Launch Slideshow

Filling the Void

Depending on market niche, the variety of insulation products available lets a builder distinguish his house as a comfortable, energy-efficient, and environmentally safe place to call home.

Filling the Void

Depending on market niche, the variety of insulation products available lets a builder distinguish his house as a comfortable, energy-efficient, and environmentally safe place to call home.

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    Owens Corning. The manufacturer says its entire line of fiberglass insulation products has been certified by Scientific Certification Systems to contain an average of 35% recycled content, 5% of which comes from post-consumer sources. ProPink fiberglass insulation carries Greenguard certification, including its highest level with Greenguard Children & Schools product emission standards. 800.438.7465. www.owenscorning.com.
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    Demilec. Sealection Agribalance open-cell, semi-rigid, polyurethane spray-foam insulation contains more than 10% renewable, agriculture-based products, says the firm. The material expands to fill the cavity, sealing cracks, gaps, and voids. It provides an R-value of 4.45 per inch. 877.336.4532. www.demilecusa.com.
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    CertainTeed. Designed for attic areas, InsulSafe SP blown-in fiberglass insulation is manufactured with no formaldehyde and is Greenguard certified. The product offers up to 20% better coverage versus competitors, the company says, with one bag covering up to 67 square feet. InsulSafe SP installed in the attic at 113/4 inches is R-30 and 141/2 inches is R-38. 800.233.8990. www.certainteed.com.
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    Advanced Fiber Technology. AFT cellulose insulation is made from 85% post-consumer recycled newspaper and cardboard. The pulp is ground into a fine, fluffy powder, then treated with primarily boric acid and borax to render it fire resistant. The higher density of this cellulose insulation makes for a tight seal, second only to foam products in blocking air infiltration and sound deadening, says the company. The blown-in insulation provides an R-value of 3.8 per inch. 419.562.1337. www.advancedfiber.com.
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    Thermafiber. Thermafiber mineral wool insulation is made with up to 90% post-industrial recycled content. It exceeds the California purchase specifications for total volatile organic compounds and general emissions with formaldehyde concentrations of 12 ppb, exceeding the California standard of 20 ppb maximum for formaldehyde concentration. Thermafiber can provide high sound-transmission coefficients that improve indoor environmental quality. The product also offers fire resistance of more than 2,000 degrees F for more than five hours, the maker says. 888.834.2371. www.thermafiber.com.  
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    Air Krete. The company’s magnesium silicate, cement-based insulation is foamed or pumped into closed cavities. This insulation is purportedly hypoallergenic and popular with chemically sensitive people, the company claims. Since it is not temperature sensitive, it can be installed indoors under any weather conditions and tolerates contact with high-heat sources, such as exhaust pipes, without concerns for combustion. The product is fully recyclable and can be used for soil enrichment. Air Krete has an R-value of about 3.9 per inch. 315.834.6609. www.airkrete.com.
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    Icynene. Icynene water-blown foam insulation expands to 100 times its volume to fill cracks and crevices and minimize air leakage. It carries an R-value of 3.6 per inch. The product also is available in a pour-fill variation that expands upward to 60 times its original volume; it will not expand outward and damage the wall. The pour-fill version has an R-value of 4 per inch. 800.758.7325. www.icynene.com.
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    Johns Manville. Formaldehyde-free MR faced fiberglass batts use a water-based acrylic binder that meets California’s Section 01350 standards. The facing serves as an integral vapor retarder, chemically protected against potential fungi growth. The company claims to obtain its sand from sources close to the manufacturing plant to reduce transportation impacts, and 20% of its recycled content is post-consumer. 800.654.3103. www.jm.com.
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    Second Nature. Sheep’s wool is an insulation product commonly used in Europe and available in the United States through the Internet. A natural insulator, wool has a slightly higher R-value per inch than fiberglass and does not lose its insulating property when wet. It has inherent properties that resist both flame and many insects, but remains susceptible to moths, so it is treated with boron. Thermafleece comes in 2-inch-thick batts cut to friction fit within 16- and 24-inch stud spacing. They carry an R value of 3.8 per inch and can be layered to achieve the desired total R value. www.secondnatureuk.com.
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    BioBased Insulation. Unlike some traditional spray-foam insulation products that are petroleum-based and use HCFCs as blowing agents, BioBased 1701 is a soy-based, 100% water-blown, closed-cell polyurethane insulation. It has earned the Greenguard air quality certification. BioBased 1701 has an R-value of 19 at 3 1/2 inches. 800.803.5189. www.biobased.net.
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    Bonded Logic. Ultra Touch cotton friction-fit batt insulation can be used for 16- and 24-inch spacing. The product is made with 85% post-industrial recycled content. The line includes an R-30 batt that fits into 2x6 walls or joist cavities. Cotton insulation offers acoustic properties 36% higher than fiberglass, says the company, only slightly less than mineral wool. 480.812.9114. www.bondedlogic.com.

Insulation represents an inherently green building material because it is designed to save energy. Still, while any insulation is better than none, the many choices present a broad range of benefits, with certain products inherently more ecological than others.

Here is a sampling of the major types of insulation, their properties, and their sustainability beyond simply saving energy.

Fiberglass

Ubiquitous and economical, fiberglass represents the largest share of the market, comprising more than 50% of the insulation installed in the U.S. in 2007, according to the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA). It’s available in loose form for blown-in installation and in blankets, rolls, and batts for compression installation. Depending on density, both blown and stuffed fiberglass products provide R-13 to R-15 in a 2x4 wall cavity. Medium-density fiberglass designed for 2x6 constructions now provides R-21. In a 9?1/2-inch (2x10) cavity, high-density fiberglass can deliver a whopping R-38.

All fiberglass insulation manufacturers use 25% to 40% recycled glass in their products, according to Paul Bertram, director of environment and sustainability for NAIMA. The balance is sand, an abundant natural resource, with chemical binders added to create loft and a cohesive mat in the case of batt-style insulation.

One ecological issue with fiberglass is that glass and sand have to bake at extremely high temperatures to produce fibers. On the flip side, a typical pound of fiberglass insulation “saves 12 times as much energy in its first year in place as the energy used to produce it,” says Bertram.

Most of the health concerns and allegations made about fiberglass insulation have been retracted or disproved. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reported in 2000 that epidemiological studies of glass-fiber manufacturing workers indicate “glass fibers do not appear to increase the risk of respiratory system cancer.” NAS now supports the exposure limit of 1.0 f/cc that has been the industry recommendation since the early 1990s. And as of 2001, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), on which the California standards for Proposition 65 are based, no longer classifies fiberglass as a human carcinogen.