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Radiant Barrier Plywood vs Radiant Barrier Foils?

Radiant Barrier Plywood


Radiant Barrier Foils?

We prefer the OSB plywood vs the foils.

Sprays? Too messy and its our thought that the spraying would lead to over spray through out the house or attic leaving the home toxic for a couple hours? Just our thoughts for now on sprays.

The main reason we chose OSB Radiant Plywood over foil?

Since the lack of original ventilation in the attic, odds are? The existing plywood has splintered, leaving dips and voids in the roofs appearance.

To understand how a hot attic heats your house, you need to forget something youíve said your whole life: Heat rises. Wrong. Heat doesnít know up from down. Hot air rises because itís less dense than cold air, but otherwise, heat moves from hot places to cool places.

When the sun shines on a roof, the plywood or OSB (oriented strand board) sheathing warms up and radiates heat, which in turn warms anything solid, like rafters, joists, air handlers, and ducts. The warmer these things get, the warmer the ceilings get, and the harder the air conditioner has to work to cool the house. To combat this problem, many builders in hot climates have made radiant-barrier roof sheathing standard on their houses.

Basically plywood or OSB sheathing with a thin aluminum facing on one side, radiant-barrier sheathing installs like any other roof sheathing. You just have to keep the shiny side face down. You might wonder why the shiny side facing down wouldnít just reflect heat back into the attic. The short answer is that it does, which is a benefit in the winter, but radiant-barrier sheathing is actually not designed to keep attics cool by reflecting heat. It keeps them cool by not emitting heat in the first place.

All materials either reflect or absorb radiant heat, and those that absorb it well also radiate it well (think of a woodstove). But materials that reflect heat (like the aluminum coating on radiant-barrier sheathing) donít radiate, or emit, it as well. These latter materials are called low-emissivity, or low-e, materials. Youíve probably heard of low-e windows, and the principle behind radiant-barrier sheathing is the same. The percentage of radiant heat a material reflects is the inverse of what it can emit.

According to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), radiant-barrier sheathing emits 3% to 5% of the heat falling on it. For the sheathing to work, though, it needs an airspace of at least 3/4 in. below the sheathing. Anything in contact with it heats up through conduction. The rafters that the sheathing rests on reduce its effectiveness, but theyíre necessary for other reasons. Compared with conventional sheathing, radiant-barrier sheathing costs only about $5 more per 4x8 sheet, or roughly $500 for an average-size roof.

ORNL claims that radiant-barrier sheathing reduces ceiling summer-heat gains by 16% to 42%. In hot climates where keeping cool is the goal, this translates to an energy savings between 2% and 17% per year, according to ORNL. So assuming a median savings of 9% and air-conditioning costs of $200 per month for five months a year, the added cost of radiant-barrier sheathing would be repaid in about six years.  

Our Dallas Customers on our 2 story homes are reporting great savings. With out foils or radiant? Care to know more?

Hardie Soffit Vents

What is a radiant barrier? Source Dept of

Radiant barriers are materials that are installed in buildings to reduce summer heat gain and winter heat loss, and hence to reduce building heating and cooling energy usage. The potential benefit of attic radiant barriers is primarily in reducing air-conditioning cooling loads in warm or hot climates. Radiant barriers usually consist of a thin sheet or coating of a highly reflective material, usually aluminum, applied to one or both sides of a number of substrate materials. These substrates include kraft paper, plastic films, cardboard, plywood sheathing, and air infiltration barrier material. Some products are fiber reinforced to increase the durability and ease of handling.

Radiant barriers can be used in residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. However, this fact sheet was developed only for applications of radiant barriers in ventilated attics of residential buildings. For information on other applications, see the references at the end of the Fact Sheet.

How are radiant barriers installed in a residential attic?

Radiant barriers may be installed in attics in several configurations. The simplest is to lay the radiant barrier directly on top of existing attic insulation, with the reflective side up. This is often called the attic floor application. Another way to install a radiant barrier is to attach it near the roof. The roof application has several variations. One variation is to attach the radiant barrier to the bottom surfaces of the attic truss chords or rafter framing. Another is to drape the radiant barrier over the tops of the rafters before the roof deck is applied. Still another variation is to attach the radiant barrier directly to the underside of the roof deck.

How do radiant barriers work?

Radiant barriers work by reducing heat transfer by thermal radiation across the air space between the roof deck and the attic floor, where conventional insulation is usually placed. All materials give off, or emit, energy by thermal radiation as a result of their temperature. The amount of energy emitted depends on the surface temperature and a property called the "emissivity" (also called the "emittance"). The emissivity is a number between zero (0) and one (1). The higher the emissivity, the greater the emitted radiation.

A closely related material property is the "reflectivity" (also called the "reflectance"). This is a measure of how much radiant heat is reflected by a material. The reflectivity is also a number between 0 and 1 (sometimes, it is given as a percentage, and then it is between 0 and 100%). For a material that is opaque (that is, it does not allow radiation to pass directly through it), when the emissivity and reflectivity are added together, the sum is one (1). Hence, a material with a high reflectivity has a low emissivity, and vice versa. Radiant barrier materials must have high reflectivity (usually 0.9, or 90%, or more) and low emissivity (usually 0.1 or less), and must face an open air space to perform properly.

On a sunny summer day, solar energy is absorbed by the roof, heating the roof sheathing and causing the underside of the sheathing and the roof framing to radiate heat downward toward the attic floor. When a radiant barrier is placed on the attic floor, much of the heat radiated from the hot roof is reflected back toward the roof. This makes the top surface of the insulation cooler than it would have been without a radiant barrier and thus reduces the amount of heat that moves through the insulation into the rooms below the ceiling.

Under the same conditions, a roof mounted radiant barrier works by reducing the amount of radiation incident on the insulation. Since the amount of radiation striking the top of the insulation is less than it would have been without a radiant barrier, the insulation surface temperature is lower and the heat flow through the insulation is reduced.

Radiant barriers can also reduce indoor heat losses through the ceiling in the winter. Radiant barriers reduce the amount of energy radiated from the top surface of the insulation, but can also reduce beneficial heat gains due to solar heating of the roof. The net benefits of radiant barriers for reducing winter heat losses are still being studied.

How does a radiant barrier differ from conventional attic insulation?

Radiant barriers perform a function that is similar to that of conventional insulation, in that they reduce the amount of heat that is transferred from the attic into the house. They differ in the way they reduce the heat flow. A radiant barrier reduces the amount of heat radiated across an air space that is adjacent to the radiant barrier. The primary function of conventional insulation is to trap still air within the insulation, and hence reduce heat transfer by air movement (convection). The insulation fibers or particles also partially block radiation heat transfer through the space occupied by the insulation.

Conventional insulations are usually rated by their R-value. Since the performance of radiant barriers depends on many variables, simple R-value ratings have not been developed for them.

What are the characteristics of a radiant barrier?

All radiant barriers have at least one reflective (or low emissivity) surface, usually a sheet or coating of aluminum. Some radiant barriers have a reflective surface on both sides. Both types work about equally well, but if a one-sided radiant barrier is used, the reflective surface must face the open air space. For example, if a one-sided radiant barrier is laid on top of the insulation with the reflective side facing down and touching the insulation, the radiant barrier will lose most of its effectiveness in reducing heating and cooling loads.

Emissivity is the property that determines how well a radiant barrier will perform. This property is a number between 0 and 1, with lower numbers indicating better potential for performance. The emissivity of typical, clean, unperforated radiant barriers is about 0.03 to 0.05. Hence they will have a reflectivity of 95 to 97 percent. Some materials may have higher emissivities. It is not always possible to judge the emissivity just by visual appearance. Measured emissivity values should be part of the information provided by the manufacturer.

A radiant barrier used in the attic floor application must allow water vapor to pass through it. This is necessary because, during the winter, if there is no effective vapor retarder at the ceiling, water vapor from the living space may condense and even freeze on the underside of a radiant barrier lying on the attic floor. In extremely cold climates or during prolonged periods of cold weather, a layer of condensed water could build up. In more moderate climates, the condensed water could evaporate and pass through the radiant barrier into the attic space. While most uniform aluminum coatings do not allow water vapor to pass through them, many radiant barrier materials do allow passage of water vapor. Some allow water vapor passage through holes or perforations, while others have substrates that naturally allow water vapor passage without requiring holes. However, excessively large holes will increase the emissivity and cause a reduction in the radiant barrier performance. The ability to allow water vapor to pass through radiant barrier materials is not needed for the roof applications.

What should a radiant barrier installation cost?

Costs for an attic radiant barrier will depend on several factors, including the following:

  • Whether the radiant barrier is installed by the homeowner or by a contractor.
  • Whether the radiant barrier will be installed in a new home (low cost) or in an existing home (possibly higher cost if done by a contractor).
  • What extra "features" are desired; e.g., a radiant barrier with perforations and reinforcements may be more expensive than a "basic" radiant barrier.
  • Any necessary retrofit measures such as adding venting (soffit, ridge, etc.)
  • Whether the radiant barrier is installed on the attic floor or on the rafters.
Radiant barrier costs vary widely. As with most purchases, some comparison shopping can save you money. A survey of nine radiant barrier manufacturers and contractors representing 14 products, taken by the Reflective Insulation Manufacturers Association (RIMA) in 1989, shows the installed costs of radiant barriers to range as shown in Table 1.

In some cases, radiant barriers are included in a package of energy saving features sold to homeowners. When considering a "package deal", you may want to ask for an itemized list that includes material and installation costs for all measures included. Then shop around to see what each item would cost if purchased individually before you make a decision.

What should conventional insulation cost?

Heating and cooling bills can also be reduced by adding conventional attic insulation. So that you can have some basis for comparison shopping, typical installed costs for adding various levels of insulation are given in Table 2. These costs are typical for insulation installed by contractors. Actual insulation costs will vary from region to region of the country, will vary with the type of insulation selected (blown, or loose-fill, insulation is usually lower in price than "batt" insulation), and may vary from one local contractor to another. You can expect to deduct 20% to 50% for a do-it-yourself application.

You should always check with your local or state energy office or building code department for current insulation recommendations or see the DOE INSULATION FACT SHEET.

Potential for moisture condensation

Condensation of moisture can be a concern when a radiant barrier is installed on the attic floor directly on top of conventional insulation. During cold weather, water vapor from the interior of a house may move into the attic. In most cases, this water vapor will not cause any problem because attic ventilation will carry excess vapor away. During cold weather, a radiant barrier on top of the insulation could cause water vapor to condense on the barrier's underside.

Condensation of large amounts of water could lead to the following problems: 1) the existing insulation could become wet and lose some of its insulating value, 2) water spots could appear on the ceiling, and 3) under severe conditions, the ceiling framing could rot.

Some testing has been performed to determine the potential for moisture condensation with perforated radiant barriers laid on top of the insulation. A test was conducted during the winter near Knoxville, Tennessee, using houses that were operated at much higher-than-normal indoor relative humidities. Since this testing did not reveal any significant moisture condensation problems, it is expected that moisture condensation will not be a problem in climates warmer than that of Knoxville. Further testing of radiant barriers is needed to determine if moisture condensation is a problem in climates colder than that of Knoxville.

One precaution for preventing potential moisture problems is the use of perforated or naturally permeable radiant barriers. The higher the perm rating, the less potential for problems. Avoiding high indoor relative humidities, sealing cracks and air leaks in the ceiling, using a vapor retarder below the attic insulation, and providing for adequate attic ventilation are additional precautions.

Attic ventilation

Attic ventilation is an important consideration. With adequate ventilation, radiant barriers will perform better in summer and excess water vapor will be removed in winter. Unfortunately, specific recommendations for the best type and amount of attic ventilation for use with radiant barriers are not available. Model building codes have established guidelines for the amount of attic ventilation area per square foot of attic floor area to minimize the occurrence of condensation. These guidelines specify one square foot of net free ventilation area for each 150 square feet of attic floor area. This ratio may be reduced to 1 to 300 if a ceiling vapor retarder is present or if high (for example, ridge or gable vents) and low (soffit vents) attic ventilation is used. Since part of the vent area is blocked by meshes or louvers, the net free area of a vent is smaller than its overall dimensions.

Effect of radiant barriers on roof temperatures

Field tests have shown that radiant barriers can cause a small increase in roof temperatures. Roof mounted radiant barriers may increase shingle temperatures by 2 to 10oF, while radiant barriers on the attic floor may cause smaller increases of 2F or less. The effects of these increased temperatures on roof life, if any, are not known.

Fire ratings

The fire ratings of radiant barriers are important because flame and smoke characteristics of materials exposed to ambient air are critical.

To obtain these ratings, a material must have an ASTM E-84 Flame Spread Index of 25 or less and a Smoke Developed Index of 450 or less. Look for these ratings either printed on the product, or listed on material data sheets provided by the manufacturer.


Installation Procedures

Most residential roofs provide some type of attic or airspace that can accommodate an effective radiant barrier system. In new residential construction, it is fairly easy to install a radiant barrier system. The following images show five possible locations for the installation of an attic radiant barrier system.

Location 1 is a relatively new application, where the radiant barrier material is attached directly to the underside of the roof deck.

Location 2 may offer advantages to the builder during construction of a new house. Before the roof sheathing is applied, the radiant barrier is draped over the rafters or trusses in a way that allows the product to droop 1-1/2 to 3 inches between each rafter.

In Locations 3 and 4, the radiant barrier is attached to either the faces or bottoms of the rafters or top chords of the roof trusses. Locations 3 and 4 may be used with either new construction, or with retrofit of an existing house. With either Location 2, 3 or 4, the space between the roof sheathing and the radiant barrier provides a channel through which warm air can move freely, as shown in Figure 2.

In Location 5, the radiant barrier is laid out on the attic floor over the top of existing attic insulation. As discussed previously, this location is susceptible to the effects of dust accumulation. This location is not appropriate when a large part of the attic is used for storage, since the radiant barrier surface must be exposed to the attic space. Also, kitchen and bathroom vents and recessed lights should not be covered with the radiant barrier.

To obtain the best performance with radiant barriers installed in Locations 1 through 4, radiant barrier material should also be installed over the gable ends. For attics that are open to the space over garages or carports, the radiant barrier should extend eight feet or more into the garage or carport to achieve the same effect as installing a radiant barrier on the gable ends. It is not necessary to cover the gable ends with Location 5.

Radiant barriers that are reflective on one or both sides may be used with any of these locations. However, if the radiant barrier is reflective on only one side, the reflective side must face toward the main attic space for Locations 1 and 5. Since a surface facing downwards is less likely to have dust settle on it, it is also recommended that the reflective side face downwards toward the main attic space for Locations 2, 3, and 4.

Since proper attic venting is important to obtain the best performance of the radiant barrier, some modification in the attic vents may be required to achieve expected performance. Where no ridge or gable vents exist, it is recommended that one or the other be installed. Always check existing ridge vent systems to ensure that roofing paper is not blocking the vent opening, and check the soffit vents to ensure that they have not been covered with insulation.

When installing a radiant barrier, care should be taken not to compress existing insulation present in the attic. The effectiveness of the existing insulation is dependent upon its thickness, so if it is compressed, its R-value is decreased. For instance, an R-19 batt compressed to 3-1/2 inches (to top of 2X4 attic floor joists) would now be approximately an R-13 batt.

Safety considerations

  • The installer should wear proper clothing and equipment as recommended by the radiant barrier manufacturer. Handling conventional insulation may cause skin, eye, and respiratory system irritation. If in doubt about the effects of the insulation, protective clothing, gloves, eye protection, and breathing protection should be worn.
  • Be especially careful with electrical wiring, particularly around junction boxes and old wiring. Never staple through, near, or over electrical wiring. Repair any obvious frayed or defective wiring in advance of radiant barrier installation.
  • Work in the attic only when temperatures are reasonable.
  • Work with a partner. Not only does it make the job go faster, it also means that you'll have assistance should a problem occur.
  • If the attic is unfinished, watch where you walk. If you step in the wrong place, you could fall through the ceiling. Step and stand only on the attic joists or trusses or the center of a strong moveable working surface.
  • Watch your head. In most attics, roofing nails penetrate through the underside of the roof. A hard hat may be of some use.
  • Make sure that the attic space is well ventilated and lighted.
  • Do not cover any recessed lights or vents with radiant barrier material (attic floor application).


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