Insulating Basement Walls

Basement insulation comes in a multitude of materials, making the installation process unique to each home. Learn more about what will work for your basement with this guide.

Insulation installation

Insulation installation

By: Caroline Shannon-Karasik
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Insulating basement walls helps to not only protect the space from moisture or water damage, but also to provide temperature control in what is often the chilliest room within a home.

Home Improvement Before the Energy Retrofit

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The Wilsons liked the whitewashed brick façade and bay windows of this Cape Cod-style house. The 1940s kit house had about 1,000 square feet and needed TLC, but it was in a great neighborhood with lots of character.

Before: Living Room

The living room had dingy walls and blue-gray trim and felt cramped because of the kids' playpen and play tent. Note the built-in bookshelf — this will be taken out to make a door to the adjoining kitchen to improve the house's flow on the first floor.

After: Living Room

Notice the new entryway where the built-in bookshelf used to be. Small homes benefit from open floor plans, which Jeff's house didn't have originally.

Before: Kitchen

The old galley kitchen (7' x 10') was in dire need of an upgrade. The wall of cabinets was directly behind the built-in bookshelf in the living room so these had to be removed to create a more open kitchen.

After: Kitchen

Jeff took out walls, put in steel I-beams (which allowed him to carry the ceiling load to create an open floor plan) and opened up the kitchen, breakfast nook and dining area into one another. Once the cabinets and bookshelf were removed, the kids were able to run laps around the first floor.

Before: Kitchen

This is the kitchen as viewed from the old dining area. Jeff's daughter Sylvie is hanging on the framework for the new bar which would act as a divider between the kitchen area and the dining area. Note the broken window in the back door and no insulation in the walls. Jeff later replaced the door with an insulated model and added insulation to the walls.

After: Kitchen

The counters and bar are in place and the kitchen flows nicely into the dining area.

Before: Kids' Room

Jeff is in the kids' room cutting into the knee wall to install a set of built-in bookshelves. Built-ins are another help in a small house, but in this case, he actually opened up air leaks that had previously been kept at bay by the old plaster.

After: Kids' Room

The built-in bookshelves are completed and the room gets a fresh coat of paint. Jeff spray-foamed the house from the outside, closing up the leaks in the kids' room.

Before: Bathroom

The only way to get more room in the main bathroom was to "bump out" a glass block garden window. Jeff had never installed glass block before, and he had to engineer the cantilever supports to make sure the family didn't end up falling into the kitchen the first time they took a bath. He also needed to replace the windows.

In addition, the room had sunk into the kitchen below by several inches due to a poor remodeling job by a previous owner. She had cut out floor joists to add in ductwork and then put tile over the old floors and walls, adding to the weight of the room. Much of the tile had cracked and fallen away from the walls and floor.

After: Bathroom

The glass block windows maximize natural light while ensuring privacy for the main bathroom. Plus, the new tile and bathtub are a far cry from what the room used to look like.

Before: Backyard

The Wilsons liked the big backyard but knew they needed to completely redo the deck. In fact, Jeff's deck was featured in a magazine as one of "America's Worst Decks." To make matters worse, you could be blinded by the sun's reflection on the white paint.

After: Backyard

Jeff's home gets a major backyard makeover complete with an outdoor kitchen and a screened-in porch. The Wilsons love to entertain, but with a small home, their limited indoor space makes it difficult to entertain more than a few people at a time. Thanks to their new outdoor area they can have more people over during nicer months, but they don't have to maintain, heat or cool the space all year long.

There are several types of basement wall insulation, including sprayed foam, bubble foil, foam board and fiberglass.

Sprayed foam insulation is a viable choice for a homeowner who is looking for a do-it-yourself option for a finished basement. The foam is applied in exactly the manner as it sounds — with spray cans. It is important to wear a mask when applying this material in order to avoid inhaling the strong chemicals it gives off.

Bubble foil is sold in rolls at hardware stores, making it easy to roll out and attach to a wall with an adhesive. This material is not only a cinch to install, but durable and effective for more many years.

Foam board insulation is often made from a polystyrene or polyurethane material. These insulation panels are useful for adding structural stability to a home, as well as temperature control. While it is possible for a homeowner to install the panels, foam boards often require the help of a professional.

Fiberglass insulation is coated in a vapor barrier that is ideal for locking out the moisture that is common in a basement space. This material — which is known for its ability to last for years — can be easily installed with nails or an adhesive.

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