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1st October 2018

Green Insulation Ideas for Your Home or Business

Insulation is an essential step in any construction project, but some of the most popular insulation methods on the market might not fit into the plan you have for an eco-friendly home or business. There are so many factors to take into account- price, availability, environmental impact, and of course, how well it insulates! If you’re worried about the environmental cost of certain methods or want to have more options to consider before you make a choice, check out the pros and cons of each insulator in this article.

The current industry leaders

The most popular forms of insulation right now are polyurethane foam and fiberglass. Polyurethane foam is a petroleum-based product that can be sprayed or injected into open cavities in buildings (for example, wall cavities and crawl spaces). There are foam options for new and existing buildings, making them a popular option for older buildings that weren’t properly insulated during construction. Fiberglass insulation comes in batts or rolls and is fitted between studs, joists, and beams during building. Because of its shape, it is best suited to long unobstructed spaces such as attics and wall cavities.

There are multiple options available for each of these products, some of which are more environmentally-friendly than others. Polyurethane foam is made from petroleum derivatives, but there are now alternatives such as sprayable cellulose. Fiberglass is made from plastic reinforced by tiny glass fibres. There has been a growing trend of using recycled glass in production, but it is still not standard practice and there are currently no 100% recycled fiberglass options on the market. Polyurethane foam and fiberglass can both create respiratory issues in their environment, particularly when being installed. Touching, breathing in or having any contact with either of these materials can create health problems and while this isn’t an issue if they’re installed by professionals, some people don’t want to risk having such harmful substances in their home.

The alternatives

If you’re working on a green build or want to improve your carbon footprint as you renovate, insulation is a great place to explore eco-friendly options that also mean you won’t be breathing in harmful chemicals or particles. Eco-friendly insulation is a rapidly expanding industry so there are a lot of great ideas, but not all of these state-of-the-art options, such as Aerogel, are available to the average consumer yet.  So, what are your options when it comes to green insulation?

Denim

If you’ve been throwing away your old jeans when you’re done with them, you’re missing out on a great insulation opportunity! Companies like UltraTouch use recycled denim jeans to create their insulation, so their products are actively reducing the amount of waste in the world.  Denim insulation takes worn denim clothing and reduces it to its natural cotton fibre state. This gives the insulation a similar texture and density to fiberglass, but without the aerobic hazards. Denim insulation has an average R-value of 3.5 per inch (the same level as fiberglass) and can be installed easily without any protective clothing or professional training. It’s resistant to fire and mould, and doesn’t produce any hazardous chemicals during or after installation. It’s also easy to remove, unlike spray foam insulators. 

Cellulose

Cellulose is a plant-based material and the cellulose used in insulation is usually made from recycled newspaper, though it can come from other paper-based products such as cardboard. Cellulose insulation is available in a wet or dry form- the wet form is a spray and the dry form is a loose material.  Cellulose insulation has the highest recycled content amount of any insulation type- on average, 80% of its content is recycled. The remaining 20% is made up of a fire retardant, which also combats mould. The average R-value of cellulose insulation is 3.5 per inch, similar to denim and fiberglass. Cellulose is generally cheaper to buy but more expensive to install than fiberglass and will not irritate the skin and lungs when handled. This can make it a great choice if you want to install the installation yourself.

Wool

Wool is a very sustainable resource and is cheaper to produce than many synthetic products- for example, it requires less than 15% of the energy used to produce fiberglass. The material’s natural thickness means it won’t settle over time and its air pockets allow moisture to be absorbed and released, meaning it will last a long time and protect nearby wood from moisture. Wool is a popular choice for DIY builds as it can be safely installed without any protective clothing or special breathing apparatus. It has an R value of 4 per inch and its thickness also makes it a great acoustic barrier for that extra bit of privacy. Wool has a higher fire resistance than many other insulators and doesn’t actually burn when on fire- instead, it singes away and extinguishes itself.

Living Walls

Green building uses a lot of out-of-the-box thinking, and a key example of this is installing living walls for their insulating purposes. Living walls and green roofs are iconic examples of green architecture, with their beautiful appearance and numerous local benefits making them popular choices for anyone who wants to reduce their building’s carbon footprint. Anyone who sees a living wall can admire its impact on local wildlife, but it’s harder to see its powerful insulation properties- nevertheless, they’re there! Living walls keep buildings cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, making them a great insulation addition that doesn’t require any invasive construction. Living walls reduce the amount of heat that escapes from the building while also keeping the amount of moisture stable, meaning your building stays warm and dry.

large living wall and green roof installed by ANS Global at University of Leicester

A key focus of green building is making something that will benefit generations to come, so it makes sense that you want every material you use to be safe, sustainable, and environmentally-friendly.  All of these products are non-toxic and can keep your home or office at the perfect temperature without any of the traditional health or environmental risks.

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