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Cellulose has grown into an excellent insulation product when installed correcly. Cellulose can be installed in existing walls at a density insufficient to offset settling over time. A decade ago only densities of 3.5-4.4 lb/ft3 (depending on test accuracy) were adequate to ensure that gaps do not form over time. New technology has produced more resilient cellulose, and much lower non-settling densities are now plausible, according to Dave Yarborough of Tennessee Technical College.
However, significant voids are often left when cellulose is blown into old walls that have undetected blocks or other irregularities. If installed at the proper density, cellulose will perform well and will also substantially decrease air leakage in an old house. "Dense-packing" is an installation system that uses a tube inserted into the cavity to blow the material and also to locate any hidden blockages. I always recommend using a contractor familiar with this method for retrofits, as it is superior in terms of reducing air leakage and enssuring full insulation of the walls.
Blown into an attic, substantial settling is common (see "Cheating--The Insulation Industry's Dirty Secret," p. 24). A written guarantee of settled depth, with markers installed to facilitate checking by the homeowner, should be specified.
In the Par-Pac system, cellulose is blown through a tough, cross-linked polyethylene material. This provides a good vapor barrier and makes it possible to visually confirm the absence of voids. A less expensive alternative is Regal Wall, a fishnet rather than polyethylene material, which is not a vapor barrier.
Spraying cellulose into open cavities with an adhesive binder is an attractive option. A small amount of water is typically added to activate the adhesive. Large manufacturers of cellulose increasingly offer this option. Nu-Wool is one of several good products. The cost and availability will depend on the proximity of an installation contractor.
Spraying cellulose with water added is also popular. This method can be messy, and problems can arise if guidelines for installation are not followed. It is especially important to follow the guidelines for maximum moisture content before drywall can be installed. Allowing sufficient drying can disrupt construction, and judgment on the proper degree of drying must be accurate. However, performance is excellent if these drawbacks are not a barrier to use.
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