The good, the bad and the truly ugly truthiness of insulation.
Glass Fiber Insulation
Glass fiber insulation is made or glass, new or recycled, and held together with binders. Â It is cheap and non-combustable. Â But itâ€™s far from perfect. It has a relatively low R-factor and there are considerable concerns about the productâ€™s impact on our health and the environment. Â Thereâ€™s a yuk factor. Â Ask anyone who has gotten into the guts of an old trailer and theyâ€™ll gross you out with tales of what they uncovered in the insulation: ratâ€™s nets, bug bodies, etc. Got leaks? Â When rain and snow seeps into fiberglass, insulation turns into a soggy, moldy mess. Â There are the considerable health concerns:
If you have ever worked with it you know how it makes your skin itch; imagine it in your lungs. Some have claimed that it is the next asbestos and is cancer-causing; one website calls it â€œThe Asbestos of the 21st Century. Packages of insulation carry cancer warning labels, based on a 1998 study. However the American Lung Association lists the studies and the most recent ones conclude that â€œIt is currently considered not classifiable as a human carcinogen. Studies done in the past 15 years since the previous report was released, do not provide enough evidence to link this material to any cancer risk.â€ Â – Planet Green
What are the alternatives? Â Here are some types of insulation that are more or less â€œfriendlyâ€ to the environment.
Hemp insulation is made from hemp fibre with polyester added for strength. Â Soda is added as aÂ fire retardant. Â Hemp is naturally resistant to moths and beetles. Hempflax (it comes in bats) isÂ manufactured by a Dutch company that claims their product is low in dust which helps contribute to cleaner indoor air. Â They say their product can be recycled after use. Â The hemp comes from Germany and the Netherlands. Â Imported. Â See the company web site for a PDF brochure â€“ and a mind-expanding history of industrial hemp (what is it about the Dutch and weeds?)
Denim insulation is mostly made of the leftover bits from blue jeans and treated with a â€œnaturalâ€ fire retardant. Â Bonded Logic is the company that makesÂ UltraTouchÂ Natural Fiber Insulation from 85% post-industrial cotton fiber. It is 100% recyclable, VOC- and formaldehyde-free. And it wonâ€™t itch like fiberglass insulation. Â (Seems like thereâ€™s a lot of dust that comes out when you shake it. )
Excel Building Solutionâ€™s WarmcelÂ Â made from 100% waste recycled newsprint.Â Thermal conductivityÂ ofÂ Â 0.036 W/mK. Said to be an alternative to blown fiberglass or bat insulation. layered into walls being built, or blown into atticspaces and already sheetrocked.Â Warmcel insulation by Excel
Water-blown policynene that creates an foam blanket of millions of tiny air bubbles. It does not shrink and adheres to the surrounding structure, so there is no settling and no air gaps. It has noÂ VOCâ€™s no formaldehyde, Recognized for LEED credits and is becoming very popular as a clean, green, long lasting insulation. When holding a piece, it seems the most benign and friendly insulation ever, it is like filling your walls with sponge cake.Â ::Icynene
Procell is a mix of 100% recycled newspapers, adhesives andÂ fire retardantsÂ that fills voids and dries quickly, and appears similar to Domâ€™sÂ Warmcell from the UK. Â Pro-Cell is â€œspecially treated to repel vermin and insects, and to prevent the growth of harmful mould, mildew and wood-rotting fungiâ€ â€œ::Thermocell
This is aÂ polyurethane foam system made out ofÂ recycled plastic (a barrel of Heatlok-soya contains 1000Â plastic bottles) and soya oil.Â Â zeroozone depletionÂ and is even coloured green. The manufacturer, Demilec, â€œis the first Canadian manufacturer ofÂ Spray Polyurethane Foamto meet the requirements of theÂ Montreal Protocol. DEMILEC usesÂ recycled plastics, renewable natural oils, and water, all while maintaining the high quality and performance of its foam systems.Â ::Heatlok Soya
Aspen Aerogels has started selling aerogel blankets for use as insulation in buildings.
â€œAspen Aeorgels says that its Spaceloft blankets have two to four times the insulating value per inch compared to fiberglass or foam. Itâ€™s also relatively easy to work with, allows water vapor to pass through, and is fire resistantâ€“a common demonstration of aerogels is to have a person fire a Bunsen burner below the aerogel while putting a hand on the top side.â€ (source)
The fact that itâ€™s just 2 to 4 times better than fiberglass or foam makes me think that they paid a pretty big performance price to bring costs down, since pure aerogel would provider higher thermal insulation, but itâ€™s still a pretty big step in the right direction. Weâ€™re not talking about a few percent improvement. Over time, in a big building, this could representÂ a lot of heat that would otherwise leak out (or heat that would leak in when the air conditioning is on).
I wouldnâ€™t be surprised if in a few years (or decades at most) very high-quality aerogel was used almost everywhere for insulation. Unless we make something even better, that is.
Other types of insulation such as straw bale arenâ€™t appropriate for trailers.
â€œGreen Insulation: More Choicesâ€
â€œWhy the choice of insulation mattersâ€
â€ Space age insulation: itâ€™s already hereâ€
This post is part of a series documenting Sam Breen’a Spartan Restoration Project. Please see his first post here and check out the archive here. The CSPA is helping Sam by serving in an advisory role, offering modest support and featuring Sam’s Progress by syndicating his feed from http://spartantrailerrestoration.wordpress.com as part of our CSPA Supports Program.