In cold-weather climates, installing vapor barriers is an incredibly useful way to reduce the movement of moisture between a home’s outside and inside walls. From decreasing mold growth to saving energy, we’re going to break down the basics of vapor barriers and share thoughts on why installing a vapor barrier is the right choice to protect your home.
The Benefits of Vapor Barriers
Staying true to its name, a vapor barrier decreases the movement of water vapor from one place to another. Typically made of polyethylene, this thin plastic sheeting acts as a barrier between contrasting cold and warm temperatures, slowing moisture movement, preventing it from creeping into your home, and protecting your crawlspace from water.
Since vapor barriers work to simultaneously prevent moisture from entering a home and allow it to flow out, the type of material and installation process is incredibly important. If you don’t chose the proper material or placement for your home and climate, vapor barriers can cause the exact moisture problems they were made to prevent. (Think trapped water, mold, low air quality, and structural damage).
However, when correctly installed, vapor barriers can greatly reduce the risk of mold, protect a crawl space or basement from moisture, and act as insulation to lower energy bills. Typically, vapor barriers enclose and seal your lower levels to prevent moisture from reoccuring inside your home.
Key Considerations for Vapor Barriers
While every homeowner, real estate agent, or property manager enjoys having a tightly-sealed, energy-efficient home, it’s important to take these considerations into account before installing a vapor barrier. As installation is quite complex, it is best to consult a knowledgeable building professional with any questions.
Since water condenses on the warm side of a wall, installing vapor barriers on interior walls is the best option for preventing moisture from seeping into the framing. As a result, vapor barriers make the most sense for buildings that experience cooler temperatures, where air is typically warmer on the interior.
Material and Permeability
Water vapor barriers are available in three classes, categorized by unit of perms.
- Class 1 is <0.1 perms. Materials includes glass, sheet metal, polyethylene sheet, or rubber membrane.
- Class 2 is >0.1 perms but ≤1.0 perms. Materials include unfaced expanded or extruded polystyrene, 30-pound asphalt coated paper, plywood, or bitumen coated kraft paper.
- Class 3 is >1.0 perms but ≤10 perms. Materials include gypsum board, unfaced fiberglass insulation, cellulose insulation, board lumber, concrete block, brick, 15-pound asphalt coated paper, and house wrap.
Many building codes require these materials to be used under wall board to prevent moisture from reaching a building’s structure. For residential home, most vapor barriers have a Class 1 permeability.
Due to the extensive labor required to install a vapor barrier, it is often easier to put one in when undergoing extensive reconstruction or building a new home. Although, exceptions do exist for unfinished basements and crawl spaces.
Due to the open framing and lack of drywall, these spaces are perfect for vapor barriers. Cement basement walls or soil crawl space floors easily hold moisture, but putting a barrier between the floor and the rest of your home not only helps keep humidity out—it lowers the risk of pests, mold, and fluctuating temperatures. This is especially important in the winter, when dropping temperatures can cause pipes to freeze and burst. While it is easier to install a vapor barrier in unfinished areas of a home, our team at Water Extraction Experts will work with you no matter the construction phase.
How Vapor Barrier Installation Works
Before installing a vapor barrier in a residential or commercial building, it is important to seek the advice of a professional installation company. As mentioned earlier, hasty installations or incorrect placement can cause humidity to rise, framing to rot, mold formation, and rusty ductwork.
If you do call for a professional vapor barrier installer, our team will perform an inspection of your home, crawl space, or basement. We’ll look for signs of water damage, high moisture content, rotting wood, and improperly installed insulation. If you already have a vapor barrier installed, its condition, age, and water stains will be considered.
Example of Professional Vapor Barrier Installation
As vapor barrier experts, we know what it takes to correctly install a barrier and seal off a space. Every home is different and considerations come up regarding climate, past history of water damage, and current structure. To show an example of what vapor barriers look like, we’re sharing photos from one of our own crawl space vapor barrier installations below. This particular home needed to protect their crawl space from water and control moisture content.
Next Steps to Protect Your Home
If your area experiences cold winters, you may want to consider installing a vapor barrier in your crawlspace or basement, in addition to winterizing your home. Not only will it help prevent moisture build up, a vapor barrier will also help insulate your home, save money on heating bills, and greatly reduce your risk of developing mold. Schedule an assessment today, and we’ll help safely seal your home with a perfect installation.