Reuben's Home Inspection Blog


Snake Oil Foil: A Warning About Radiant Barriers

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.

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections


Comment balloon 9 commentsReuben Saltzman • March 06 2012 02:58AM


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

Posted by Ginny Gorman, Homes for Sale in North Kingstown RI and beyond (RI Real Estate Services ~ 401-529-7849~ RI Waterfront Real Estate) about 7 years ago

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. 

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) about 7 years ago


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


Posted by Brian Madigan, LL.B., Broker (RE/MAX West Realty Inc., Brokerage (Toronto)) about 7 years ago

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?

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) about 7 years ago

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

Posted by Chris Smith, South Simcoe, Caledon, King, Orangeville Real Esta (Re/Max Chay Realty Inc., Brokerage) about 7 years ago

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

Posted by Randi Brammer, Accountant & Tax Preparer (Randi Brammer, Acctg.) about 7 years ago

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.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) about 7 years ago

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.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) about 7 years ago

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 ; )

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) about 7 years ago