Saturday, December 13, 2008

Green Building: 4 Types Of Healthy Insulation

Typical house insulation is made of fiber glass and is unfortunately treated with hazardous fire retardant chemicals that can outgas up to 7 years. The fiber glass material itself can irritate skin and damage your lungs if breathed in, plus the formaldehyde can cause allergic reactions such as skin rashes, nausea, burning, and coughing - (not to mention it gave laboratory rats cancer). There weren't too many other choices of effective insulation on the market for quite a while, but (finally) now you can keep your home properly insulated with materials that are not only healthier for you but also much more gentle on the planet!

Here's some options:

1. Thermo Hemp - I really love the idea of hemp insulation knowing hemp is naturally mold resistant, super strong, bug resistant, and a swatch of hemp fabric is the oldest piece of textile ever found by archaeologists! Here is some more info: "Provides effective vapour permeability giving you a naturally healthy indoor living atmosphere. Because Thermo-Hemp has naturally excellent diffusion properties, the automatic regulation of moisture can be achieved. This in turn provides the occupant with a naturally healthy indoor living atmosphere. As the fibres in Thermo-Hemp do not contain protein there is no requirement for the treatment of the insulation material for moths or beetles. Oppressive warmth entering the internal structure by summer sunshine is stored by Thermo-Hemp so that it can be given off again when external conditions become cooler. Only a sufficient amount of heat is allowed to pass through to the internal structure ensuring a comfortable internal living atmosphere."

2. Recycled Denim - A super low impact way to insulate any space that won't be getting too much moisture. Instead of using the usual fire prevention chemical they saturate the denim in borates. Here some info: "UltraTouch (denim insulation) is manufactured using post-industrial denim and cotton fibers that we source from denim manufacturing facilities. UltraTouch contains over 85% recycled denim and cotton fibers. UltraTouch does not itch, is easy to handle and requires no protective clothing to install. UltraTouch is manufactured to breathe or accept and release the moisture it receives in a timely manner. UltraTouch also acts as an excellent pest, mold, and mildew inhibitor."

3. Icynene - This is the foamy stuff that is blown into the walls or ceiling and expands into the space. It is a single cell foam, but Icynene is not like the stuff you get from Home Depot or Lowes , those contain harsh chemicals that can cause allergies for most people. Here is some info: "Icynene manufactures its products with three objectives in mind – to create Healthier, Quieter, More Energy Efficient® indoor environments. Icynene's products are suitable for steel- or wood- framed residential or commercial construction. No project is too small or too big, and no area or shape is too difficult to insulate. Every Icynene product is created so that trade professionals and homeowners can reap the benefits of a comfortable, energy efficient and healthier indoor environment."

4. Formaldyhde Free Fiber Glass - If you are on a budget and green building materials are just way out of your price range, yet you are in need of insulation that doesn't contain harmful chems, you can special order formaldehyde free insulation through your local building supply distributor. It barely costs but a few cents more per piece and won't be out gassing into your home for years. It still requires care when installing because the fiber glass is dangerous to breathe and touch.
I have used this type of insulation before in a home I renovated and found that it worked awesome. It comes in lots of levels of thickness, including higher then the standard R 14.

If I was building my very own eco hut right now, I think my first choice would be the hemp insulation. Have you used any of these low impact choices before?


Nick mongerer said...

I have a really original idea! I'm going to start a giant corporation and use hazardous materials that will likely poison people that use them in order to increase the profits that go into my pocket, despite the fact that it is destroying my customers and our planet. Oh wait! Thats nearly every major corporation... Oh well, I might not be original, but at least I'll be rich!

Just like a liberal to try to make hazerdous materials safer for people to use. Sounds almost like a communist agenda to me....

Don said...

The foam insulation you buy and Lowe's and Home Depot and Icynene were all polyurethanes and pretty much the same chemicals - but all safe once installed

The Oko Box said...

Hey Don -
When I spoke to a green building materials supplier I was told that the Icynene did not have the chemical additives that the other blown foam did, making it a healthier choice. Personally I would not go with any blown foam and wouldnt recommend it for those with chemical sensitivities. I would love to know if there is research on their out gassing?

linda said...

Denim insulation is not safe for all folks with MCS. I know one guy who was made severely ill from it. Either the dyes in the scraps or the borax/boron /whatever (sorry) they use as a pesticide in it, or both. Plus, it could be really dusty, if you imagine shop floors. I'm not sure they run the scraps through any kind of a cleaning process before using for insulation, the textile finishes could be problematic.

I wish for an adobe /rammed earth home. I have a nice one in my dreams...
: )

The Oko Box said...

Hey Linda-
Thanks for the note of caution, i know alot of organic mattress manufacturers also use the borax as a fire retardent like in the denim insulation... and it would not be my pic for someone with MCS either. I would go with hemp or chem free fiberglass-
or something else natural all together - like having a live mud and garden roof, and rammed mud, straw bale even!

VardoForTwo said...

Thanks for the post, Leslie. We are RIGHT THERE ... working through the choices of insulation to use in VARDOFORTWO. The hemp doesn't work for me ... I can't tolerate the smell even in Bonner's Unscented Castile Soaps. Leslie Lawrence from Bend, Or has a bunch of the hemp insulation that won't work for her either.

The blown in stuff doesn't appeal to me intuitively, so we've not gone that route.

The denim batting is in our roof, and yet we're not sure we're going to use in in the walls. It is dusty like Linda said; the positive you listed Leslie were the reasons we bought it in the first place. The borate and the fact that denim is grown and treated with pesticides never sat well with me. We went with it as a last resort...

The untreated fiber-glass might be something to explore???

The option that I would have preferred to use is wool. We tried to get it to us ... it is pricey and because it comes from an out of US source the shipping/duty costs and services were costly and 'unfriendly.'(diplomatic adverb!!)

I'm checking into the possibilities of using felted wool, like in Mongolia. It might be a real stretch. Anyone with experience with felt or felting batts of eco-wool?

The Oko Box said...

I really love the idea of wool insulation but i can imagine it would be extremely expensive. The smell of hemp doesnt bother me for some reason, although i used to find it a little too strong, now i enjoy it. :)
Back in the day people used blown "rock wool" for insulation, which i read was actually made from a type of rock - but this is extremely dusty to install and I am not certain what chems are put on it.
Since your space is pretty small possibly you could felt some wool yourself, which sounds like a crazy project i would want to do!

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Unknown said...

Check out Air Krete It is an excellent choice for healthy insulation and is very "green". It is used for: thermal, fire and sound insulation. Also it is mold and pest resistant. Al Gore and the National Audubon Society used it for their insulation.

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