Insulating and Air Sealing Existing Floors above Unconditioned Spaces

    Scope Images
    Image
    Install rigid insulation and finish material below the framing and cavity insulation of a building overhang
    Scope

    Insulate a floor over unconditioned space with conditioned space above (such as a cantilevered floor, the second floor overhang of a garrison colonial house, the underside of a projecting bay, the ceiling of an inset porch, or the ceiling of a vented crawlspace) by adding insulation and air sealing as follows:

    • Inspect the overhanging floor framing to verify existing conditions and develop specific detailing for insulating the overhanging area.
    • Provide four control layers that are continuous between the overhanging floor and wall assemblies: water, air, vapor, and thermal.
    • Install insulation to levels that meet or exceed the thermal requirements of the current adopted building and energy codes.

    See the Compliance Tab for related codes and standards requirements, and criteria to meet national programs such as DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Home program, ENERGY STAR Single-Family New Homes, and Indoor airPLUS.

    Description

    Cantilevered floors and floors over unconditioned space in existing homes are frequently found to be uninsulated and not air sealed, causing cold (or hot) areas in the rooms above these floors. Configurations where these overhangs occur include the second-floor overhang of a garrison colonial style house, the underside of a projecting bay, the ceiling of an inset porch, or the ceiling of a vented crawlspace with conditioned space above. There are several methods for air sealing and insulating these types of building configurations. Regardless of which method is used, any seams in the “ceiling” of the cantilever framing cavities should be air sealed before the cavities are insulated and any open floor joist bays that extend from the cantilever into the home must be blocked with some solid blocking material such as rigid foam or plywood and air sealed at the edges. For more information about air sealing cantilevered floors see the guide Cantilevered Floor.

    Rigid Insulation below Framing and Cavity Insulation, Finish Material to Underside of Overhang

    Figure 1 shows an assembly that is typical for a porch ceiling under a second-story room or the overhang of the second floor of a garrison colonial style home. Any existing finishing material such as plywood is removed from the underside of the overhang framing to minimize the change in elevation of the overhang. The framing cavities are then filled with batt or blown fibrous insulation and rigid foam is attached to the bottoms of the framing joists. Seams in the rigid foam are sealed with tape and a new finish material is installed to cover the rigid foam. This finish material might be fiber cement or engineered wood siding or painted plywood or OSB.

    Rigid Insulation is installed below the framing and cavity insulation of a building overhang or cantilever then covered with finish material.
    Figure 1. Rigid Insulation is installed below the framing and cavity insulation of a building overhang or cantilever then covered with finish material. (Source: Building Science Corporation.)

     

    Closed-Cell Spray Foam Insulation in Cavities and Encapsulating Framing

    The approach shown in Figure 2 is typical under a first-floor bay or for a vented crawlspace with conditioned space above. The framing is encapsulated with spray foam to decouple the framing from the ground or crawlspace thermal and moisture conditions. The standoffs may be replaced with 2x2 furring if needed for attaching the protection layer (e.g., cement board).

    The ceiling over an unconditioned space is insulated with closed-cell spray foam that fills the ceiling cavities and encapsulates the framing.
    Figure 2. The ceiling over an unconditioned space is insulated with closed-cell spray foam that fills the ceiling cavities and encapsulates the framing. (Source: Building Science Corporation.)

     

    How to Insulate an Overhanging Floor Above Unconditioned Space

    1. Inspect the structural integrity of the overhanging floor. Check the framing for any deficiencies, rot, insect damage, etc. Proceed only after needed repairs are performed. Based on the findings, revise the floor assembly and review specific detailing as needed. Follow the minimum requirements of the current adopted building and energy codes.
    2. Air seal the joist cavities of the overhanging floor. Block any open bay that extend into the home’s conditioned space, for example that connect to the space between the first and second floors. Use a solid blocking material to block the bays and air seal around edges as described in the guide Cantilevered Floor.
    3. Install either loose-fill, batt, or spray foam insulation in the ceiling cavities, then install polyisocyanurate or XPS insulating sheathing to the underside of the framing. Tape the seams of the insulating sheathing to create a robust air control layer, as shown in Figure 1 and Figure 3. ALTERNATELY, install closed-cell spray foam insulation in the cavities and encapsulate the framing, as shown in Figure 2 and Figure 4.
    4. Install a protective layer of cement board or plywood over the insulating sheathing. ALTERNATELY, apply intumescent coating or other thermal ignition barrier over spray foam if required by code. To protect the spray foam from rodents and/or birds, attach blocking to the existing framing and attach a protective layer of cement board or plywood as shown in Figure 5.
    Foil-faced polyisocyanurate insulating rigid foam sheathing is installed below the floor framing of this house built on piers.
    Figure 3. Foil-faced polyisocyanurate insulating rigid foam sheathing is installed below the floor framing of this house built on piers. (Source: Building Science Corporation.)

     

    Spray foam insulation air seals the underside of the flooring of a home built on piers.
    Figure 4. Spray foam insulation air seals the underside of the flooring of a home built on piers. (Source: Building Science Corporation.)

     

    Application of intumescent coating/protection layer.
    Figure 5. Application of intumescent coating/ protection layer. (Source: Building Science Corporation.)

     

    Ensuring Success

    No information at this time.

    Climate

    The floor assembly should be designed for a specific hygrothermal region, rain exposure zone, and interior climate.

    The map in Figure 1 shows the climate zones for states that have adopted energy codes equivalent to the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) 2009, 12, 15, and 18. The map in Figure 2 shows the climate zones for states that have adopted energy codes equivalent to the IECC 2021. Climate zone-specific requirements specified in the IECC are shown in the Compliance Tab of this guide. 

    Climate Zone Map from IECC 2009, 12, 15, and 18.

    Figure 1. Climate Zone Map from IECC 2009, 12, 15, and 18. (Source: 2012 IECC)

     

    Climate Zone Map from IECC 2021.

    Figure 2. Climate Zone Map from IECC 2021. (Source: 2021 IECC)

     

    The insulation levels should be based on the minimum requirements for vapor control in the current adopted building code and the minimum requirements for thermal control in the current energy code. (See Table R601.3.1 Class III Vapor Retarders of the 2009 IRC (ICC 2009a) and Table R702.7.1 Class III Vapor Retarders of the 2012 IRC (ICC 2009b). Additional insulation can be added above these minimums to create high R-Value floor assemblies. The table below provides the minimum thermal resistance (R-value) requirements for framed floors specified in the 2009 IECC (ICC 2009b) and the 2012 IECC (ICC 2012b), based on climate zone.

    Framed Floor R-Value Requirements in the 2009 and 2012 IECC.

    Table 1. Framed Floor R-Value Requirements in the 2009 and 2012 IECC. (Source: 2009 IECC and 2012 IECC)

     

    Right and Wrong Images
    Image
    Wrong - This crawlspace hatch should be weatherstripped and insulated.
    Wrong - This crawlspace hatch should be weatherstripped and insulated.

    Compliance

    The Compliance tab contains both program and code information. Code language is excerpted and summarized below. For exact code language, refer to the applicable code, which may require purchase from the publisher. While we continually update our database, links may have changed since posting. Please contact our webmaster if you find broken links.

     

    ENERGY STAR Single-Family New Homes, Version 3/3.1 (Rev. 11)

    ENERGY STAR Single-Family New Homes requires that ceiling, wall, floor, and slab insulation levels meet or exceed those specified in the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) with some alternatives and exceptions, and achieve Grade 1 installation per RESNET Standards (see 2009 and 2012 IECC Code Level Insulation – ENERGY STAR RequirementsInsulation Installation (RESNET Grade 1) and Insulation Installation (RESNET Grade 1) - Part 2). If the state or local residential building energy code requires higher insulation levels than those specified in the 2009 IECC, you must meet or exceed the locally mandated requirements. 

    National Rater Design Review Checklist

    3. High-Performance Insulation.
    3.1 Specified ceiling, wall, floor, and slab insulation levels comply with one of the following options:
    3.1.1 Meets or exceeds 2009 IECC levels5, 6, 7 OR;
    3.1.2 Achieves ≤ 133% of the total UA resulting from the U-factors in 2009 IECC Table 402.1.3, per guidance in Footnote 5d, AND specified home infiltration does not exceed the following:6, 7

    • 3 ACH50 in CZs 1, 2
    • 2.5 ACH50 in CZs 3, 4
    • 2 ACH50 in CZs 5, 6, 7
    • 1.5 ACH50 in CZ 8

    Footnote 5) Specified levels shall meet or exceed the component insulation levels in 2009 IECC Table 402.1.1. The following exceptions apply:
    a. Steel-frame ceilings, walls, and floors shall meet the insulation levels of 2009 IECC Table 402.2.5. In CZ 1 and 2, the continuous insulation requirements in this table shall be permitted to be reduced to R-3 for steel-frame wall assemblies with studs spaced at 24 in. on center. This exception shall not apply if the alternative calculations in d) are used;
    b. For ceilings with attic spaces, R-30 shall satisfy the requirement for R-38 and R-38 shall satisfy the requirement for R-49 wherever the full height of uncompressed insulation at the lower R-value extends over the wall top plate at the eaves. This exemption shall not apply if the alternative calculations in d) are used;
    c. For ceilings without attic spaces, R-30 shall satisfy the requirement for any required value above R-30 if the design of the roof / ceiling assembly does not provide sufficient space for the required insulation value. This exemption shall be limited to 500 sq. ft. or 20% of the total insulated ceiling area, whichever is less. This exemption shall not apply if the alternative calculations in d) are used;
    d. An alternative equivalent U-factor or total UA calculation may also be used to demonstrate compliance, as follows: An assembly with a U-factor equal or less than specified in 2009 IECC Table 402.1.3 complies. A total building thermal envelope UA that is less than or equal to the total UA resulting from the U-factors in Table 402.1.3 also complies. The performance of all components (i.e., ceilings, walls, floors, slabs, and fenestration) can be traded off using the UA approach. Note that Items 3.1 through 3.3 of the National Rater Field Checklist shall be met regardless of the UA tradeoffs calculated. The UA calculation shall be done using a method consistent with the ASHRAE Handbook of Fundamentals and shall include the thermal bridging effects of framing materials. The calculation for a steel-frame envelope assembly shall use the ASHRAE zone method or a method providing equivalent results, and not a series-parallel path calculation method.

    Footnote 6) Consistent with the 2009 IECC, slab edge insulation is only required for slab-on-grade floors with a floor surface less than 12 inches below grade. Slab insulation shall extend to the top of the slab to provide a complete thermal break. If the top edge of the insulation is installed between the exterior wall and the edge of the interior slab, it shall be permitted to be cut at a 45-degree angle away from the exterior wall. Alternatively, the thermal break is permitted to be created using ≥ R-3 rigid insulation on top of an existing slab (e.g., in a home undergoing a gut rehabilitation). In such cases, up to 10% of the slab surface is permitted to not be insulated (e.g., for sleepers, for sill plates). Insulation installed on top of slab shall be covered by a durable floor surface (e.g., hardwood, tile, carpet).

    Footnote 7) Where an insulated wall separates a garage, patio, porch, or other unconditioned space from the conditioned space of the house, slab insulation shall also be installed at this interface to provide a thermal break between the conditioned and unconditioned slab. Where specific details cannot meet this requirement, partners shall provide the detail to EPA to request an exemption prior to the home’s certification. EPA will compile exempted details and work with industry to develop feasible details for use in future revisions to the program. A list of currently exempted details is available at: energystar.gov/slabedge.

    National Rater Field Checklist

    Thermal Enclosure System
    1. High-Performance Fenestration & Insulation.
    1.3 All insulation achieves Grade I install. per ANSI / RESNET / ICC Std. 301. Alternatives in Footnote 5.5, 6

    2. Fully-Aligned Air Barriers.7 At each insulated location below, a complete air barrier is provided that is fully aligned as follows:
    Floors: At exterior vertical surface of floor insulation in all climate zones and, if over unconditioned space, also at interior horizontal surface including supports to ensure alignment. Alternatives in Footnotes 12 & 13.11, 12, 13
    2.6 Floors above garages, floors above unconditioned basements or crawlspaces, and cantilevered floors. 

    Footnote 5) Two alternatives are provided: a) Grade II cavity insulation is permitted to be used for assemblies that contain a layer of continuous, air impermeable insulation ≥ R-3 in Climate Zones 1 to 4, ≥ R-5 in Climate Zones 5 to 8; b) Grade II batts are permitted to be used in floors if they fill the full width and depth of the floor cavity, even when compression occurs due to excess insulation, as long as the R-value of the batts has been appropriately assessed based on manufacturer guidance and the only defect preventing the insulation from achieving Grade I is the compression caused by the excess insulation.

    Footnote 6) Ensure compliance with this requirement using ANSI / RESNET / ICC Std. 301 including all Addenda and Normative Appendices, with new versions and Addenda implemented according to the schedule defined by the HCO that the home is being certified under, with approved exceptions listed at www.energystar.gov/ERIExceptions.

    Footnote 7) For purposes of this Checklist, an air barrier is defined as any durable solid material that blocks air flow between conditioned space and unconditioned space, including necessary sealing to block excessive air flow at edges and seams and adequate support to resist positive and negative pressures without displacement or damage. EPA recommends, but does not require, rigid air barriers. Open-cell or closed-cell foam shall have a finished thickness ≥ 5.5 in. or 1.5 in., respectively, to qualify as an air barrier unless the manufacturer indicates otherwise. If flexible air barriers such as house wrap are used, they shall be fully sealed at all seams and edges and supported using fasteners with caps or heads ≥ 1 in. diameter unless otherwise indicated by the manufacturer. Flexible air barriers shall not be made of kraft paper, paper-based products, or other materials that are easily torn. If polyethylene is used, its thickness shall be ≥ 6 mil.

    Footnote 11) EPA highly recommends, but does not require, an air barrier at the interior vertical surface of floor insulation in Climate Zones 4-8.

    Footnote 12) Examples of supports necessary for permanent contact include staves for batt insulation or netting for blown-in insulation. Alternatively, supports are not required if batts fill the full depth of the floor cavity, even when compression occurs due to excess insulation, as long as the R-value of the batts has been appropriately assessed based on manufacturer guidance and the only defect preventing the insulation from achieving the required installation grade is the compression caused by the excess insulation.

    Footnote 13) Alternatively, an air barrier is permitted to be installed at the exterior horizontal surface of the floor insulation if the insulation is installed in contact with this air barrier, the exterior vertical surfaces of the floor cavity are also insulated, and air barriers are included at the exterior vertical surfaces of this insulation.

    Please see the ENERGY STAR Single-Family New Homes Implementation Timeline for the program version and revision currently applicable in your state.

     

    DOE Zero Energy Ready Home (Revision 07)

    The DOE Zero Energy Ready Home Program is a voluntary high-performance home labeling program for new homes operated by the U.S. Department of Energy. Builders and remodelers who are performing retrofits on existing homes are welcome to seek certification for those homes through this voluntary program.

    Exhibit 1 Mandatory Requirements.
    Exhibit 1, Item 1) Certified under the ENERGY STAR Qualified Homes Program or the ENERGY STAR Multifamily New Construction Program.
    Exhibit 2, Item 2) Ceiling, wall, floor, and slab insulation shall meet or exceed 2015 IECC levels and achieve Grade 1 installation, per RESNET standards. See the guide 2015 IECC Code Level Insulation – DOE Zero Energy Ready Home Requirements for more details.

     

    2009-2021 IECC and IRC Insulation Requirements Table

    The minimum insulation requirements for ceilings, walls, floors, and foundations in new homes, as listed in the 2009, 2012, 2015, 2018, and 2021 IECC and IRC, can be found in this table

     

    2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC)

    Section R402 Building Thermal Envelope.

    Table R402.1.1 Insulation and Fenestration Requirements by Component.

    Section R402.2.6 Floors.

    Section R402.4 Air leakage (Mandatory).

    Section R402.4.1 Building thermal envelope.

    2012, 2015, 2018, and 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC)

    Section 402 Building Thermal Envelope.

    Table R402.1.1 (R402.1.2 in 2015, 2018, and 2021 IECC) Insulation and Fenestration Requirements by Component. 

    Section R402.2.7 (R402.2.8 in 2015 and 2018 IECC) Floors.

    Section R402.4 Air leakage (Mandatory).

    Section R402.4.1 Building thermal envelope.

    Retrofit:  2009, 2012, 2015, 2018,  and 2021 IECC

    Section R101.4.3 (in 2009 and 2012). Additions, alterations, renovations, or repairs shall conform to the provisions of this code, without requiring the unaltered portions of the existing building to comply with this code. (See code for additional requirements and exceptions.)

    Chapter 5 (in 2015, 2018, 2021). The provisions of this chapter shall control the alteration, repair, addition, and change of occupancy of existing buildings and structures.

     

    2009, 2012, 2015, and 2018 International Residential Code (IRC)

    Section R317 Protection of Wood and Wood Based Products Against Decay.

    Section R317.1. Location Required.

    More Info.

    Access to some references may require purchase from the publisher. While we continually update our database, links may have changed since posting. Please contact our webmaster if you find broken links.

    Case Studies
    References and Resources*
    Author(s)
    Pettit,
    Neuhauser,
    Gates
    Organization(s)
    Building Science Corporation,
    BSC
    Publication Date
    Description
    Guidebook providing useful examples of high performance retrofit techniques for the building enclosure of wood frame residential construction in a cold and somewhat wet climate.
    *For non-dated media, such as websites, the date listed is the date accessed.
    Contributors to this Guide

    The following authors and organizations contributed to the content in this Guide.

    Building Science Corporation, lead for the Building Science Consortium (BSC), a DOE Building America Research Team

    Building Science Measures
    Building Science-to-Sales Translator

    High-R Floor Insulation = High-Efficiency or Ultra-Efficient Floor Insulation

    Image(s)
    Technical Description

    There are two levels of floor insulation: high-efficiency insulation, which meets the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code, and ultra-efficient insulation, which is 25% more efficient than this national code. Using high-efficiency and ultra-efficient insulation along with professional installation (e.g., no gaps, voids, compression, or misalignment with air barriers;  complete air barriers; and minimal thermal bridging) creates conditioned spaces that require very little heating and cooling, along with even comfort and quiet throughout the house.

    High-Efficiency or Ultra-Efficient Floor Insulation
    Sales Message

    High-efficiency floor insulation helps provide added thermal protection. What this means to you is less wasted energy along with enhanced comfort and quiet. Knowing there is one opportunity to optimize performance during construction, wouldn’t you agree it’s a great opportunity to meet or exceed future codes?

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