Eco-Friendly Insulation: Good for You and for the Planet
One of the best ways you can lower your energy bills while conserving power is by making sure your home is adequately insulated. The fact is, most homes 10 years or older could benefit from added insulation. Unfortunately, most insulating products on the market contain formaldehyde or other Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). This makes the use of eco-friendly insulation a wise choice for both new and existing buildings.
Why are VOCs so harmful? Basically, it has to do with their low boiling point. For example, formaldehyde boils at -2 °F (-19 °C). This causes VOCs to vaporize at room temperatures and enter the air we breathe, at a slow but constant rate. Over extended periods of time, breathing VOCs can cause health issues ranging from irritated sinuses to increased cancer risks.
EPA studies have found that indoor air often contains anywhere from two to five times as much VOCs as outdoor air. In some settings, such as industrial sites, the concentrations can be as much as 1000 times greater than outside. Additionally, VOCs contribute to global warming by releasing greenhouse gases. Human activities cause over 143 teragrams of carbon to leech into the atmosphere each year, from substances like conventional insulation.
The good news is that there are eco-friendly insulation alternatives available. Here’s a look at five of them:
- Recycled denim – Americans throw away millions of pairs of old jeans every year. This is unfortunate, since they could easily be converted into an excellent form of insulation. Companies that do this clean, strip, and treat the material with boric acid to discourage mold and insects. The resulting product is bound into rolls of insulating material that can easily be installed between floor, wall, and ceiling joists. It takes less energy to create than traditional forms of insulation and emits no VOCs. Also, it can be found in home improvements stores in every region of the country.
- Sheep wool – It has been keeping the animals that make it warm for thousands of years and has been doing the same for humans for centuries. While it has traditionally been used for clothing items such as scarves and coats, it is now available for both home and business use as an outstanding insulation material. It is free of the irritants that come in conventional insulation, extinguishes itself in case of fire, maintains its heat-retaining properties even when wet, and is completely renewable.
- Straw bales – Imagine having an eco-friendly insulation that costs nothing to make and is amazingly energy efficient. Well, it exists and chances are you’ve seen it, if you’ve ever visited rural areas during harvest season. It’s straw, and when combined with plaster interior walls, it’s both safe and extremely effective at forming a heat barrier in walls.
In recent years it has enjoyed popularity among fans of alternative house building methods, but look for it to become more mainstream going forward.
- Cellulose (recycled paper) – We’re about two decades into the “paper-free” era predicted by futurists, and there is still plenty of printed reading material everywhere you look. Recycling it has long been a practice of environmentally concerned persons and companies. However, now it’s being used to keep us warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Waste paper is shredded, mixed with boric acid, and sprayed into walls, floors, and ceilings. It costs only a tenth of the cost of traditional insulators to produce, doesn’t corrode pipes or other fixtures, and is 100% recyclable.
- Soy-based foams – Spray foams are an outstanding choice for insulation, but most of them contain dangerous chemicals. Fortunately, there is now an eco-friendly alternative. Based on soy products, it expands to 100 times its compressed size and can fill both huge spaces and tiny cracks. It’s inexpensive to produce and contains no harmful compounds.
As you know, LEED certification is the accepted standard for environmentally friendly construction. If you’re planning a building project and want to ensure that it meets the standards of the U.S. Green Building Council, then let us know. We’ll be happy to use our expertise to help and support you during every step of the process, ensuring that the finished result stands out as an excellent example of eco-friendly development.