The Many Shades of Green Insulation – Better Builders' Best Green Materials For Insulating Your House

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Seattle general contractor advises homeowners on how to choose the right environmentally responsible insulation for their specific needs and sustainability concerns.

Seattle home builder, Better Builders, recognizes the growing number of choices when it comes to selecting environmentally friendly materials to use for wall cavity and attic insulation. The right selection should be based on efficiency, installation, maintenance and production costs.

General contractors use many different forms of insulation; each is installed with different methods. The various types of insulation range from rigid foam boards to pliable blanket rolls and batts. Some insulation is sprayed or blown into place as either foam pieces or as a spray liquid that hardens into solid foam.

Each insulation material has a specific R-value rating (materials resistance to heat flow), as well as its own pros and cons. They also have different factors that account for the products impact on sustainability. Some have higher recycled content, some have lower production costs and some just do a really efficient job never having to be replaced. Here are a few options for insulation materials:

  •     Fiberglass

A common material used for decades in insulation, the newer, safer version is not without it's drawbacks. With an R-value between 3.0 and 5.0 per inch (depending on how tightly it's packed), fiberglass insulation is found in batts, rigid boards and blown-in styles. It is made from up to 35% recycled materials and the silica that is its main ingredient is very abundant. Newer versions no longer use formaldehyde but can still be skin and eye irritants due to the silica.

  •     Rock Wool

Another old school material, modern forms of rock wool consist of limestone, recycled slag waste from steel blast furnaces and basalt. Denser than fiberglass, rock wool is less likely to go airborne and has greater sound dampening characteristics, but still can irritate eyes and skin. With R-values ranging from 3.10 to 4.5 per inch, rock wool insulation applied in any form is a fairly efficient and inexpensive choice.

  •     Spray Polyurethane Foam

Not the ideal green material, this spray foam has newer bio-based products that are based on up to 33% soy oil. Sprayed through small holes in the wall, it has high R-values of approximately 6.0 per inch and can greatly reduce moisture and mold. Unfortunately it is not recyclable and is still made from plenty of petrochemicals.

  •     Cotton

An increasingly popular and trendy choice made from renewable plant-based material. Much of cotton insulation is made from recycled products such as blue jeans and has a modest R-value of between 3.0 and 4.0 per inch. Safe to handle and easy to install, it's only drawbacks are the cost and the resources utilized in farming cotton. But as long as they keep making jeans there will always be a steady supply.

  •     Cellulose

Made from mostly recycled newspapers, cellulose insulation is a safe, environmentally friendly choice. It usually comes in pellet, blow-in form, but does not pose an airborne threat. With an R-value of around 4.0, its cost effectiveness is entirely based on how well it is installed. Cellulose insulation is a fairly green building material, except for the fire retardant boric treatment.

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Sue Donovan
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