I’m an insulation contractor in western Massachusetts. I specialize in loose-fill, damp-spray, and dense-pack cellulose. I also own a spray-foam truck that I bought a couple of years ago; I was hoping it would increase my efficiency if I no longer had to sub out the limited areas of spray foam that some cellulose projects called for. While I’ve sprayed quite a bit of foam, I’m now in the process of selling the foam rig. So many variables can affect the quality of the finished product — everything from how the equipment is calibrated to outdoor temperatures — that it’s challenging stuff to get right. My crew and I also didn’t like dealing with cleanup and were concerned about the possible health effects of working with the chemicals. But I’ve also found that with the right approach, many problem areas that are commonly spray-foamed — around band joists, for instance — can be effectively insulated and air-sealed with dense-pack cellulose alone.

Cellulose has a lot of other things going for it. In dollars per unit of R-value, it’s hands-down the most efficient insulating material there is. It’s also highly fire-resistant and environmentally benign. It doesn’t provide the sort of hermetically sealed air barrier you get with foam, but at atmospheric pressure it does stop the movement of...

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