workman installing sheeps wool insulation

When it comes to Sustainable homes, a conversation can hardly be had without mentioning insulation. A well-insulated home ensures that your interior is kept warm in the winter and cool in the summer thus cutting down on energy costs and the associated wastage that comes along with them. Wastage, that left undiminished, can led to the increased carbon emissions that have been inextricably linked to climate change.

Insulation materials are used in our roofs, our floors, and our walls to such an extent that both Building Regulations for England & Wales as well Scottish Standards have clear guidelines and requirements for its use. Safe to say, insulation is a key solution in keeping our homes comfortable and our expenses low. However, what you may not know, is how equally important it is in the journey to a fully sustainable lifestyle.

 

Are Conventional Insulation Materials Eco-Friendly?

At this point, you may be asking yourself if the material you insulate with even matters. After all, as all insulation can help to keep energy usage down isn’t all insulation eco-friendly? Unfortunately, the answer is a bit of yes and a bit of no. It is true that every piece of insulation in your home helps to make it more energy efficient, but that doesn’t mean that all insulation is equal. Many common insulators can actually cause harm before they even make it into your roof, namely at the manufacturing stage.

Rockwool insulation for example presents a risk of producing harmful emissions during its production such as carbon monoxide, phenol, and formaldehyde. Whilst Extruded Polystyrene, used primarily for the construction of rigid insulation boards, is oil-derived making for an equally dangerous risk of pollution due to the manufacturing of oils and plastics.

The unfortunate truth, however, is that while these materials present clear risks, they can also be phenomenal insulators once installed. Able to last a long-time without the need to be replaced – a hard to ignore benefit for anyone looking to live sustainably. This contradiction is more than enough to cause the eco-conscious a few headaches, but there is reason yet to be hopeful.

This issue has not gone unnoticed by some of the industry’s leading brands, which has led to the introduction of innovative blowing agents, specially designed to cut down on any given insulations GWP (global warming potential). With boards such as Kingspan’s Greenguard already in circulation, and with more innovations on the horizon, it is well withing the bounds of reason to expect even these ‘environmentally risky’ boards to become more and more sustainable in the coming years.

Reasons to Choose Green Insulation

This is no reason to get complacent, however. Aside from the aforementioned energy efficiency. There are plenty of other benefits in getting a jump on more eco-friendly insulation:

Lowered Energy Costs

As opposed to the insulators we mentioned above, many eco-friendly options such as wool, denim and cork require comparatively minuscule amounts of energy to create, with the later not even requiring the feeling of any trees. Lowered energy costs naturally translate to fewer emissions, which in turn causes less harm to the planet.

Safe to Handle & Sustainable

Another common insulator that has been around for decades is fibreglass. A material known to contain elements of formaldehyde, a toxic substance that can cause irritation to your skin, nose, eyes, and throat. Whilst the extent of the damage fibreglass insulation can cause has been vastly exaggerated in some cases, it is also true that proper handling requires special fibreglass gloves. Most environmentally friendly insulation has no such requirement.

Materials such as wool or cotton are perfectly safe to handle without any risk of irritation and our completely natural. Being made with recycled material, they can also help to reduce your own carbon footprint. An investment here, and you may well be saving something that would otherwise have been sent to a landfill.

Sustainable Insulation Materials

As luck would have it, there are no shortages of natural and eco-friendly insulators out there. Many of which offer as good, if not better performances that their conventional competitors.

Sheep’s Wool

Most often the first port of call for those looking to make a green choice of insulation, Sheep’s wool is undeniably popular. Like Thermafleece, sheep’s wool is typically available in rolls which can be spread out between your joists. The plush material’s compressed fibres form air pockets to limit heat from moving through it, whilst also acting to absorb excess moisture.

Hemp

The hemp plant has been a staple of human engineering for centuries and today has been used in the creation of insulation blankets and boards. Hemp insulation is completely safe to handle and install, offers an excellent thermal and acoustic performance, and can be fully recycled at the end of its life. For additional durability, some producers also incorporate boron salts into hemp insulation. An element with limited impact on the environment, that also helps to protect the insulation from mould.

Cork

Created from the outer bark of oak trees, cork is completely renewable, recyclable and bio-degradable. Available in the form of boards or granules, they are equally suitable for floors and ceilings as well as small gaps and cavity walls. Waterproof and rot resistance, this insulator finds particular use in kitchens and bathrooms.

Wood Fibre

6-12 times denser that many of its synthetic alternatives, wood fibre is a phenomenal choice for those looking for acoustic insulation. Of course, this does mean that it is also heavier, but it is exactly this weight which makes it better at absorbing vibrations. Being made of wood it is also fully recyclable and offers surprising resistance in the event of a fire, with its outer layer carbonising to help prevent oxygen from reaching the rest of the board.

Aerogel

A relative newcomer to the world of commercial insulation Aerogel, unlike the rest listed here is actually a synthetic material. One of the lightest materials to have ever existed and currently one of the finest insulators available. Aerogel is primarily considered eco-friendly because of this exceptional performance as, in reality, it is typically made from silica. However, strides have been taken to create this very same material using recycled paper, resulting in ‘Cellulose Aerogel.’ Perhaps not as widely available as others on this list, it is certainly something to be on the lookout for in the future.

Going Sustainable

With such a range of eco-friendly options to choose from, there is plenty of opportunity for homeowners, new and old alike, to take great strides into the world of sustainable living. As always, remember to take care when picking your materials. Check your buildings requirements, whether your insulation is racking up emissions being imported or not and most of all consider what insulation is best for your personal needs. Find what works best for you and your home, and a sustainable lifestyle could very well be in your near future. Learn more about the benefits of natural insulation.