With the Irish and Danish governments coming out in recent weeks with a clear commitment to reduce carbon emissions via stricter policies concerning motoring and home building, it might be time to look at some new green materials for home insulation.
The main aim of insulating your home is to reduce home heating bills and the amount of fuel you need to stay warm and comfortable all year round. So in a way, all insulation is an eco-friendly option, but there is a new wave of materials that not only prevent heat lose but are also produced from natural or recycled materials.
Fibreglass is probably the most common material used to insulate your walls and attic. Plus it’s the cheapest option too, but it’s far from the most environmentally friendly material. The creation of fibreglass insulation is a very energy-intensive process. Associated with a range of health problems such as skin, eye and breathing irritation, fibreglass insulation can contain up to 30% recycled glass, but this pales in comparison to some of the other options.
Why Insulation So Important & Basic Thermodynamics
To understand why insulation is essential, it’s important to have a basic understanding of thermodynamics. Sounds complicated I know, but it’s pretty simple really. Thermodynamics tells us that heat is transferred from areas of high temperature to low. And while the age-old saying that heat always rises is usually accurate, it’s the difference in temperatures that dictates the direction of heat movement.
Air density is another important factor. In winter, warm, low-density air inside the home moves outward into the dense, cold air. Whilst in the summer, the warm, low-density air from outside moves into the home from the top, while cooler, denser air leaves the home through floor level air vents.
The aim of insulating your home is to limit the movement of air and therefore limiting the loss of heat. Since air can move in all directions, insulation is needed on the ceiling, roof, walls and floor to control when and how air enters and leaves the building.
Insulation is one of the most critical factors contributing to the energy efficiency of a home. With a poorly insulated house, a homeowner will waste a huge amount of energy when heating and cooling this in turn uses more resources, costing more and adding to the carbon footprint.
How Is Insulation Measured?
The effectiveness of insulation is measured by its thermal resistance value or R-value, which is calculated between 1 and 60. This number represents the material’s resistance to heat transfer. The better the material is, the higher the R-value.
Why Opt For Environmentally Friendly Insulation?
Safe and Sustainable Materials
Formaldehyde-free materials make green insulation the best choice for eco-friendly homes. Unlike fibreglass, insulation materials such as wool and cotton are safe to handle and do not cause irritation to the skin or the respiratory system. And when you choose a green material to insulate your home, you are significantly reducing your carbon footprint.
Reduced Manufacturing Costs
Insulation materials such as wool, denim and cork require minimal energy during their production when compared to fibreglass insulation. The energy needed to produce fibreglass insulation is about 10 times more energy intensive than that of cellulose insulation.
As mentioned above, it could be claimed that any insulation material is ‘green’ due to the energy savings from your reduced heating bills, but true green alternatives use sustainable, recyclable materials.
Types Of Eco-Friendly Insulation
Fleece / Wool
You’ve heard of using wool on clothes and blankets to keep warm, but what about our walls and ceilings? The Mongolians have been using fleece to insulate their homes for millennia.
And whilst it might sound strange, sheep’s wool is an excellent insulator. Compressed wool fibres trap air in pockets between the fibres creating a barrier and stopping heat loss. The inner layer of this breathable material absorbs moisture and does not feel wet or affect its insulating capacity.
Aerogel / Nanogel / Kalwall
In 1931, Samuel Stephens Kistler invented Aerogel, a material consisting of more than 90% air. Its manufacturing process involves removing liquid from silica at high pressure and it’s an ultralight material that comes in familiar boards at a reasonable price. Nanogel and Kalwall are similar materials.
Cotton is one of nature’s gifts, growing in warmer climates all over the world. It’s a natural, renewable material that makes an excellent home insulator. And whilst it might sound a bit mad, the denim is rolled into batts and installed in a similar fashion to fibreglass. But unlike fibreglass, denim does not contain any dangerous formaldehyde. Denim also does not cause breathing problems, and it’s a natural insect repellent to boot. But the downside is that it is expensive, coming in at about twice the price of fibreglass.
Thermacork is a natural, renewable, recyclable and biodegradable oak bark product. Once installed, the finished product actually produces a negative carbon footprint. And as it doesn’t contain any chemicals, it’s not going to cause any allergies.
As strange as it sounds, this universally hated plastic is actually a green insulation material. Why? In this case, it is considered environmentally friendly because the r value is so high that it can save a lot of energy. And with an increasing amount of polystyrene being recycled, these boards of insulation are available for a reasonable price online.
Not all insulation is created equal and with an increasing number of energy retrofit companies embracing eco-friendly materials, you now have a wider choice of options, and it’s up to you to balance what’s best for you and what’s best for our environment.
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Disclosure: This is a collaborative post with Greener