A radiant barrier runs along the ceiling of an attic in a home

Radiant barriers are slightly different from the more popular kinds of insulation. As opposed to cellulose of fiberglass insulation, they don’t depend on density.

Instead, they are made of reflective material that channels heat away from or into your house. This modern technology is an ideal type of insulation, and can help homeowners save significantly on energy costs. 

Nevertheless, like with all kinds of insulation, radiant barriers have their set of benefits and drawbacks, which might make you wonder if they really work and are worth the purchase and installation costs. 

Well, we have created a helpful list of the pros and cons of radiant barrier insulation to help you make an informed decision. 

Pros of Radiant Barriers

First, we will look at the benefits of radiant barriers before analyzing the drawbacks. 

Reduced Cooling Costs 

There’s no denying that radiant barriers help to decrease ceiling heat gains, thereby reducing cooling costs during the hottest months.

A report by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory revealed that they could decrease ceiling heat gains by up to 42% in some tests. This reduction increases your air conditioner’s effectiveness and ensures your house stays cool during the hotter days. 

Moreover, the US Department of Energy states that radiant barriers can decrease cooling costs by 5 to 10 percent when used in a sunny and warm climate. These energy savings might be even greater in the hottest areas. 

Don’t Damage Roof Shingles 

Radiant barriers reflect radiant heat away from the attic. However, many people worry that the additional heat build-up will damage their shingles as the barriers are installed underneath the roof.

Fortunately, research shows that they don’t really damage roof shingles. 

According to the Florida Solar Energy Center, shingles over a radiant barrier only heat up by an additional 2 to 7 degrees more than shingles that are not covering a barrier.

This minor increase is insignificant as roofing systems generally can handle temperatures well over the maximum temperature they reach in real life. Moreover, many shingle manufacturers even warranty their products over a barrier. 

Can Supplement Insulation 

It would be best if you did not consider a radiant barrier a substitute for insulation. Instead, you should consider it the missing element to a holistic thermal envelope solution.

Combining conventional attic insulation with a radiant barrier allows you to insulate your home from all three kinds of heat transfer: radiation, convection, and conduction. 

Fiberglass roll insulation being applied to a ceiling

By decreasing the amount of radiant heat that reaches the insulation in your attic, the insulation stays cooler and can keep your home more comfortable. 

You can watch this YouTube video here to see how a radiant barrier can supplement your existing insulation. 

Increased AC Efficiency 

Certain homes, particularly older ones, have ductwork running through the attic space. If you live in such a home, a radiant barrier will surely be a valuable investment for reducing cooling costs in the hot summer months. 

Attics that aren’t protected from the heat tend to pressure the AC system during the summer months. So as the attic space starts to heat up, the ductwork begins to heat up alongside it.

Thus, your air conditioner will need to work twice as hard to keep your house cool, which can lead to wear and tear, necessitating more maintenance over time. 

Cons of Radiant Barriers

Now let’s take a look at why radiant barriers might not be worth your money. 

Might Not Be Feasible for Colder Regions

The energy-saving benefits we discussed above do not apply to all the regions in the US, contributing to the discussion on whether a radiant barrier is worth it. Consider the following questions:

  • Is your home in direct sunlight most of the day?
  • Do you live in an area where temperatures reach over 100°F for several weeks at a time?
  • Does your attic have HVAC equipment or ductwork installed in it?

If you answered no to any of the questions, installing a radiant barrier in your home might not be worth it. 

No Decrease in Energy Bills 

Studies by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory revealed that homeowners with attic HVAC systems in the farthest southern US regions could save up to $150 annually on their energy bills by installing a radiant barrier.

Nevertheless, this is only the best-case scenario. The estimated cost savings come down to as little as $5 per year in the southern-most regions if there aren’t any air handlers or HVAC ducts in a house’s attic.

Moreover, the savings also decreases quickly for houses in milder climates, with dwellings in cooler regions getting minimal benefit from a radiant barrier. 

What’s more, Florida Solar Energy Center studies support these claims. Its website states that energy savings of up to 40 percent are unlikely. A more reasonable expectation entails energy savings of 3 to 6 percent on the yearly electric bill for an ordinary Florida house. 

Moisture Potential 

A radiant barrier has the potential to accumulate humidity during the colder months. When it is cold outside, insulation can produce moisture underneath the barrier’s foil surface. Moisture can lead to problems with your insulation’s effectiveness and result in wet spots on your ceiling. 

Nevertheless, this drawback is only a cause of concern for regions with frigid temperatures. Areas like Nevada or Arizona won’t have to worry about moisture on radiant barrier foil. 

Might Need to Be Paired with Thermal Insulation 

Even though radiant barriers can effectively prevent radiant heat, they won’t stop heat gain that occurs because of conduction or convection. Due to this, you might need to insulate your house with thermal insulation, particularly your attic. 

The Verdict – Are Radiant Barriers Worth It?

After careful analysis, we can say that radiant barriers do work, and can reduce your heating costs in the hottest months. However, the extent to which they will benefit you depends on factors such as where you live, whether you have an HVAC system in your attic and your home’s exposure to the sun.

For instance, if you live in Orange County or San Diego, there’s a high chance that installing radiant barriers will cut down your electricity bill. 

Moreover, they are a great way to conserve energy by keeping unwanted heat outside your home during the summer and retaining heat inside your house during the winter. This means you need to consume less energy over time, resulting in significant cost savings on your energy bill. 

In addition, installing a radiant barrier can even make it easier for your HVAC system to keep your house comfortable. It can also extend the life of your furnace and air conditioner, leading to even higher savings. 

Increasing Effectiveness of a Radiant Barrier

There are a couple of things to remember if you wish to enhance a barrier’s effectiveness.

Firstly, radiant barriers require an air space in front of them. If they are placed between two pieces of siding or insulation, they act as conductors and actively work against your insulation. 

Second, they are only as effective as they’re reflective. Dust accumulation on the foil service will reduce reflectiveness, and because of this reason, installing a barrier on your attic floor instead of the ceiling can be problematic. 

Finally, you need to be aware of the difference between non-perforated and perforated. Non-perforated radiant barriers won’t let water vapors escape. If you install a non-perforated barrier in your attic, the moisture and warm air from inside the house will rise but won’t be able to escape.

The vapors will condense on the substrate, making your attic wet and damaging the structure of your house. A perforated barrier has small holes that escape water vapor and air. 

Steer Clear of Scams

There’s a lot of false information online regarding radiant barriers. Steer clear of scams like “paint-on” radiant barriers or energy-saving statistics that sound too good to be true, particularly in cooler regions. 

For instance, Minnesota officials have recommended against radiant barriers for its residents in response to aggressive product marketing tactics there.

Therefore, make sure to speak to your local, state, or regional planning department about whether it is a worthwhile investment for your area. 

Last Few Words

We hope this article helped you decide if radiant barriers are worth your money or not. 

To reiterate, if you reside in a hot region, installing a radiant barrier in your attic can result in significant energy savings. Just make sure to avoid misinformation and steer clear of scams!

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