Insulation in the form of long batts or rolls is good for walls and other areas that are largely free from obstructions. Batts and rolls, too, are often used in an obstructed area that can be difficult to access: the attic. But loose-fill insulation makes the job much easier.
Blown-in from a machine located on the ground, loose-fill insulation is often a better choice. Plus, the machine can be rented on a do-it-yourself basis.
What Loose Fill Insulation Is
Because heat rises, attics and other above-ceiling areas need a lot of insulation. For places where a high-value, R-38, insulation is required, the recommended thickness of the insulation is as much as 14 inches. With attics' many vents, pipes, and electric cables, it can be difficult to lay down that much insulation with rolls or batts.
Loose fill insulation is insulation that comes in small pieces rather than large rolls or batts. The material can be cellulose (a paper product rendered fireproof with a chemical treatment) fiberglass, or foam. Loose fill insulation conformed to the objects under and around it.
In addition, attics are hard to access. For many homes, a door barely 18 inches square permits access to the attic. That's where loose-fill blown-in insulation comes in. Instead of trying to manually squeeze rolls or batts of insulation up 10 or 12 feet and through a small door, the insulation is delivered for you: through the long hose of an insulation blower.
What an Insulation Blower Is
Located on the ground and outside of the house, the insulation blower forces cellulose, rock wool, or fiberglass insulation into those hard-to-reach areas. The blower machine consists of a hopper (for dumping in bags of loose insulation), a drive motor or engine, the blower itself, and a hose.
It is possible to shake out insulation by hand into attic joist cavities. This is done on a small scale when you need to add insulation to neglected areas. But it's impractical on the large scale and the results are less than perfect.
Blown-in delivery is far easier and coverage is more consistent if you use a blower. Also, because cellulose insulation comes tightly packed in bags, the blower separates the insulation for you. By hand, this is difficult to do properly.
How to Use an Insulation Blower
- Wear safety glasses, hearing protection, and a NIOSH-approved dust mask. You'll also want to wear long sleeves and pants or a zippered coverall that can be washed or disposed of.
- Plug in the insulation blower. Do not use an extension cord.
- Move the blower into the attic.
- Slit open one of the bags of insulation. Pull the insulation out of the bag by hand and let it drop into the hopper.
- Turn on the insulation blower machine.
- Have an assistant continue to feed the hopper with insulation product as you work the blower hose.
- Adjust the air setting or slide gate as needed.
- Move the blower hose to the farthest end of the attic and start blowing insulation. Work your way backward.
- As you walk back, be mindful of where you are walking. Always stand on the joists.
- Hold the hose about 36 inches above the level of the joists. Move the hose from side to side to evenly distribute the insulation product. Be sure not to block soffits or non-IC-rated recessed lights.
- Use the depth gauges provided by the insulation product or use a straightedge as a guide.
Where to Rent an Insulation Blower
Blown-in insulation blowers can be rented from rental yards or from some home improvement stores.
Home improvement stores sometimes require that you purchase the insulation as part of the blower rental package. You can receive a reduced rental rate on the blower with the purchase of the insulation.
Provided that you have your materials already lined up, you should be able to blow an entire attic in one or two days. At a maximum, you will be able to blow insulation into an attic within the span of one week.
Tips For Renting an Insulation Blower
- Have everything set up in advance of picking up the blower or having it delivered. Due to the high rental rates, you'll save considerable money if you devote as much of the rental time to blowing, not to preparing the space.
- Buy the proper type of insulation for the blower. Insulation is not always interchangeable between blowers.
- The least expensive insulation blower rates are found on a one-day or one-week basis from home centers.
- Rental yards tend to offer higher rates, with half-day rentals being low value. Rental yard value spikes sharply on a weekly rental basis, but still nowhere approaching the low home improvement store rates.
- Some rental facilities will deliver the blower. A typical rental insulation blower has a hopper capacity of 4.25 cubic feet or 25 pounds, pushing out 350 pounds of insulation per hour. Weighing 177 pounds, this type of blower will require a truck to transport it to your home.
Rates For Blown-In Insulation Rentals
Sample going rates for a comparable insulation blower from a rental yard vs. a home improvement store. The first number refers to blower rental with no accompanying purchase of insulation from that store. The second number refers to the rental plus purchase of a minimum of 20 bags of loose-fill insulation, assuming that one day is free.
|Rental Yard||Home Center (No Insulation Purchase / Insulation Purchase)|
|Half Day (4 Hours)||$205||$36 / $0|
|Full Day||$205||$50 / $0|
|Week||$510||$350 / $300|
|Month||$1,530||$1,400 / $1,350|
Renting vs. Purchasing an Insulation Blower
Should you rent or buy an insulation blower? For most do-it-yourselfers, the answer is clear: rent. But if you are a do-it-yourselfer who buys homes to resell or if you are a contractor, the decision isn't so easy.
Top-quality blowers have a large capacity and enormous speed. For example, the Heat-Seal 5500, pushes between 82 to 135 bags per hour of cellulose or fiberglass.
Contractor-grade blowers often exceed 1,500 pounds, with dimensions of 6 feet by 4 feet. Purchase costs from manufacturers like Meyer and Heat-Seal, Inc. range from $13,000 to $16,000.
But not all insulation blowers are this pricey. Intec is one manufacturer that makes more cost-effective insulation blowers—with lower capacity and volume specs. Intec Force 1 is typically found as a rental at home centers.
The Intec Force/2 has a 50-pound or 8 1/2 cubic. foot capacity. This model can push out over 2,000 pounds of cellulose insulation or 428 pounds of fiberglass insulation per hour.
With wheels, this Intec blower weighs about 300 pounds—just about the right size for the back of a truck.
Higher-capacity insulation blowers have gas-powered engines; the Intec model runs off of two 20 amp household circuits.
An Intec Force/1 will cost around $4,000 to $5,000, with the next-generation models, the Force/2, costing in the $7,000 to $8,000 range.