Choosing the right insulation is crucial for your energy consumption as well as protection from elements. Because of this, it is important to use faced insulation where it is necessary, but many homeowners have a hard time understanding faced vs. unfaced insulation, so what’s the difference?
The main difference between faced insulation and unfaced insulation is the vapor retarder or lack thereof. Whereas unfaced insulation does not have one, faced insulation has a vapor retarder that adds a layer of protection, making it suitable for exterior walls.
This article includes a complete breakdown of the differences between faced insulation and unfaced insulation and the different R-value, moisture protection, noise reduction, and more. It also includes when you should choose one option over the other. This will help you choose the best insulation for your next project.
Contents (Jump to Topic)
- Faced vs. Unfaced Insulation: Key Points
- What Is Faced Insulation?
- What Is Unfaced Insulation?
- What Is the Difference Between Faced And Unfaced Insulation?
- When to Use Faced or Unfaced Insulation
- Which Way Should Faced Insulation Be Installed?
- Does Unfaced Insulation Need a Vapor Barrier?
- Faced vs Unfaced Insulation: Which is Better for Soundproofing?
- Best Faced and Unfaced Insulation
- Is Faced Insulation Better Than Unfaced?
Faced vs. Unfaced Insulation: Key Points
|Fiberglass or Rock Wool as well as a vapor barrier made out of plastic or paper (vinyl, foil, or gypsum board can also be used)
|Fiberglass or Rock Wool
|Varies but can have a higher R-Value in areas that are prone to extreme humidity and high temperatures by preventing moisture buildup. For faced fiberglass batt insulation, you can expect the R-value to land between 3.1 and 3.4 per inch of thickness
|Varies, Can have a good R-Value and can sometimes be doubled up to increase R-value even more, but moisture will decrease efficiency. If unfaced insulation remains dry, it will have the same R-value as faced, between 3.1 and 3.4 per inch of thickness.
|Varies, but you cannot double it up to increase the R-value. The standard range is between 3.5 inches and 12 inches thick
|Varies and is easier to add unfaced insulation. You can get unfaced insulation anywhere between 35. And 12 inches, but you can also double them up to thicken it even more and raise the R-value
|Have a vapor retarder to prevent moisture
|Does not have a vapor retarder to prevent moisture
|May be flammable
|Rarely used for sound proofing and is more expensive for noise reduction
|More often used as sound reduction and can be stacked for this purpose
|Can only be installed in a place that does not already have insulation. You also need to make sure the face side is positioned correctly.
|Can be installed in areas with existing insulation
|$.60 to $2.25 per square foot
|$.50 to $1.75 per square foot
|When to Use
|Ceiling, floor, attic, exterior walls
|Interior walls, between floors,
What Is Faced Insulation?
Faced insulation has a layer of material on one side that acts as a barrier to prevent moisture and gases from moving through or into your home. The barrier acts as a vapor retarder that can be useful for a few reasons.
When moist, warm air enters a cooler area, condensation will occur. This means that water droplets will end up on a colder surface. When this happens within your home, the moisture can end up on your walls. This can lead to mold and mildew and poor efficiency.
The vapor retarder is known as the facing of the insulation. For Kraft-faced insulation, the facing is made out of kraft paper. It can also be made out of foil kraft paper, aluminum foil, gypsum board, or vinyl. Kraft paper facing is the most common for residential areas and is usually the best choice when you do not require an additional benefit that specialty facing offers.
Foil facing works to prevent moisture, just like the other facing types, but it also prevents radiative heat movement. This can reduce the heat from sunlight that may be preferred in some areas.
Gypsum board and some latex paints can work to prevent moisture penetration and accumulation. It is most often used in industrial and commercial buildings.
Vinyl-faced insulation is durable and heavy. It costs more than other types and is commonly used in walls and ceilings of industrial, governmental, and manufacturing buildings.
What Is Unfaced Insulation?
Unfaced insulation is made of the same materials as faced insulation, but does not have the facing or vapor retarder as a barrier. This makes it more affordable and easier to stack or double for a better r-value.
Unfaced insulation can be used with already existing insulation. This is because there is no barrier to affect the stack of insulation. Unfaced insulation is a good choice for interior walls or places that are not humid with high rainfall.
Unfaced insulation is more commonly used for noise reduction and can help you save a lot of energy because it is good for retaining hot or cool air. This insulation is also effective at preventing pollutants and contaminants.
What Is the Difference Between Faced And Unfaced Insulation?
There are differences regarding the materials, thickness, r-value, and other aspects of faced and unfaced insulation. Knowing the differences can help you choose the one that is best for your upcoming project.
Both unfaced and faced insulation are most often made with fiberglass, but can also be made with rock wool. Most types of unfaced insulation also come as faced insulation that has the addition of the moisture barrier or vapor retarder.
Faced insulation also has the material that the facing is made out of. This is most often kraft paper, but can also be vinyl, foil, or gypsum board. This material keeps moisture away from the insulation materials.
Both types of insulation come in a wide variety of thickness from 3.5 to 12 inches that influences the R-value and efficiency benefits of the insulation material. There is one thing that can affect the thickness and that is the ability to stack or use insulation where there is already existing insulation.
With faced insulation, you can not readily stack or double the insulation. It can only be used when there is no existing insulation. This means that the thickness you buy will be the thickness you get. Unfaced insulation, on the other hand, can be used in areas where there is already insulation installed. This means that you can stack multiple batts to thicken the insulation.
Both faced and unfaced insulation come in a variety of different R-values and either one can be very energy efficient. Typically, you can expect the R-value for faced and unfaced fiberglass batts to be somewhere from 3.1 to 3.4 per inch. The difference in R-value also affected the facing itself.
Faced insulation can prevent moisture intrusion that can impact R-value. When insulation gets wet, it will lose efficiency rapidly. The vapor retarder prevents rapid decline in R-value. Unfaced insulation can have a great R-value and can also be stacked to increase the R-value even more. This is beneficial for a lot of homes and can make it easier to improve your energy efficiency.
Another factor at play for R-value is the type of facing. Where kraft facing will not impact R-value in any significant way, foil facing can affect the R-value by reflecting the heat away from the insulation. In optimal conditions, this could raise the R-value .25 to .75 per inch. However, in some cases where there is little exposure or inadequate spacing, it could hardly budge the R-value at all. .
Unfaced insulation costs less than faced insulation and does as much if not more for soundproofing. Insulation is great for absorbing sound and reducing echo and the transfer of sound between walls.
The facing on faced insulation can bounce the sound and amplify it in some situations. Unfaced installation will be more likely to absorb a substantial amount of sound. If the primary purpose of the insulation is to reduce the noise level, then unfaced is your best option.
The insulation materials, primary fiberglass, are noncombustible. They do not require fire retardant treatments or the addition of any chemicals to prevent fire or combustion. In fact, some insulation can act as a fire block in a wood frame.
The facing attached to faced insulation, however, can be flammable. The most common type of vapor retarder is kraft paper, which is certainly flammable. Because of this, many building codes require faced insulation to be covered with wallboard that is at least a half-inch thick. This is because it will reduce the likelihood that the facing will ignite.
Water / Moisture Resistance
The entire purpose of facing is to prevent moisture from seeping into the insulation. When water gets into the insulation itself, then it will severely impact the r-value and effectiveness of the insulation. Unfaced insulation has no protection against moisture intrusion and, therefore, should not be used in areas that are prone to moisture accumulation.
Faced insulation has a vapor retarder that can block the moisture from entering into the insulation. Since the barrier can be very effective for preventing water from getting in, it will reduce the amount of moisture that affects the insulation itself. While it is not 100% perfect, it is often effective enough to prevent expensive damage.
When installed properly, neither faced nor unfaced insulation should be a safety hazard. However, there are some things to keep in mind. Unfaced insulation is less flammable, as explained above, which could be an important safety consideration in some areas of the home.
The other safety issue is mold and mildew that can contribute to illness. The facing will prevent the buildup of water that is necessary for mold and mildew growth. It is important to make sure that there is not any moisture that can make its way into faced insulation before installation because then you will trap the moisture and it will not be able to escape through the facing barrier. This is also true if the vapor retarder is erroneously installed between insulation or walls.
For a DIY project, nobody wants something extremely complex and time-consuming. Faced insulation is easier to install for a few different reasons, despite it being a little more expensive to buy the materials.
Faced insulation is easier to install because the insulation is held together by the vapor barrier. This makes it much easier to move the insulation around or to roll it. Unfaced insulation is more likely to fall apart, which can be frustrating. You also need to install it correctly, which usually means that the facing will be located on the warm side of the thermal insulation.
In addition, unfaced insulation is more likely to tear during installation. Staples do not work well with unfaced insulation like they do with faced insulation. You will have to primarily rely on the insulation to cling to the wall or ceiling.
One more factor can play a role in how easy or hard it is to install insulation. If there is already existing faced insulation where you plan on installing your new insulation, then you will have to remove it before you can install the new faced insulation. With unfaced insulation, it can be stacked in many situations, which means an easier job.
The cost of insulation depends on the r-value and thickness as well as the materials and other factors. Since unfaced insulation has fewer materials, it is typically more affordable. You can expect to pay anywhere from 50 cents to $1.75 per square foot for unfaced insulation. Faced insulation can vary greatly depending on the material of the facing, but will generally be somewhere between 60 cents and $2.25 per square foot.
When to Use Faced or Unfaced Insulation
Knowing the differences between faced and unfaced is a great way to decide the type that works best for you, but there are different areas of the home that require unfaced, faced, or both.
An attic needs protection from the hot and cold air that would then make it into your home. For the floors over the attic, you need to use single-faced insulation. The vapor barrier will prevent excessive moisture from getting into the living area. For the roof rafters, you will also want to use faced insulation with the faced side pointing down into the attic area.
For installing insulation in your ceiling, you should use faced insulation. If you want to add to the insulation in the ceiling and there is no faced insulation already installed, then it is sometimes okay to use unfaced. However, if you live in a humid area with existing unfaced insulation in the ceiling, then you will always be better off choosing faced insulation.
Since insulation between floors on your home will not be within an exterior wall, unfaced insulation will do just fine. There should not be enough moisture cycling through the area between your first and second floor to deem faced insulation the best.
For interior walls, there should be no reason to have a vapor retardant because there will be little to no moisture infiltration. Since unfaced is more affordable, but also offers better energy efficiency and soundproofing, it works well for interior walls.
Exterior walls are closer to the outdoor elements like high or low temperatures and water. To protect your home from moisture, you should use faced insulation for all the exterior walls. Unfaced insulation will not give you that protection.
The walls in the basement are almost always exterior walls. Not only that, but a basement is one of the areas in your home that is more prone to moisture accumulation. Because of this, you should always use faced insulation.
For a garage, you should always use faced insulation for the walls since they face outside. For the interior walls by the door, it is often okay to use unfaced insulation. The garage ceiling can go to the attic or roof. If it goes to the attic, then you are fine using unfaced insulation, especially if the floor of your attic has faced insulation. If the ceiling goes to the roof, then it is best to use faced insulation.
A crawl space is one of the areas in your home that attracts a lot of moisture that can lead to mold and mildew. Therefore, you should always use faced insulation for the crawl space to prevent too much moisture from getting in. This will also protect against rotting wood.
Which Way Should Faced Insulation Be Installed?
To determine which way the facing insulation should be installed, you will have to think about which side will be warmer during the Winter. For most regions, this means that the facing should point toward the interior of your home. However, if you live in an area that has very warm Winters where it is warmer outside than it is inside, then it is best to have the facing point to the exterior.
If you install the insulation backward, then it traps moisture from the air. This moisture can condense and become trapped in the insulation throughout the Winter. In turn, the insulation will not be as effective and you could develop mold, rot, or mildew.
To install roll or batt insulation, the main thing is that it fits perfectly in between the studs or other structural components. It should never be compressed because that can impact effectiveness. Just cut the insulation into the perfect size and place the insulation in. You may also have to cut some additional square or other shaped pieces for irregularities like piping, outlets, or other common components depending on the location of the insulation.
Does Unfaced Insulation Need a Vapor Barrier?
Well, it depends. If the insulation is between floors or interior walls, then you most likely do not lead a vapor barrier at all. For areas that connect to the exterior of the home and you want to use unfaced insulation, then you should always add a vapor barrier.
The best choice for adding a vapor barrier is to buy a roll of plastic sheeting. This can be installed wherever you need it and can be very affordable. Just remember that you should never have the facing of any insulation covered up by more insulation.
Faced vs Unfaced Insulation: Which is Better for Soundproofing?
Both are suitable for soundproofing because they will dampen the sound. However, unfaced insulation is a better choice because it is cheaper. Furthermore, the facing itself can amplify the sound, particularly higher frequencies, because the sound waves bounce off of it.
Best Faced and Unfaced Insulation
There are numerous types and brands of insulation that can come faced or unfaced. However, they are not all created equal and most people want the best for efficiency, easy installation, and a reasonable price. Let’s check out the best options.
Is Faced Insulation Better Than Unfaced?
Faced insulation is better for unfaced in some situations, but in others it is best to unfaced. If you are adding new insulation to an exterior wall, crawl space, or any other area that may be prone to humidity and moisture, then faced insulation will be better.
However, you can also choose the cheaper unfaced insulation for many projects that involve interior walls or between floors. Both types also come in a variety of sizes and R-values to choose from to ensure that you can boost your energy efficiency.