one or more of your local contractors for a quote. They will be able to provide you with a more detailed estimate. 

Faced Insulation Pros

Faced insulation has two main benefits. The first is that it’s easier to install. The facing means that it can be attached and handled with fewer issues.

The second benefit is that the facing provides a moisture barrier, which helps to prevent mold and mildew. If you live somewhere it’s frequently damp or humid, or you have mold allergies, faced insulation can drastically improve your quality of life. 

Faced Insulation Cons

As useful as it is, there are drawbacks to using faced insulation. It’s combustible, meaning that it can catch on fire quickly and easily. Faced insulation shouldn’t be installed anywhere near masonry chimneys, light fixtures, some electronics, or any other heat source. 

Faced insulation also poses a problem if you’re adding new insulation to an area where old insulation is already present. If the old insulation also has a facing acting as a vapor barrier, moisture can become trapped between the two and damage will occur. 

Unfaced Insulation

Owens Corning R-6.7 Unfaced Insulation Roll

Like faced installation, unfaced insulation is also typically made from fiberglass. It lacks the facing, though, meaning that there’s no vapor barrier. 

You will also usually see it sold as a roll, but stapling isn’t required to install unfaced insulation. Instead, it’s held in place via friction. 

How Much Does Unfaced Insulation Cost?

Unfaced insulation is generally a little less expensive than faced insulation. Usually, prices fall somewhere between $0.50 and $1.75 per square foot, including labor.

Once again, prices will vary depending on the insulation you’re using and where you’re located. A quote from a contractor can help you get a better idea of what an insulation job will cost you. 

Unfaced Insulation Pros

Unfaced insulation comes with its own benefits. Because it lacks a facing, it’s ideal if you’re looking to add more insulation to an area of your home. You don’t have to worry about trapping moisture and causing additional problems for yourself later. 

It’s also considered noncombustible. It’s safer than faced insulation when you’re using it around a heat source, but caution is still warranted. Always contact an expert if you have questions or concerns about whether it’s safe to use insulation somewhere or not. 

Unfaced Insulation Cons

The drawbacks to unfaced insulation are what you likely already suspect they are. Because it lacks a facing, it does not provide a moisture barrier. While there’s no guarantee, this does raise the chances that you could develop a mold or mildew problem later on. 

Unfaced insulation is also more challenging to install due to the absence of a facing. There is no unifying factor, so it can be difficult to handle and apply evenly. 

When To Use Faced vs. Unfaced Insulation 

Faced and unfaced insulation both have circumstances in which they’re the best option. Faced insulation is generally used in places where insulation hasn’t been installed before. If you’re building a house, for example, or insulating an attic, crawl space or garage. 

We have mentioned it before, but it bears repeating. When you’re using faced insulation, the facing or paper should always face the living space you’re insulating. 

Faced insulation is used more often in warmer climates prone to humidity and excessive rainfall because the facing helps to prevent mold and mildew from developing. 

Unfaced insulation is your best option when you’re adding insulation to an already insulated area. That way, you’re not creating a double moisture barrier that will seal moisture in rather than keeping it out. 

If you want to add a bit of soundproofing to your home, unfaced insulation is a great option for privacy, peace and quiet. It’s used more often in colder climates, where a layer of faced insulation might not be enough to keep a house as warm as its occupants might like. 

What is R-Value?

Earlier, we mentioned that insulation could help make your home more energy-efficient. Here’s where that comes in. The R-value measures how well a particular insulation prevents heat loss. High R-values mean better insulating properties. 

Not everyone needs insulation with a high R-value, which the U.S. Department of Energy has already taken into consideration. They have divided the United States into seven—or eight—different zones. 

The zone you live in will tell you the R-value you should look for when it comes to insulation. Only a few locations in Alaska are in the eighth zone, which is why it generally doesn’t get much attention. 

The R-value of insulation does influence its cost. The higher the R-value you require, the more expensive the insulation is likely to be. 

Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve covered a lot of information so far, but you might still have unanswered questions. We’re going to address a few of the most common. 

Do you need a vapor barrier with faced insulation?

Faced insulation comes with its own vapor barrier—that’s what the paper is there for. So, you will always have a vapor barrier when you have faced insulation. In areas where you’re likely to see some condensation, such as around plumbing fixtures, this can be invaluable in preventing mold and mildew from forming. 

Should I use faced or unfaced insulation in my attic?

Whether you use faced or unfaced insulation in your attic will depend on whether the attic already has some insulation. If it has some insulation and you’re simply adding more to keep your home a little warmer, it’s best to use unfaced insulation. If your attic doesn’t have any existing insulation, it’s best to use faced insulation. That way, you have a moisture barrier. You can always add more unfaced insulation later down the line if you need to. 

Do you put plastic over faced insulation?

We strongly recommend against putting plastic over faced insulation, as this will result in the same scenario as putting new faced insulation over old. You will end up with two vapor barriers, which can actually trap moisture in your insulation and lead to the mold and mildew issues you were trying to avoid. 

Putting plastic over unfaced insulation is another matter entirely, which is where we suspect this question is coming from. Some professionals actually prefer plastic over unfaced insulation to faced insulation when it comes to vapor barriers. If you’re working with a contractor to install insulation, their advice and preference on this matter will depend on their past experiences. Currently, plastic over unfaced insulation and faced insulation both appear to work well. 

Well, there you have it. Faced insulation has a vapor or moisture barrier, usually in the form of kraft paper, while unfaced insulation does not. The presence or absence of a vapor barrier will influence when and where you can use faced or unfaced insulation without risking a mold or mildew problem later on. 

Hopefully, you have found our discussion today useful in deciding which type of insulation best suits your needs and whether or not you want to hire someone to install it for you. For more information, check out the rest of our blog.

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