Cellulose is a widely accepted insulation material among homeowners. It is made from recycled material such as newspaper. Cellulose is treated with fire-retardants as well as insect protection using Borates, which are derived from Boron. One problem with cellulose insulation is outgassing. Outgassing occurs when the newspaper containing printer's ink leaks formaldehyde into a home. Cellulose is available in non-ink paper form for this very reason. Cellulose can also be installed as a wet spray, which effectively covers the entire wall area. One long-term concern of this option is fire retardant protection loss. Another concern for wet spray cellulose is that it can take quite a while for the insulation to dry thoroughly.
This form of insulation can come in two forms: slag wool and rock wool. Slag wool is a waste product from iron ore blast furnace slag while rock wool is produced from natural rocks such as basalt and diabase. Rock wool accounts for only about 20% of mineral wool insulation while slag accounts for the other 80%. It is available in blown-in form, loose blown-in, and in batt form. This type of insulation will not burn and is chemically inert. The fibers in mineral wool are susceptible to becoming airborne and inhaled.
Fiberglass is produced using a phenol formaldehyde binder glue to hold the fibers together. This binder mostly dissipates during manufacturing but some of it stays and can be released into the building where the insulation is installed. Some new fiberglass insulations have been made with acrylic binder or no binder at all. Fiberglass is made from at least 20% recycled glass cullets. There are some newer forms being produced by fusing and spinning to create a steel wool form which is less harmful due to less tendency to become airborne as well as reduced amount of binding glue.
Rigid Foam Insulation Board
This insulation is produced using chlorine-based chemicals that destroy the ozone layer. The recycled content used can range from 0-50%. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were used as blowing agents until recently when hydrochloro-fluorocarbons (HCFCs) have been used. HCFCs are much less damaging on the ozone but are still not totally environmentally friendly. Due to the depletion of the ozone layer, it is recommended that both types of blowing agents not be used anymore. There are alternatives that do not use CFCs or HCFCs. Expanded polystyrene (EPS), polyicynene and foam polyurethane foam insulations all do not use CFCs or HCFCs.
Cementitious foam insulation comes from magnesium oxide derived from seawater. It is blown into place using only air. No CFCs or HCFCs are used in the process. This insulation is non-combustible, totally inert and has a very low emissions rate. This insulation is the most benign with regards to indoor air quality but is also more costly.
Made from a naturally occurring volcanic mineral, perlite is used as loose fill insulation in concrete block cavities. It can be bound into other materials and then used in a sheet form. It is non-flammable and chemically inert.
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