Fiberglass is one of the most common choices for insulation because of its affordability and fire resistance. It’s also fairly easy to install.
Yet with all of its attractions, it’s also known to cause respiratory complications and skin irritation. It’s also not particularly kind to the environment because it can’t be recycled and takes more energy to produce than its eco-friendly counterparts.
If you’re looking to break away from the itchy, pink fiberglass fluff, we have a list of non-fiberglass insulation options for your home that are energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. But first, let’s learn why you need insulation in the first place.
What Is Insulation?
Insulation is a material used in buildings to regulate indoor temperatures. It’s used as a barrier to prevent heating and cooling flow from escaping your house, which subsequently lowers your energy costs.
The effectiveness of insulation is measured by its thermal-resistance value, or R-Value. R-Values are ranked from one – 60 based on the insulation’s thickness and density as well as where and how it’s installed. The higher the R-Value, the better the insulation is for your home.
How Does Insulation Work?
Heat flows from warmer to cooler, so when it flows through your home, it moves from heated to unheated areas, like from a living room or a bedroom to an attic, a garage, a basement or even outside. Heat can even travel through ceilings, walls and floors, which is where your insulation comes in.
The insulation acts as a barrier by preventing the heat from moving through your ceilings, walls and floors to the outdoors. By stopping hot or cool air from leaving your home, it ensures that your heating and cooling system won’t have to work as hard, saving you money on energy bills.
Where Do I Need to Include Insulation?
Insulation is needed throughout your home, but especially in your ceilings, walls and floors. Energy.gov recommends insulating your house from the roof down, focusing on:
- Unfinished attic spaces
- All exterior walls
- Floors above cold spaces
- Band joists
- Replacement or storm windows
- Crawl spaces
If your energy bills are abnormally high in the winter, or you notice a drop in temperature in certain rooms in your home, you may need to add insulation to the ceilings, walls and floors of the affected areas.
Types of Alternative Insulation
Fiberglass is the most common type of home insulation. Made from tiny, thin strands of glass woven together and sprayed with formaldehyde (yes, the same chemical used to embalm corpses), it’s most attractive to homeowners for its affordability.
However, it’s not the best insulator for your home. It has a fairly low R-Value, so it’s not the most energy-friendly, and as we mentioned earlier, it’s not kind to the environment either.
For those who want to move away from the itchy, pink fiberglass insulation, there are alternative options that are more energy-efficient and better for the environment – but they’re more expensive. Let’s break them down:
The most common form of home insulation is the “batt and roll” or “blanket” type, which is the least expensive to purchase and install. Its most common material is fiberglass, but if you’re looking for an alternative, check out these natural fiber options:
- Mineral wool
- Cotton (recycled denim)
- Sheep’s wool
Mineral wool insulation is made from 75% recycled material and is naturally fire-resistant. Cotton and sheep’s wool are used in wall and ceiling insulation. They both have a high R-Value and can double as an acoustic insulator.
Denim insulation is made from recycled, sustainable materials and requires less energy to produce, making it eco-friendly. While it doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals, it can be treated to repel insects.
Sheep’s wool purifies the air by drawing harmful substances into its fibers, rendering it a pretty safe material. The wool also regulates humidity by absorbing moisture without getting damp. Since it’s a natural product without chemicals or other toxic ingredients, it won’t itch and can be recycled.
Non-Fiberglass Spray Insulation
Spray insulation is pretty self-explanatory. Instead of being rolled into blankets, the materials “spray” onto areas of your home that need to be insulated. They’re more effective for sealing cracks and filling drafts in your attic surfaces and wall voids. Here are a few non-fiberglass spray options:
Made from castor oil, Icynene is a spray foam insulation that expands as it’s sprayed onto a surface. It’s great for sealing leaks and drafts and also has noise-canceling properties. The upfront costs are expensive, but you save in energy fees.
Soy-based and cellulose spray insulation are more environmentally friendly than Icynene. The soy-based spray also comes in a form that expands once it’s sprayed into the frame, remedying cracks and drafts in your home. It’s mold-, moisture- and fire-resistant as well.
Cellulose spray is made from recycled paper products, primarily newsprint, and is the most environmentally friendly insulation option out there, with a recycled material content of 85%. Its small, fibrous materials can pack tightly into the tiniest of spaces.
Polystyrene may not seem like an environmentally sound option at first, since the material is made mostly of plastic, but because of its extremely high R-Value, it saves an enormous amount of energy in your home. It comes in a spray foam as well as a rigid foam board used to insulate your walls.
Other Types of Non-Fiberglass Insulations
These next two options are pretty unique insulators, meaning they’re also quite costly. But if you have the budget, they’re great alternatives with a high R-Value.
ThermaCork is made from the outer bark of oak trees and actually contains a negative carbon footprint because it is natural, renewable, recyclable and biodegradable. It also works as a noise canceler.
Aerogel is more costly, made from a material that’s 90% air by removing the liquid from silica under high pressure and temperature. It’s lightweight and can be used anywhere in the home.
What Is the Safest Insulation?
Compared to fiberglass insulation, any of the above options would be safer than insulating your home with tiny glass shards dipped in formaldehyde. However, the safest option of all is cellulose.
Like most of the alternatives, it’s nonflammable and nontoxic, has a high R-Value and is pretty easy to install – but its major attraction is the material itself. While some homeowners may be allergic to cotton, wool or even soy, you’re less likely to find an allergy to recycled newsprint, making it the most neutral option among insulation materials.
Cheap Insulation Alternatives
Unfortunately, if you’re looking to save money with your home’s insulation, fiberglass is by far the most cost-effective solution. But it’s important to consider how much money you’ll be paying in energy costs if your insulation isn’t up to snuff.
Additionally, you should think about how much your health is worth. Fiberglass and similar insulators use artificial, chemical-based materials that are harsh on your respiratory system and your skin, so even though you may pay more upfront for alternative insulation, it could keep your household safe from harmful chemicals.
When you’re ready to make an insulation change in your home, make sure you call a professional to come and set it up. Some of these options are fairly easy to install, but a professional will have the proper equipment for a safe and effective procedure. On average, homeowners spend $1,401 for a professional to install insulation.
Have you used an alternative, environmentally friendly insulator in your home? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!
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