“Don’t worry, the City inspected it.” #8: What’s in YOUR attic? Comfort or Con?

by Keith Tripp, 2020

phone or text: 416-320-8863

con3This is the eighth in a series on construction defects found in the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario, Canada. Two issues are described: 1) Fraudulent substitution of materials 2) Underfill of volume of materials, which could also be considered as fraud.

This photo shows insulation materials in an attic. To the untrained eye, there may be nothing amiss. Those working in the insulation business and attic sleuths like myself however can see that there are two different materials present. The darker material is cellulose, with a typical R value of 3.8 per inch. The white material is fiberglass which provides about R value of about 2.8 per inch.





con2In the undisturbed state, a thin layer of cellulose covers the underlying fiberglass as seen at the photo to the left.







con1A little digging below the surface reveals the underlying fiberglass as seen to the left.

If finding this in an older house, there would be no cause for alarm as often newer materials get layered on top of existing old insulation materials. However, these photos are all taken on warranty inspections on new construction in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, so it is not acceptable. I consider claiming to use one material, substituting a cheaper, lesser material, and covering it with a thin layer of the correct material to be fraud. The installer is aware that the chances of the insulation being inspected at close range are quite low. Attics are difficult and unpleasant places to get in to. The builder does not do a detailed inspection, the City inspector does not go in the attic, and the average homeowner will never know what is overhead. The loser in the end is the unwitting homeowner who has not received what they paid for and will pay the price in heating and cooling bills and possible discomfort in the years to come.

The ceiling insulation requirement on new construction in the GTA is R50 or R60 depending on which menu of SB12 energy compliance package the builder chose to use to meet basic code. A label at the entrance to the attic will display the material used, claimed R value, and the required depth to provide the R value. Often the installing company’s name is on the label.

Let’s use R60 as an example to see the impact of the substituted material.

Depth of Cellulose required for R60 is 16.1 inches.

Depth of fiberglass required for R60 is about 21.5 inches.

If claiming to use cellulose, and really using mostly fiberglass:

16.1 inches of fiberglass= R45= 75% of claimed value. That is assuming that the full depth is installed. It is common to find the depth of insulation to be underfilled in new construction. Based on checking insulation in hundreds of attics, I find that installing  about 2/3 of the claimed amount reflects common practice. It seems this is not a new practice either, and it’s what I expect to find in attics constructed within the last 30 years or so.  The dilution of materials when combined with a typical under-fill, ( note in the photos above the total depth being only about 10-12 inches or less vs. a 16 inch requirement for example), often being about 2/3 of the claimed fill at the front part of the attic, will reduce the actual R value to 2/3 times 45 =R30. That is the sort of insulation value that we had in ceilings more than 30 years ago. So much for “Green” building eh!

con4In one of the same attics where I recently found substituted material, there was also extreme under-fill. The flashlight at left is standing on the drywall ceiling above the front of a bedroom. Depth of insulation is about 1 inch or less vs. the 16.1 inch requirement. They do say sleeping in the cold is good for you right?

Don’t hesitate to have new or nearly-new homes inspected by a professional to check for insulation underfill or substitution of materials.

It’s a common sounding from builders and the selling parties on new or almost new homes. “Don’t worry, the City inspected it”. As an inspector serving the buying community, I am often amused by that statement. My income on new and nearly new home inspections relies directly on identifying the leftover issues after all the builder and municipal inspections are complete and the first owner has taken possession. These issues don’t go away on their own, and I also find “builder issues” on resale homes, even up to 50 years after original construction.

Keith Tripp lives, works and plays in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.