Going Green can be Gray
With any green or sustainable product, the price is more than a non-sustainable product, but the long-term payback makes up for the initial expense. Some paybacks are quicker than others, as with eco-friendly cellulose insulation versus the standard fiberglass insulation. In this case, the payback can be measured in a number of ways: comfort, quiet, safety (fire resistance) and energy expense.
Cellulose is recycled newspaper treated with borates to make it fire retardant—so fire retardant, in fact, that it has a Class 1 fire rating and an approximately 55 percent greater fire resistance than that of fiberglass. A recognized wood preservative, borates are also a fungicide and insecticide. But you can breathe easy: borates are six times less toxic to humans than common table salt.
The application of cellulose insulation involves either a loose fill into attics and closed wall cavities, or a damp spray into open wall cavities or behind a pre-installed netting. When properly installed, cellulose insulation penetrates all the little gaps fiberglass insulation may have missed, as fiberglass insulation is often cut away around pipes during the installation process. Using cellulose instead of fiberglass insulation creates a more tightly insulated house, a lower heating cost and a greater sound barrier.
The common evaluation of the quality of insulation is the R rating. However, if you look on most bags of fiberglass insulation, it is explained that their R-values are subject to indoor/outdoor temperature differences. For example, if the temperature is 0 degrees outside and 70 degrees inside, the R-13 fiberglass in your walls may only be equal to half that rating (R-6 or R-7). With cellulose insulation, the indoor/outdoor temperature difference does not affect the R-rating.
Another detriment to standard fiberglass insulation is its toxicity. Warnings are issued on bags of fiberglass insulation, stating that The National Toxicology Program identifies fiberglass wool as a possible cause of cancer.
Cellulose insulation does not pose the same health risks as fiberglass insulation. According to Dr. Arthur Furst, one of the world’s foremost toxicologists, “The dusts from cellulose insulation materials can be considered as any household.
Cellulose can cost 5 to 50 percent more to install than fiberglass insulation, depending on the application and location of the use. According to the Build It Solar Web site, “The payback for self-installed cellulose insulation can be inside of a year depending on your current insulation levels, climate, and fuel.”
Due to its recycled content and potentially higher energy performance, cellulose is an environmentally preferable product. This gray material is truly green in more ways than one!