There is no getting around the fact that insulation is far from "chemical free", but it is an essential ingredient to help keeping our homes nice and cool in the summer and toasty warm in the winter. Fiberglass batt insulation is itchy, causes rashes and respiratory problems, and is a known carcinogen when inhaled with attic dust. Newly installed loose fill fiberglass insulation is slightly better for respiratory effects, is not as itchy and relatively inert. In both types of fiberglass insulation you will find rodents, critter infestation and its feces if they are present in your attic. Cellulose insulation tends to be a rodent repellent due to the added boron. Although cellulose insulation gets labeled as the greenest type of insulation because it's primary component is recycled newspaper, there are still a good amount of chemicals directly mixed in such as boron and boric acid and indirectly such as old ink, dyes, solvents, formaldehyde, chlorine, fluorine, lead, iron compounds, sulfur compounds, cadmium, nitric oxide and methane. These trace chemicals are estimated to account for 20% of the composition of cellulose insulation.
Who is the greenest insulation manufacturer?
Being a home performance contractor, we offer our clients all types of insulation products and manufacturers, depending on preferences and the conditions of your home. Our approach is to educate first, and then let our customers decide. That is why we don't just stick to one manufacturer or product like cellulose, spray foam or fiberglass.
There are several ways to look at the green attributes of insulation. One angle is that you are going to save energy on your utility bills and reduce your carbon footprint. Insulation saves 12 times the amount of energy the first year it is installed than it takes to manufacture it, so energy conservation is definitely more green than sustainable energy production. This is highly dependent on your home and how the insulation product is installed, not just how much you have. Another angle is to look at the material that is diverted from landfills as is the case with cellulose, denim or even recycled fiberglass batt insulation. The final way a product can be green is what is in it, how many chemicals and how many things have gotten put in that are bad for your health, like formaldehyde.
We have outlined the differences between the various types of insulation above, now let's explore the differences between the manufacturers.
makes a formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation product in loose fill and rolled batt form which also incorporates 25% post consumer recycled material in the insulation.
manufacturers an EcoTouch PINK insulation contains 58% post consumer recycled content and is also formaldehyde-free.
manufacturers an Eco Batt that is considerably less itchy than the regular pink and white fiberglass batts we are all used too. The Eco Batt does not contain formaldehyde, acrylics dyes or phenols that regular insulation products have and contains organic compounds rather than petroleum byproducts. The Eco Batt is a naturally brown color and I know from working with it personally that it is not an irritant or as itchy as the regular fiberglass batts.
What about recycled denim insulation?
Bonded Logic's UltraTouch Natural Fiber Insulation is made from 85% post-industrial cotton fiber. So your old jeans can now be found inside your walls and attics rather than the nearest Goodwill store. The recycled denim is treated with a fire retardant but it is formaldehyde free! The material only comes in rolled batts and not loose fill so it is easiest to install in walls
Since very few insulation materials are truly chemical free, it brings us to an important question, which is:
How do I come into contact with the insulation if I can't see it and it's in the attic?
One idea is that it is in the air we breath. How do insulation particles get into our homes air? They get into our home by two ways.
1) from air leakage and connections from the house to the attic.
2) from the ductwork
Air leakage occurs when there is a small hole in the the ceiling or wall from electrical and plumbing penetrations, recessed canned lights, around registers, exhaust fans, windows, and door frames. These holes can be enlarged greatly by the heating and cooling system pressures in the house. By air sealing up all the little holes and gaps in the attic and to the outside, you will help block the transfer of insulation particles.
The ductwork is most likely the main culprit of attic insulation particles getting into the house and the increase in home allergens. Any holes in the duct leakage return side (where your filter is) is directly sucking attic air into the heating and cooling system. This insulation-contaminated air does not get filtered because it occurs behind the filter then gets distributed to all the supply registers and into your home.
To recap, homeowners can easily reduce the allergens and dust and significantly improve the air quality of their home by doing the following steps.
1. Sealing the duct leakage
2. Making sure your existing insulation is properly installed
3. Air sealing the attic and outside holes off from the house
4. Balancing the airflow and room pressures
We have seen positive results by doing these four measures time and time again with our clients and you can have the same results by improving the air quality of your home for years to come if you follow the same steps and choose the right type of insulation for your needs.
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