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Beware the Radiant Barrier Salesman

Radiant barriers are being sold as the miracle cure for comfort and efficiency issues in our homes. Here is what you really need to know about them.

We are all looking for ways to make our homes more comfortable and lower our utility bills. I get lots of calls and emails asking me about various products that are sold at the local big box improvement stores and by local home improvement contractors. Because of the need created by home owners and the ingenuity and marketing budget of manufacturers, there is a lot of misinformation out there.

One of the products that’s making a big push right now is radiant barriers. A radiant barrier is a reflective material that is used to reflect the radiant heat created by the sun and reduce its ability to be transferred into your home. They are most commonly installed in the attic. Common brand names are eShield, Reflectix, Enerflex and EcoFoil.

Here are some helpful tips from the Department of Energy:

  1. Radiant barriers are NOT a substitute for proper air sealing and insulation, they are a compliment.
  2. In our climate, radiant barriers do very little to reduce your heating costs.
  3. Radiant barriers can only reduce your cooling costs by 5 to 10 percent, NOT 40 percent as many will tell you.
  4. Unless you have HVAC equipment in your attic, installing a radiant barrier is a waste of money. (You can just add a few more inches of insulation at time of install for less.)
  5. Radiant barriers must be properly installed over 80 percent of the surface area to be effective.
  6. Radiant barriers should be installed below the roof deck NOT on top of the insulation (dust accumulation greatly reduces its effectiveness).

Don’t be fooled by a good salesman. Science trumps sales pitches every time. There are instances where radiant barriers are a good application, but you need someone other than the sales person to figure that out. The best way to find out what your home needs is to have an energy audit.  

Until next time, “Don’t throw money at your problems, throw knowledge, it’s a lot cheaper.”

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Philip Merritt August 23, 2013 at 08:04 PM
I had a foil barrier installed in my attic about 7 years ago. It was the type that lays on top of your attic insulation. I agree with you totally on a few aspects that it does not replace the need for good attic insulation, that was phase one of my upgrade. I live in Atlanta, GA and I found the savings and comfort level to be moderate as I had a few rooms that just never seemed to be comfortable until I added the foil. I found one big down side to it which was your cell phone coverage in the house goes down by at least half. But there was one VERY BIG advantage to having this installed which I never would have expected. We had a fire in the house which destroyed 2 rooms in the house, not counting water and smoke damage. The foil barrier stopped the fire in it's tracks at the ceiling joists. I have to replace quite few ceiling joists but you can not even see a brown spot on any of the roofing rafters or roofing sheathing which surely would have been burnt from jumping flames in the attic but it looks like the flames never got past the insulation/foil barrier combination. Just something to think about when you think about reflecting heat back to the source.

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