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Wed, Nov. 20

Column: Home inspectors are not two-faced about insulation

Instructions on a roll of insulation — tough to miss, right?

Instructions on a roll of insulation — tough to miss, right?


Hot water the hard way.

I received some fan letters this week, including this one from the owner of a home I inspected: “I wish you home inspectors would stop trying to justify your existence. Our home is in city limits and passed all city inspections. Why are you telling potential buyers that our insulation does not meet code? And just for your information, the “@” when describing batt insulation shows your ignorance. 3.5 inch batt insulation is R-13, not “@ R-13” and 6 inch insulation is R-19, not “@ R-20.” And the writing on the paper facing says the paper should be against the heated wall, so on an exterior wall in a crawlspace there is no heated wall so the paper should face inside, like it does.”

There was actually more to this letter giving me other advice that I edited, knowing our newspaper would not print it anyway. I’ve had some other questions recently about insulation too. The house above had a walk-in height crawlspace under the living area. There was @ R-19 faced batt insulation under the living area floor (above our heads), and @ R-13 faced batt insulation on the walls in the crawlspace. Batt insulation is fiberglass insulation that you lay in place. It’s sold on a roll or in “batts.” The facing refers to paper on one side of the insulation. The facing should always face toward the heated space.

The R-19 insulation under the living area floor was properly installed with the facing toward the interior floors (heated space) and against/touching the floor. The facing on the insulation on the crawlspace walls was exposed inside the crawlspace. If the seller had read the entire warning printed on the facing, it stated the paper should be toward the heated space and should never be left exposed because it’s flammable. You should never be able to see the paper on the insulation after a home is built. Think about if a fire started in that crawlspace with all that paper exposed on the walls. If that paper caught on fire, you might lose the entire home.

Now I did not say that in the report, I was professional. All I said was the paper on the insulation should be removed or covered, which is exactly what the printed warning on the facing states. Nor did I mention that the warning is printed every 2 feet on the paper, so it’s visible about 200 times in the crawlspace.

If you’re installing insulation that will not be covered, you should use unfaced insulation, with no paper backing.

Referring back to the letter above, I never used that four-letter word “code” in the report. I didn’t have to, since the warning is clearly visible on the insulation. It is unusual to insulate the exterior walls on a crawlspace, so I’m guessing that insulation wasn’t installed by the builder and wasn’t visible when the city inspected the home.

And as far as the “@ R-20” insulation in my report, I went to a major insulation manufacturers website just now. They have 3.5 inch thick insulation that is R-11, R-13 and R-15. They have 6.25 inch insulation that is R-19, and 5.5 inch insulation that is R-21. R-30 insulation could be 8.25 inches or 10 inches thick. So unless I see the R value plainly printed on the insulation, my report will state “@ R-20.”

And sometimes the insulation will not be what’s stated. If you compress insulation, it loses some of its insulating (R) value. So if someone put 6.25 inch R-19 insulation in a 2x6 wall (which is actually 5.5 inches), it will not be R-19. It would still be better than R-11 or R13, but it would not be the full R-19.

Most professional insulators state that batt insulation is the least effective, because there are always gaps at the edges and ends/splices. These gaps may be small, but added up over an entire attic or crawlspace they allow a significant amount of airflow past/through the insulation. Blown in loose fiberglass or cellulose insulation always has the best coverage.

For this week’s chuckle, I once told a client that there was @ R-30 batt insulation in the attic. I went on to something else, but could see something was bothering her. When I asked her, she replied “I don’t want bad insulation, I want good insulation.” Ever since then I spell it — “You have @ R-30 batt, b-a-t-t, insulation.”

I am cleaning out old photo folders and though I would share some of the classics with you. This one is all text, but I don’t know how to copy text from a photo, so you may need your reading glasses. This was from an inspection many years ago, and this was the only way to get hot water!

Randy West owns Professional Building Consultants in Prescott. He is state-certified and has performed more than 7,000 home inspections in the Prescott area. West serves on the Home Inspector Rules and Standards Committee for the Arizona Board of Technical Registration. Contact him at or visit

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