Snake Oil Foil: A Warning About Radiant Barriers

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.


Re-Blogged 1 time:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
  1. Chris Smith 03/06/2012 12:10 AM
Home Improvement
Ask the Home Inspector
Minnesota Real Estate Investor Group
Professional Home Inspectors
Minnesota Real Estate
Canadian Bacon
radiant barrier
foil insulation
radiant heat barrier
snake oil foil
warning about radiant barriers
radiant barriers in minnesota

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Ginny Gorman
RI Real Estate Services ~ 401-529-7849~ RI Waterfront Real Estate - North Kingstown, RI
Homes for Sale in North Kingstown RI and beyond

Reuben, another energy scam that homeowners need to be aware of...thank you for bringing this forward...I had no idea..

Mar 05, 2012 07:43 PM #1
James Quarello
JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC - Wallingford, CT
Connecticut Home Inspector

I have seen this stuff used here in attics and basements. It is exactly like you a say, a scam and a waste of money. My understanding is the stuff is made for warm climates, not cold. 

Mar 05, 2012 07:57 PM #2
Brian Madigan
RE/MAX West Realty Inc., Brokerage (Toronto) - Toronto, ON
LL.B., Broker


I had never heard of this type of insulation, however, I'll watch for it now.


Mar 05, 2012 09:11 PM #3
Charles Buell
Charles Buell Inspections Inc. - Seattle, WA
Seattle Home Inspector

Reuben, I agree---snake oil in 1975 and still snake oil today---can you imagine what she could have done with 2500 toward stopping air leakage and conductive losses?

Mar 05, 2012 09:19 PM #4
Chris Smith
Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage - New Tecumseth, ON
South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta

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

Mar 05, 2012 11:42 PM #5
Randi Brammer
Randi Brammer, Acctg. - Hinckley, MN
Accountant & Tax Preparer

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

Mar 06, 2012 12:52 AM #6
Reuben Saltzman
Structure Tech Home Inspections - Minneapolis, MN
Delivering the Unbiased Truth.

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.

Mar 06, 2012 07:32 PM #7
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

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.

Mar 06, 2012 07:49 PM #8
Donald Hester
NCW Home Inspections, LLC - Wenatchee, WA
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 ; )

Mar 07, 2012 02:42 AM #9
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