Fast, Good and Cheap: Enemies of Quality Installation
In the past three years working within the insulation industry I’ve had a many conversations with builders, contractors and our manufacturer members about getting Grade 1 installation using fiber glass batt insulation. Three conversations in particular stick out in my mind as both insightful and accurate: two separate conversations with The Green Building Curmudgeon, Carl Seville, and one with Toler Insulating owner Wayne Toler. Each conversation left me with this: when it comes to quality installation of fiber glass batts, you can’t get fast, good and cheap. So, you have to pick two. Or do you?
The Green Curmudgeon’s Take on Batt Installation
Many people think that Seville is anti-batt, based on the headlines of some of his blog posts on insulation, but those people would be wrong. When I met the Curmudgeon at Greenbuild a few years back I asked him about a couple of those now infamous blog posts. His response: “I’m pro quality installation. And I’ve seen a lot of bad batt installations.” Seville attributed poor quality installs to contractors rushing to complete the work, building inspectors neglecting to pay attention to the details and subcontractor installers whose compensation is not impacted by quality.
In a brief conversation with Seville recently, we talked about Insulation Institute’s efforts to improve installation quality by promoting our instructional resources on how to properly install batt insulation. “If the industry can get everyone (or anyone) to care about quality (purchasers, builders, subcontractors) you might get some traction,” Seville said. “Unfortunately, since homeowners don’t see the insulation and few understand why installation matters, there is little incentive to do it better.”
While it’s true that homeowners don’t see or think about insulation, they do care about energy efficiency and quality installation of insulation, across product types, impacts home energy performance. Further, a builder’s reputation is dependent upon quality construction and attention to details – and that’s true for all trades involved with construction, so builders have a stake in this as well.. But what about contractors? How do you motivate them to get Grade 1?
Wayne Toler’s Approach to Getting Grade 1 with Batts
Toler Insulating’s Wayne Toler, whom I met at an ICAA conference two years ago, sells and installs both fiber glass batt insulation and spray foam insulation, but he’s a vocal proponent of fiber glass batts. “Done right, batts offer good thermal protection affordably and without the additional training, certification and equipment expense required for spray foam.”
Toler insists that he almost always gets a Grade 1 installation rating, on first inspection, using fiber glass batt insulation.
“It doesn’t take that much more time to do the job right,” Toler said. “I tell my crews that every job is to be a Grade 1 job and that’s what I get, almost every time.” Toler also trains his employees on how properly air seal and install batt insulation, compensates workers for quality and accuracy and reinforces the basics regularly. With more than 30 years in the insulation business, he owns a booming residential and commercial operation in the Lynchburg, VA area and takes pride in the workmanship of his crews as they work to deliver a quality product to his builder customers. He also believes that builders themselves should take an active role in ensuring proper installations.
The Builder’s Role in Getting Grade 1
Builders care about quality and take pride in the workmanship that goes into the homes they build. This focus on workmanship and quality needs to extend even to unseen areas like insulation installation. And if quality is a priority, you have to acknowledge that fast, good and cheap rarely exist in the same system or service which means that builders must realize that Grade 1 installation may:
- Take a bit longer than a sub-par job, but for a good installer crew, just a little bit.
- Not be cheaper than a sub-par contractor’s job initially, but will be in the long run if you consider the potential for an inspector failing an install, or a HERS Rater giving a Grade 3 and forcing you to bring another crew back out to fix the work. Quality installation is supported by a total cost mentality vs. a first cost mentality.
- Require clearly communicating the expectation to the contractor that the job will be Grade 1, and in turn expecting the contractor to make sure the crew that shows up for the job is ready to deliver that quality.
This is all part of a culture of superior workmanship. Anything less than Grade 1 is unsatisfactory, does not comply with manufacturer specifications and is ultimately a reflection on you as a builder. If it is tolerated with insulation, it sends the message to other trades that cutting corners is acceptable. And that’s a slippery slope to be on in a competitive housing market.
Learn more about getting grade one installation of batt insulation here.