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Chill down your spine? New insulation can help


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*In the fall, a homeowner's thoughts often turn to insulation -- how much they can add before winter winds begin to whip around the corners. But, even though adding roll-type insulation is one of the most energy- and cost-efficient things you can do to a dwelling, the task has traditionally been faced with dread, because roll insulation products have been anything but user-friendly.

The rolls were heavy and unwieldy, and not even long sleeves and a face mask could keep the itchy, awful fibers off skin.

It's taken the roll-insulation industry a while to cater to the consumer market, but this spring Owens-Corning, the nation's largest manufacturer of batt insulation for home use, introduced a new type of glass fiber that is soft to the touch and "virtually itch-free," according to the company. Traditional glass fibers, Owens-Corning says, are straight; in the new product, called Miraflex, the fibers have a random twist. It's the first new form of glass fiber in 60 years, the company says.

The twist also means the fibers are highly compressible, so standard rolls (33.33 square feet) can be much smaller. Owens Corning says a do-it-yourself insulator should be able to transport enough rolls in a mini-van or station wagon for an average-sized insulation job. The smaller rolls also mean it's easier to work with the rolls in tight spaces.

The batts are also wrapped entirely in plastic film, which reduces potential itching and allows the insulation to slide easily into place. The new insulation comes in R values of 25 and 13, and this fall Owens-Corning plans to add R-19 and R-30 batts (the higher the R value, the more resistance to heat loss).

PinkPlus with Miraflex is designed for use in places where no vapor barrier is required. That means it could be installed in places that already have a vapor barrier, or where one isn't needed. It's also designed to lie flat, so it would not be suitable in walls.

One use would be in adding insulation to an already insulated attic, or in a crawl space, where the batts are added on top of existing insulation.

However, if a homeowner wanted to go to the trouble of installing a vapor barrier, it might be worthwhile to then use the PinkPlus with Miraflex in some installations. For instance, insulating the joist bays in a ceiling or under a floor, where you are working over your head, has always been extremely uncomfortable with traditional glass fiber batts. You could installthe PinkPlus with Miraflex in the bays with spring clips designed for the purpose, then use a sheet of plastic vapor barrier over the joists and install the floor on top of the vapor barrier. It would still be easier than using traditional batts.

PinkPlus with Miraflex is available nationwide. To find the dealer nearest you, call 1-800-GET PINK, or write H.P.A. Meeks, Owens-Corning, Fiberglas Tower, Toledo, Ohio 43659.

*"This Old House," the popular PBS show that has introduced viewers to the joys (and pains) of rehabbing, is going on-line. The site on the World Wide Web offers show news, a trivia quiz, a forum to discuss building issues with show hosts Steve Thomas and Norm Abrams, bulletin boards for viewer interaction and links to other construction information sites. "This Old House's" site is part of Time Warner's Pathfinder Web site. The address is http: //pathfinder.com/TOH/. Or you can go to the Pathfinder home page (http://pathfinder.com), click on "Favorite Places" and select "This Old House."

Mr. Johnson is a Baltimore construction manager. Ms. Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

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