Snake Oil Foil: A Warning About Radiant Barriers

By
Home Inspector with Structure Tech Home Inspections

Radiant Barrier InsulationLast week I received an email from a concerned reader who said his 85-year-old mother-in-law had recently purchased a $2,500 radiant barrier insulation system for her 1,800 sf townhouse in Austin, MN.   She was convinced that this was a good investment after attending a free dinner, wherein the effectiveness of radiant barriers in Minnesota was highly exaggerated.  The system was installed two days after she signed the contract.

Radiant barriers are essentially bubble wrap covered with foil on both sides.  The material is sold in rolls, and is quite easy to install.  The problem with this product is that it only works to prevent radiant heat transfer; it does nothing to prevent convective heat transfer, conductive heat transfer, or air leakage in attics.  Can you guess how much heat is lost in Minnesota attics due to radiation?  I'm no engineer, so I can't give you any hard numbers... but I know the answer is very close to nothing.  In other words, the value of a radiant barrier in a Minnesota attic is very close to nothing.

I immediately wrote this concerned reader back, telling him this system was a waste of money.  Two days after that email exchange, the Minnesota Department of Commerce issued a consumer alert warning about these types of insulation systems, saying the exact same thing.  They're a waste of money.

Oak Ridge National Laboratory has concluded that radiant barriers will give an average Minnesota home some savings in energy - somewhere around $10 - $40 per year, assuming the home has ductwork in the attic.  The problem with applying this generous savings model to Minnesota homes is that most Minnesota homes don't have ductwork in the attic.  With no ductwork in the attic, the average annual savings would drop to about $5 per year.

If you want to improve the insulation in your attic, hire a reputable insulation contractor from Minnesota.

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  1. Chris Smith 03/06/2012 08:10 AM
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Topic:
Home Improvement
Location:
Minnesota
Groups:
Professional Home Inspectors
Minnesota Real Estate Investor Group
Minnesota Real Estate
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Tags:
radiant barriers in minnesota
warning about radiant barriers
snake oil foil
radiant heat barrier
foil insulation
radiant barrier

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Rainmaker
554,948
Chris Smith
South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta
Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage

Reuben, thanks for educating us about another scam.  I will try and spread your word.

March 06, 2012 07:42 AM
Rainmaker
281,395
Randi Brammer
Accountant & Tax Preparer
Randi Brammer, Acctg.

Even at $40 a year, it would take more than 50 years to re-coop the cost.

March 06, 2012 08:52 AM
Rainmaker
229,337
Reuben Saltzman
Minneapolis Home Inspections
Structure Tech Home Inspections

Ginny - I had no idea they were making a comeback either.

James - that's exactly it.  It was 55 degrees here in MN yesterday... maybe we'll be needing them soon.

Brian - it seems to come and go.

Charles - they could have put in foam!  

Chris - I appreciate it.

Randi - and $40 / year is ridiculously generous.

March 07, 2012 03:32 AM
Rainmaker
1,167,173
Jay Markanich
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC

My Marine son, who owns a house near Camp LeJeune, contacted me a couple of years ago wondering if he should install a radiant barrier in his house.  According to the chart on your link, that would put him in zone 3.  I suspect there would be some savings/protection, but not a lot there either.  I told him his money was better spent adding to the insulation, particularly cellulose, and making sure there was good venting there.

I will send this post to him!   Great post Reubs.

March 07, 2012 03:49 AM
Rainmaker
341,340
Donald Hester
NCW Home Inspections, LLC
NCW Home Inspections, LLC

Reuben, Great post and a good reminder on how easy things can be made to sound real good. Targeting the elderly is a horrible practice.They sound like candidates for a party, a blanket party that is ; )

March 07, 2012 10:42 AM
Anonymous
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Rainmaker
229,337

Reuben Saltzman

Minneapolis Home Inspections
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Home inspection topics in the Minneapolis / Saint Paul area.