But according to the Reflective Insulation Manufacturers Association and its member companies, that's changing.
"We have found that the reflective foil insulation within the HVAC market is rapidly increasing in market share," said Mike Tipan of TVM Building Products in Acton, Ontario. "With the duct-insulation market, many of the customers and inspectors are well educated and aware of the many benefits ... especially when it comes to (preventing) mold and mildew.
"We find it is no longer a question of ‘What is it?' It's now a question of ‘Where do I get it?' " Tipan said.
The "it," reflective insulation, is usually made with an aluminum foil exterior and a polyethylene-bubble or foam interior. It's designed to reflect away up to 97 percent of radiant energy while the interior protects what's underneath. Lightweight, it's typically seen on ductwork and pipes or in crawl spaces, attics, radiant-heating floor systems, return-air pans or as a duct liner.
According to Steve Ray of Markleville, Ind.-based Reflectix Inc., it's easy for workers to get used to reflective insulation after they start handling it.
"Once contactors try reflective insulation around or in ductwork, around pipes and water heaters, and even under floors in radiant-heating systems, they seem to be coming back for more and become very loyal customers," Ray said.
One reason, added Tipan, is the product does not cause skin irritation.
"Using foil in the fabrication process eliminates the ‘itchy' factor," he said. "Foil bubble or foam products will not release any fibrous extracts that can lead to an unpleasant experience. There is no need for head-to-toe protection suits."
Reflective insulation also fits into the growing "green" building movement, where structures are designed to save energy and limit their impact on the environment, said Gene Bassham of Fi-Foil Co. Inc. in Auburndale, Fla. Bassham said the insulation saves building owners on energy costs
"Building-material manufacturers need to be concerned about ‘going green' with the introduction of GreenGuard, Energy Star, SCS (Scientific Certification Systems) and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) programs," Bassham said. "Many reflective-foil manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon by providing ‘green-eligible' products."