Insulate the joists
Photo 1: Cut the strips to size
Cut rigid foam insulation into strips with a table saw or a circular saw. Cut the strips to fit between floor joists using a box cutter.Photo: Courtesy of The Family Handyman
Photo 2: Caulk around openings
Run a bead of acrylic caulk around each section of foam to form an airtight barrier. Fill gaps larger than 1/4 in. with expanding foam sealant.Photo: Courtesy of The Family Handyman
Use a box cutter to cut the insulation to length.Photo: Courtesy of The Family Handyman
Properly insulating and air-sealing rim joists takes patience, so most builders simply stuff in some fiberglass and walk away. If you have an unfinished basement, you can properly insulate the rim joists in two or three hours. (This will also block tiny passages where spiders and other insects enter your basement!)
Call your local building inspections department before you begin this project. The inspector may require you to cover the new insulation with drywall (as a fire block) or leave some areas uncovered to allow for termite inspections. You can insulate second-floor rim joists following the same steps shown here if you happen to tear out a ceiling during remodeling.
Rigid foam is the best insulation for rim joists. We chose 2-in.-thick (R-10) “extruded polystyrene.” Don’t use “expanded polystyrene,” which is a less effective air and moisture barrier. Cut the foam into 8-ft.-long strips 1/8 in. less than the height of the rim joist. A table saw is the fastest way to “rip” these strips, but you can also use a circular saw.
Then cut the strips to length to fit between the joists, again cutting them 1/8 in. short (Photo 1). A heavy-duty box cutter is the best knife for making short cuts and trimming foam; the long blade slices cleanly through the foam (a utility knife blade is too short). Use long sections of foam to cover the rim joists that are parallel to the floor joists (Photo 2). Don’t worry about cutting the foam for a tight fit around pipes, cables or other obstructions; you can seal large gaps with expanding foam sealant later.
It’s important to create an airtight seal around each section of foam using caulk or expanding foam (Photo 2). Otherwise, moist inside air could condense on the cold rim joist. The resulting dampness can lead to mold and rot. If you have a solid concrete foundation, also run a bead of caulk where the sill plate meets the concrete. If you have a concrete block foundation, also seal the openings on top with expanding foam. Stuff a wad of fiberglass insulation into each opening to support the foam as it hardens (see Figure A in the Horizontal Callout).
Figure A: Insulated Rim Joists
Airtight insulation reduces heat loss through the rim joist. Fiberglass insulation and expanding foam seal the open top of hollow concrete blocks.
Required Tools for this Project
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
- Caulk gun
- Circular saw
- Tape measure
Required Materials for this Project
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.
- Acrylic caulk
- Expanding foam