Eco-friendly Insulation, Green Insulation, Eco-friendly Insulation, Ecologically Conscientious Insulation, Ecologically Conscious Insulation, Most Sustainable Insulation, Toxin-free Insulation, non-toxic Insulation, healthy Insulation, Highest Good housing, eco-housing, sustainable construction, eco-friendly construction, holistic construction, healthy construction, safe construction, building ecologically, eco-renovation materials, eco-housing materials, green construction, One Community Global

Most Sustainable Insulation: Safe, Eco-friendly, LEED Compliant, High R-Value

Following One Community’s commitment to upholding the Highest Good, we aim to provide an open source and freely available blueprint for ecologically-sustainable and holistic development. To do so, One Community aims to provide directly applicable information about the most sustainable options for everyday materials like insulation. This page is about our most current research on insulation and insulating materials and contains the following sections:

 

RELATED PAGES (mouse-over for descriptions and click for complete pages)

Highest Good housing, cob construction, earthbag construction, straw bale construction, earthship construction, subterranean construction, sustainable homes, eco-homessustainable civilization building though housing, sustainable housing, best practice living, sustainable housing systems, green materials, earthbag, cob, straw bale, One Community, open source housing, free-shared architecture, sustainable living, green living, eco living, living ecologically, for The Highest Good of All, transforming the world, build your own home, build your own house, affordable housing, open source architecture, architects of the future, sustainability non-profit, 501c3 organization, sustainable life, water catchment, organic food, eco-housing, artistic homes, sustainability cooperative, sustainable living group, open source, sustainability nonprofit, free-shared plans, teacher/demonstration village, open source project-launch blueprinting, One Community housing, Highest Good housingwater saving shower heads, water saver showerheads, water conservation, water use reduction, the best shower heads, showers that use less water, using very little water, reducing water use, water conservation, making water last, Highest Good water, One Community, showerhead review, shower head reviews, reviewing shower headspaste adhesives, liquid adhesives, film adhesives, pellet adhesives, tape adhesives, hot melt adhesives, reactive hot melt adhesives, thermosetting adhesives, pressure sensitive adhesives, contact adhesives, structural adhesives, semi-structural adhesives, or non-structural adhesives, epoxies, epoxy adhesives, polyurethane adhesives, polyimide adhesives, acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, toluene, xylene, glycol ethers, alcohols, construction adhesives, highest good housing, One Community global, sustainable adhesives, green adhesives, eco-adhesives, paste glues, liquid glues, film glues, pellet glues, tape glues, hot melt glues, reactive hot melt glues, thermosetting glues, pressure sensitive glues, contact glues, structural glues, semi-structural glues, or non-structural glues, epoxies, epoxy glues, polyurethane glues, polyimide glues, acetone, methyl ethyl ketone, toluene, xylene, glycol ethers, alcohols, construction glues, highest good housing, One Community global, sustainable glues, green glues, eco-glues, The Most Sustainable Adhesives, The Most Eco-friendly Adhesives, Health Conscientious AdhesivesMost sustainable toilets, materials, sustainable infrastructure, sustainability icon, Highest Good Housing, eco-living, green living, permaculture, One Community, Open source sustainability, healthy construction materials, Duplicable City Center, sustainable living, water-saving, resource saving, ecological, holistic livingMost sustainable faucets, materials, sustainable infrastructure, sustainability icon, Highest Good Housing, eco-living, green living, permaculture, One Community, Open source sustainability, healthy construction materials, Duplicable City Center, sustainable living, water-saving, resource saving, ecological, holistic livingMost sustainable urinals, materials, sustainable infrastructure, sustainability icon, Highest Good Housing, eco-living, green living, permaculture, One Community, Open source sustainability, healthy construction materials, Duplicable City Center, sustainable living, water-saving, resource saving, ecological, holistic livingbest hand dryers, most sustainable hand dryers, most eco-friendly hand dryers, low-energy hand dryers, green living, Highest Good housing, sustainable living, green hand dryers, eco-hand dryers, in-home hand dryers, commercial hand dryers, drying hands sustainably, hand drying ecologically, saving resources when drying hands

 

WHY ASSESS INSULATION

Eco-friendly Insulation, Green Insulation, Eco-friendly Insulation, Ecologically Conscientious Insulation, Ecologically Conscious Insulation, Most Sustainable Insulation, Toxin-free Insulation, non-toxic Insulation, healthy Insulation, Highest Good housing, eco-housing, sustainable construction, eco-friendly construction, holistic construction, healthy construction, safe construction, building ecologically, eco-renovation materials, eco-housing materials, green construction, One Community GlobalInsulation is one of the most crucial parts of the building process. Not only does it serve to protect us against the elements, but the right insulation will drastically reduce your utility bills by retaining an ideal climate within the home, minimizing the need to continuously run the heater during cold seasons and the A/C during warm seasons. Additionally, insulation acts as a sound barrier to outside noises and some insulations can even contribute to the structural integrity of a building. You might be familiar with the pink fluffy fiberglass insulation that has long been considered the standard for commercial building. You may also be familiar with all the precautions that need to be taken when installing fiberglass insulation due to its toxic content. Despite all the many negatives associated with fiberglass and its toxicity (respiratory issues, itchy and irritated skin, eyes, and nose, etc.) it is still the most used insulation out there.

Better options exist. To find them we have dedicated 40+ hours of research, doing a deep dive into the best, most sustainable, non-toxic insulation options available. In so doing we’ve been able to provide a holistic overview of insulation to better inform our own projects as well as those of others interested in healthier and more sustainable options.

Here are the criteria we used for our evaluation process:

  • Health & safety
  • Sustainability
  • Cost
  • Practicality/do-it-yourself application
  • Durability

We were not paid or incentivized in any way during this research.

As part of our open source goals and model, we’ll additionally share here our experience with the selections we use as we build the Earthbag Village and Duplicable City Center. We’ll also report durability and update the selections here as new information becomes available over time and through construction of the other 6 villages.

To access our raw data, click this image:

best insulation, healthiest insulation, most sustainable insulation, greenest insulation, eco-insulation, safe insulation, ecological insulation, airkrete insulation, aircrete insulation, greensulation, straw bale insulation, denim insulation, hemp insulation, EPS insulation, wool insulation, fiberglass insulation, greenfiber insulation, soy-based insulation, blow-in insulation, DIY insulation, highest good housing, One Community Global

Insulation Research Spreadsheet – Click to open in a new tab

 

WAYS TO CONTRIBUTE TO EVOLVING THIS SUSTAINABILITY COMPONENT WITH US

SUGGESTIONS     ●     CONSULTING     ●     MEMBERSHIP     ●     OTHER OPTIONS

 

CLICK THESE ICONS TO JOIN US THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA

One Community, YoutubeOne Community, LinkedInOne Community, TwitterOne Community, Facebook, UpdatesOne Community, Facebook, GroupsOne Community, Facebook, FansInstagram, Instagram icon, Instagram posts, One Community's Instagram Page, One Community Global images, Highest Good Living, green living, eco-livingOne Community, Mix, StubleUponOne Community, PinterestOne Community, Weekly, Progress, Updates, BlogOne Community. Tumblr

 

RESEARCHERS FOR THIS COMPONENT:

Aidan Geissler: Sustainability Researcher
Brianna Olsen: Sustainability Researcher (all insulation content)
James Herrigel: Student Researcher (all LEED content)

 

 

UNDERSTANDING R-VALUE
AND ITS LIMITATIONS

Highest Good society, fulfilled living, enriched life, enriching life, living to live, how to live an enriched life, keeping it all running, sustainable living, social architecture, fulfilled living, thriving, thrivability, emotional sustainability, the good life, a new way to liveWhen looking at different insulations, R-value is one of the features most often used to compare insulation efficiency. R-value is a factor used to measure an insulation’s resistance to heat loss. It should be kept in mind though that resistance to heat loss is all that it measures. R-value does not take into account other factors such as resistance to air penetration, resistance to free water, and resistance to vapor drive.

The R-value of a material is determined by testing the insulation in a lab setting with ideal conditions, meaning the R-value you see advertised with the product only tells you how resistant to heat loss the insulation is without external factors (such as air, water) acting upon it. In reality, the R-value of fiber insulations can reduce all the way to 0 when met with severe weather such as high winds or being submerged in water. Furthermore, the advertised R-value of insulation relies on a properly sealed house and perfect installation. Thus, when you see an R-value of 4 per inch, keep in mind that this is only how the insulation performs in a perfectly sealed house with no external environmental factors, such as weather, acting upon it.

Solid insulations, such as spray foams, can handle volatile conditions much better than fiber insulations, such as recycled cellulose insulation or even fiberglass (which we have not included due to its toxicity). In conclusion, it is impossible to compare insulations while only looking at a single number such as the R-value since the R-value of solid insulations is different and not comparable to the R-value of fiber insulations, and also because R-value only looks at resistance to heat loss without taking into account resistance to air, vapor, and water.

Click here for a resource article with more on this.

 

THE BEST AND MOST
SUSTAINABLE & ECO-FRIENDLY
INSULATIONS WE COULD FIND

Highest Good society, fulfilled living, enriched life, enriching life, living to live, how to live an enriched life, keeping it all running, sustainable living, social architecture, fulfilled living, thriving, thrivability, emotional sustainability, the good life, a new way to liveOur main driving force throughout 40+ hours of research was insulation options that are good for the planet and also good for our health. Insulation’s main purpose is to protect us from the outside elements: extreme temperatures, harsh winds and rain, humidity, loud sounds, etc. So why does something that is intended to protect us historically come with so many toxic and carcinogenic warnings? Traditional commercial insulations can contain VOCs, urea formaldehyde, and countless other toxic chemicals that can cause adverse health effects. Even in the market of sustainable “green” insulation there are still some products containing hazardous materials such as methylene diphenyl diisocyanate, or MDI, a synthetic chemical linked to asthma, lung damage, and even death. With chemicals like this (and many others) we have compiled the list below of green insulations and ranked them based on their (in this order of importance for us) health and safety, sustainability, cost, practicality, and durability. If you’d like to see how they rank based only/exclusively on R-value, health, convenience, or sustainability, check out the FAQ section.

 

#1 :: AIR KRETE / AIRKRETE

Eco-friendly Air Krete Insulation, Green Air Krete Insulation, Ecologically Conscientious Air Krete Insulation, Ecologically Conscious Air Krete Insulation, Most Sustainable Air Krete Insulation, Toxin-free Air Krete Insulation, non-toxic Air Krete Insulation, healthy Air Krete Insulation, Highest Good housing, eco-housing, sustainable construction, eco-friendly construction, holistic construction, healthy construction, safe construction, building ecologically, eco-renovation materials, eco-housing materials, green construction, One Community GlobalAir Krete has been chosen as our #1 recommendation because it is a nontoxic alternative to polyurethane spray foams. Spray foams make the best insulators because they are the only ones that can guarantee a tight seal impermeable to air, water, and vapor. This means that while some fiber insulations’ R-value is compromised when exposed to wind, water, and vapor, spray foams have a reliable R-value that will never be compromised due to its airtight seal. While most spray foams contain a laundry list of complex chemicals, including MDI, the composition of Air Krete is just air, water, and MGO (magnesium oxide, which is nontoxic). As green celebrity endorsements, the Air Krete site touts that both Al Gore and the National Audubon Society decided to use Air Krete in their building projects. The technicians who install Air Krete also install the product dressed in plain clothes, another assurance that it is nontoxic.

KEY FEATURES

Air Krete is a spray foam insulation comprised of air, water, and MGO cement. It is non-allergenic and is so harmless that your home does not need to be vacated while Air Krete is installed and settled, and there is no safety gear required for installation. Air Krete is the consistency of shaving cream when initially sprayed in, which then hardens to a cement. Air Krete boasts an R-value of 3.9 at 1 inch and weighs about 2.7 pounds per cubic foot. The proper thickness is dependent on the Title 24 for every project, but typically technicians fill in the entire thickness of the wall, 7-10 inches in the ceiling, and 4-6 inches in the floor (if desired). Air Krete is priced per board foot (board foot is equal to 1 square foot at 1 inch thickness) and each board foot costs around $1.25-1.50. When filling a wall, this calculates to about $5 per square foot in a 2×4 wall and about $7.50 per square foot in a 2×6 wall (in the floor and the ceiling the cost is proportional to the thickness).

PROS FOR THIS INSULATION

Though not the cheapest option, Air Krete definitely provides the most bang for your buck. As previously mentioned, spray foam insulations are arguably the best, most robust and reliable forms of insulation, but most contain many toxic ingredients. The R-value of spray foam insulation will not be compromised by environmental occurrences such as wind or rain. Air Krete is the only spray foam insulation we have been able to find that didn’t include hazardous chemicals. Another notable benefit of this spray foam insulation is that, due to its concrete consistency, it is insect and rodent deterrent.

For those living in North America, Air Krete is also produced in the US, reducing the miles between producer and consumer. Additionally, Air Krete is able to achieve a negative carbon footprint and the MGO component actually serves to scrub CO2 out of air. The company also claims that while some insulations are fire resistant, Air Krete is actually fireproof and has been shown to stop fires in its tracks (at least in the video demos on the Air Krete site).

CONS FOR THIS INSULATION

The main drawback of Air Krete is that while the other insulations mentioned have the option to install it yourself, this is definitely not an option for Air Krete. You will have to pay a contractor to install it. Additionally, there are some claims that “if exposed to frequent vibration, such as along a busy highway, the foam can begin to disintegrate, reducing its performance” (source). Some critics are also skeptical of Air Krete because “The company… has declined to participate [in] the industry standard VOC test as well as the proper R-value test, so there is some doubt around this product’s claims. [Additionally] We don’t know what the undisclosed 2% of this product’s ingredients are” (source).

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Company Website | Spec Sheet | Safety Data Sheet
Article: “How Does Air Krete Work”

 

#2 :: STRAW BALE INSULATION / CONSTRUCTION

Eco-friendly Straw Bale Insulation, Green Straw Bale Insulation, Ecologically Conscientious Straw Bale Insulation, Ecologically Conscious Straw Bale Insulation, Most Sustainable Straw Bale Insulation, Toxin-free Straw Bale Insulation, non-toxic Straw Bale Insulation, healthy Straw Bale Insulation, Highest Good housing, eco-housing, sustainable construction, eco-friendly construction, holistic construction, healthy construction, safe construction, building ecologically, eco-renovation materials, eco-housing materials, green construction, One Community GlobalStraw bale construction has been gaining traction as a super sustainable way to insulate and construct your home. Closely stacked straw bales sealed with an earthen plaster provide an excellent barrier between you and the elements. Surprisingly this method of insulation is actually quite fire resistant, thanks not only to the plaster but also due to the bales being so closely packed that not much oxygen can get through, which a fire needs in order to persist. Though you would probably want to contract a professional to make sure this job is done right, it is still a super cost-efficient and sustainable way to insulate your home. Note though that straw bale construction is really only an option for new construction rather than a replacement for your current insulation. We have chosen straw bale construction as our #2 choice due to its practicality and maximum benefit yield for minimum cost. We’ll also be open sourcing complete DIY straw bale construction details when we construct the Straw Bale Village.

KEY FEATURES

Straw is a totally natural and nontoxic byproduct of other agricultural harvesting, so it requires very little energy as far as production and it is also totally biodegradable. If installed and maintained correctly though, it will last the life of the structure. Straw bales are stacked (either entire bale or cut to desired size) in order to fill the space. It is common for a layer of earthen plaster to then be applied to the outside in order to form a solid wall. Note that in straw bale construction, the bales are not only the insulation but also provide the structure for the wall itself. This is potentially DIY-able but biting the bullet to hire a professional could be worth it in the long run as straw bale construction must be correctly installed to ensure it reaches its full potential. The wrong choice of straw bales, imperfect stacking and plastering of the bales, and other common errors greatly reduce straw’s effectiveness. Straw has a relatively lower R-value at 1.9 per inch, but keep in mind that a standard two-string straw bale is 18 inches wide (by either 14-16 inches high and 32-48 inches long, weighing around 45 pounds), thus the walls in straw bale homes are at least 18 inches thick. Cost can vary based on your location – as little as $3 per bale or as much as $9 per bale. If a bale is $5 that calculates out to about $1.50 per square foot.

PROS FOR THIS INSULATION

As previously mentioned, straw is naturally occurring and a byproduct of other agricultural harvesting that is usually just composted or burned. The production of a straw bale itself requires very little energy. Additionally, since straw is a totally natural product it is also 100% biodegradable, though it can still last 100+ years if properly maintained. One common misconception about straw is its resistance to fire. Though straw by itself is surely flammable if ignited, straw bale construction actually achieves a surprisingly noteworthy level of fire resistance. According to strawbale.com, “Thick layers of fire resistant plaster cover the walls. Beneath that, the density of the bales provides a secondary layer of defense. The bales are so tightly packed, that flames cannot penetrate them. There simply isn’t enough free oxygen to sustain flame spread.” Here you can find specific examples of straw bale constructed homes that were often the only homes still standing after outbreaks of forest fire in Northern California. Lastly, thick walls are a facet of construction that is sometimes desired but generally pretty expensive to achieve with conventional construction. Using the bales as your wall allows for thicker walls at a much lower price.

CONS FOR THIS INSULATION

The biggest drawbacks of straw bale construction are availability and that it is only an option for new construction. It is not a viable option for replacing insulation in an already existing structure. Also, straw bale construction won’t work in an area bales can’t be purchased and the construction method is on the “up and coming,” so it might be hard to find a straw bale contractor too. Additionally you will need to check your local building codes to see if straw bale construction is even a feasible option as it is not always compliant with local building codes. Furthermore, if straw is exposed to moisture the straw is greatly compromised, and if the bale gets greater than 20% moisture content it will support mold growth. Address this with a quality roof, waterproof plaster layer on the walls, and proper storage of bales before and during construction. If you live in areas with extreme rain or humidity, straw bales may not be the best choice. Lastly, due to the thickness of the bales (at least 18 inches), while having thicker walls in your home may be desirable as previously mentioned, it may reduce your usable square footage.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

StrawBale.com | Pros and Cons of Straw Bale | Buying the Right Straw | Fire Resistance of Straw Bale Walls | Forum about Straw Bale Costs

 

#3 :: DENIM INSULATION

Eco-friendly Denim Insulation, Green Denim Insulation, Ecologically Conscientious Denim Insulation, Ecologically Conscious Denim Insulation, Most Sustainable Denim Insulation, Toxin-free Denim Insulation, non-toxic Denim Insulation, healthy Denim Insulation, Highest Good housing, eco-housing, sustainable construction, eco-friendly construction, holistic construction, healthy construction, safe construction, building ecologically, eco-renovation materials, eco-housing materials, green construction, One Community GlobalThis insulation has the highest R-value (R4/inch) out of all the ones we’ve considered here. Denim insulation is great repurposing of recycled jeans and other textiles. If you have access to a lot of denim, cotton, or other post-consumer textiles, recycling them to serve as insulation is not only good for the planet as it keeps waste out of landfills, but it is also good for your home as denim makes a super effective insulator. If you don’t have access to your own recycled denim, there are also commercial denim insulation products available for purchasing and DIY installation. This insulation was ranked highly due to its superb R-value. It was ranked lower than Airkrete because our research has shown that spray foam insulation is superior to fiber insulation. It has ranked below straw bale insulation because it is less accessible than straw and not as easily of a renewable resource or as easily biodegradable. Additionally both Airkrete and straw bale construction demonstrate a higher fire resistance. Regardless, denim insulation is still a great option and definitely one of the best of the fiber insulation options.

KEY FEATURES

Denim insulation is mostly comprised of recycled fiber products such as denim, cotton, and other textiles and is sometimes also treated with boric acid which serves as a fire retardant and also impedes the growth of fungi and mold. It contains no chemical irritants, requires no warning labels, and has no harmful airborne particulates. No protective clothing is needed, and although there are no harmful airborne particulates you may still want to wear a dust mask. Since this product has no vapor barrier you may want to further your effectiveness by adding a vapor barrier on the living area side of the walls after insulation is installed. The R-value of denim insulation is generally R4 at 1 inch.

PROS FOR THIS INSULATION

Because denim insulation is made from recycled jeans and other textiles, it reduces landfill waste and takes a minimal amount of energy to manufacture compared to other insulations. Additionally cotton is a rapidly renewable resource and as previously mentioned this product is totally safe and nontoxic.

CONS FOR THIS INSULATION

Although denim insulation can be a breathable material and be treated with mold inhibitors, it does not have a vapor barrier which may be required by your local building codes. Additionally while it is great that this insulation is made from recycled clothes and denim, one reviewer complains that “I would not use this product again as I have become more and more sensitive to synthetic fabrics as well as the new clothing smell (from dyes and other chemicals used in making denim)” (source). So, if you share this type of sensitivity, denim insulation may not be the right insulation for you.

COMMERCIAL OPTIONS

If you don’t have access to a lot of denim and DIY denim insulation isn’t an option for you, there are also many great commercial products for denim insulation. We highly recommend Bonded Logic’s UltraTouch denim insulation which is 90% post-consumer recycled denim and cotton. Not only is the product relatively affordable, but it is manufactured for DIY use so it is super user-friendly and easy to install. UltraTouch is comprised of 90% post-consumer Recycled Fiber Products (denim, cotton), Boric (which is a fire retardant treatment that also impedes growth of fungi and mold), Ammonium Sulfate, and Binder fiber. Not only does UltraTouch contain active mold inhibitors, but it is also manufactured to “breathe,” meaning it accepts and releases the moisture it receives in a timely manner, which also prevents mold. It is safe and nontoxic and even meets the extremely stringent Environmental Specification 1350 Indoor Air Pollutant testing used for California Public Schools (which is a testament to its safety). The perforated denim batts allow for a very user-friendly DIY installation: simply measure, tear, fit and you’re done! You can pick up UltraTouch from your local hardware store; Lowe’s sells a $50 30-pound package which covers a little under 50 square feet (so it’s about $1.30 per square foot).

Bonded Logic Website | Product Specifications | Safety Data Sheet

 

#4 :: HEMP INSULATION

Eco-friendly Hemp Insulation, Green Hemp Insulation, Ecologically Conscientious Hemp Insulation, Ecologically Conscious Hemp Insulation, Most Sustainable Hemp Insulation, Toxin-free Hemp Insulation, non-toxic Hemp Insulation, healthy Hemp Insulation, Highest Good housing, eco-housing, sustainable construction, eco-friendly construction, holistic construction, healthy construction, safe construction, building ecologically, eco-renovation materials, eco-housing materials, green construction, One Community GlobalA totally plant-based insulation that is naturally mold and pest resistant, hemp insulation is another great choice. It is relatively expensive compared to the other insulations considered, but can be DIY-installed for some cost savings. The main reasons this insulation didn’t rank higher is because our research into specific companies that sell this (see below) showed it as a “proprietary blend” of mainly hemp and kenaf fibers, but there wasn’t an official safety data sheet to corroborate this and see what else is included in this “proprietary blend.”

KEY FEATURES

Hemp insulation is a natural fiber insulation that is comprised of hemp fibers which are usually treated with a salt-based fire retardant. The product comes in batts that can be cut to size to fill the wall studs. One of the major fallbacks of any insulation that requires cut to size batts is that at the end of installation there are many unuseable scraps that were cut from the batts, and these scraps generally end up in the trash. What’s nice about hemp insulation is that since it is naturally occurring it is 100% biodegradable, so whatever is not used can be returned to the earth. Hemp insulation has an R-value of 13 at 3.5 inches, thus about 3.7 at 1 inch. Hemp insulation generally costs about twice as much as traditional fiberglass insulation.

PROS FOR THIS INSULATION

As previously mentioned, hemp is a renewable resource that is biodegradable and can be disposed of sustainably at the end of its life. Hemp is also naturally pest resistant which means that no pesticides were used to grow it. Additionally, these plants “absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and store it away. Once made into insulation, this carbon will be sequestered into the walls removing it from the environment for the products lifetime” (source). Additionally this product is totally nontoxic, but you may still want to wear a mask to install if you are prone to allergens as the dust could irritate your nose. Although it is a fiber insulation, it is reported to still be able to maintain its R-value even at higher moisture contents. This is due to the “breathability” of the material, meaning it can absorb and release moisture (this also makes it mold resistant). The hemp is treated with a salt-based fire retardant which also promotes resistance to mold, and as mentioned hemp is in itself naturally pest-resistant.

CONS FOR THIS INSULATION

The main con for this insulation is that it is relatively expensive compared to other insulations and definitely not as convenient to find. We have only been able to find online retailers, which will also rack up costs in shipping and handling.

COMMERCIAL OPTIONS

SunStrand Natural Fiber Insulation produces what appears to be a quality product and they say they work with local/US farmers, which reduces the miles between production and consumption and also promotes local economies. As stated above though, they don’t offer a safety data sheet for their product. Sunstrand’s site states that this insulation is made of hemp and kenaf fibers that are treated with a salt-based fire retardant, but nothing else on their “proprietary blend” can be found. We also requested information regarding the product’s exact weight and cost and didn’t get a response. We really like this product but cannot rank it higher without better communication and knowing the exact components of it. This market is growing fast though, so we’d expect many more options in the near future.

SunStrand Natural Fiber Insulation Company Website

 

#5 :: WOOL BATT INSULATION

Eco-friendly Wool Batt Insulation, Green Wool Batt Insulation, Ecologically Conscientious Wool Batt Insulation, Ecologically Conscious Wool Batt Insulation, Most Sustainable Wool Batt Insulation, Toxin-free Wool Batt Insulation, non-toxic Wool Batt Insulation, healthy Wool Batt Insulation, Highest Good housing, eco-housing, sustainable construction, eco-friendly construction, holistic construction, healthy construction, safe construction, building ecologically, eco-renovation materials, eco-housing materials, green construction, One Community GlobalDespite being #5 we do find this to be a fantastic insulation option. It is only ranked just below hemp insulation because wool is less pest resistant than hemp. Wool batt insulation shares all the perks of wool insulation that are mentioned in the loose fill option, but the batt form snugly fits in wall studs in a way that loose fill cannot. Another edge it may have over generic loose fill insulation is that these wool batts may be easier for DIY installation and maintain its R-value better.

KEY FEATURES

Sheep wool batt insulation is typically made 100% from sheep wool, but may sometimes include a pest-resistant treatment as well. Wool batts typically come in perforated batts that are easy to tear by hand and fit the space. Wool is safe to handle and install, requiring no protective clothing or equipment. Wool batts have an R-value of 3.7 at 1 inch.

PROS FOR THIS INSULATION

This product shares many of the same benefits that the loose fill wool insulation previously mentioned. Wool is sustainable since it is a naturally occurring and a renewable resource. Man made insulation currently can only be disposed of into landfills whereas sheep’s wool insulation is 100% biodegradable and can be composted at the end of its life (which is true for many of the natural insulations we’ve reviewed – and ALL of the ones ranked above this one). Like generic wool, wool batts require very low energy to manufacture – eco-buildingproducts.com claims 85% less energy compared to man-made insulation products. It can also absorb and lock up toxic gases (CO2, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and formaldehyde) whereas man-made insulations can actually emit these gases. Additionally, although this is a wool product, it has none of the skin or respiratory problems typically associated with mineral wool products (no VOC / Carcinogen warnings). Again, wool is a natural fire retardant whereas other insulations are typically treated with something like boric acid to make it fire retardant (though boric acid is non-toxic and not a concern in itself).

CONS FOR THIS INSULATION

The main drawback of wool insulation is that rodents may find a cozy home in it, and this is just as true for wool batts as it is for loose fill wool insulation. Though it can be treated with a pest resistant, this only protects against moths, insects, etc. – not against rodents (though no insulation is truly totally rodent-proof).

COMMERCIAL OPTIONS

There are many options for wool batt insulation but one that we honed in on for this article is Black Mountain Sheep Wool Insulation – Sheep Roll. Black Mountain Sheep Wool Insulation’s Sheep Roll is 98% sheep wool, 1% polyester mesh, and 1% Thorlan IW, which is a nontoxic pest resistance treatment. It is for sale here for $65 for an R13 roll which is 3.5 inches x 14.5 inches x 16 feet (19.33 Sq Ft per roll edge-to-edge, 21.33 SqFt between 16″ O.C. framing). Additionally this product is eligible for up to 9 LEED credits (see page 7). This company also offers a loose-fill blow-in option.

Company Website to Purchase | Spec and Safety Data Sheet

 

#6 :: WOOL INSULATION

Eco-friendly Wool Insulation, Green Wool Insulation, Ecologically Conscientious Wool Insulation, Ecologically Conscious Wool Insulation, Most Sustainable Wool Insulation, Toxin-free Wool Insulation, non-toxic Wool Insulation, healthy Wool Insulation, Highest Good housing, eco-housing, sustainable construction, eco-friendly construction, holistic construction, healthy construction, safe construction, building ecologically, eco-renovation materials, eco-housing materials, green construction, One Community GlobalWoolFor someone with access to wool, this is a great, cheap, sustainable way to insulate your house. If you have to purchase wool from an external source though, it could end up being a bit more pricey. Especially if it is being imported. The main concern with wool insulation is the risk for pests and mold. Additionally, loose-fill insulations like wool cannot create an airtight seal and thus the R-value can be compromised if exposed to extreme weather such as wind and rain. For these reasons, although it is generally the same composition as sheep wool batts, it has ranked just below them.

KEY FEATURES

Wool is totally natural and requires very little energy for production. This is a loose fill insulation so hand-stuffing the wool into wall studs, attics, etc. is a viable option but it is recommended to use a blower to install. Blowers are usually available for rent at your local hardware store. Modifying a vacuum or leaf blower is also an option, though a commercial blower is ideal. Wool boasts a high R-value at 4.3 per inch, but it should be noted that loose fill insulations have a reputation for an easily compromised R-value when exposed to the elements. Wool weighs about 1.314 kg/m³ and cost can vary based on your area. If you live in an area where wool is prevalent this is a very affordable insulation option. If you need to import your wool the price will be much higher.

PROS FOR THIS INSULATION

Wool is known as a natural, sustainable, and renewable resource. Additionally, sheep wool is proven to absorb and neutralize harmful substances. The wool is a natural protein made up of a number of different amino acid chains, 60% of which have a reactive side chain. These reactive areas allow the wool to absorb harmful and odorous substances including Nitrogen Dioxide, Sulphur Dioxide, and Formaldehydes. They then neutralize them through a process known as Chemisorption (source). Furthermore, sheep wool can absorb 33% of its weight in moisture without compromising its insulating ability. Wool is naturally fire resistant and even if it did catch fire it would only smolder and singe away (it wouldn’t actually catch and spread fire) due to its high nitrogen content. Additionally, the natural keratin in wool prevents against the spread of mold and mildew.

CONS FOR THIS INSULATION

It can be very expensive if you need to import it and has a reduced R-value if exposed to wind or significant moisture. Untreated wool also makes an especially cozy home for rodents, moths, and other insects.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Article: The Advantages of Sheep Wool

 

#7 :: RECYCLED CELLULOSE INSULATION

Eco-friendly Recycled Cellulose Insulation, Green Recycled Cellulose Insulation, Ecologically Conscientious Recycled Cellulose Insulation, Ecologically Conscious Recycled Cellulose Insulation, Most Sustainable Recycled Cellulose Insulation, Toxin-free Recycled Cellulose Insulation, non-toxic Recycled Cellulose Insulation, healthy Recycled Cellulose Insulation, Highest Good housing, eco-housing, sustainable construction, eco-friendly construction, holistic construction, healthy construction, safe construction, building ecologically, eco-renovation materials, eco-housing materials, green construction, One Community GlobalRecycled cellulose insulation is cost efficient and a relatively easy DIY project, which also saves you money on installation. However, it seems that this insulation will need to be re-installed more often than other insulations. One big reason for this is that without a vapor barrier, the cellulose’s R-value will decrease when wet. If a vapor barrier is installed though, the lifespan of this insulation can be lengthened. The biggest enemy to this insulation is rodents. While it should be noted that very few insulations are able to guarantee rodent resistance (and essentially any fiber insulation will face this problem), this product had a notable number of customer reviews complaining about rats finding a nice home in this insulation. While some of the other insulations on this list guarantee the product will last the lifetime of the building, we did not find anything that reassures that the same is true for this product. This is still a good option and a great use for recycled cellulose, but having to reinstall it may not be optimal.

KEY FEATURES

Recycled cellulose insulation is typically 85%+ recycled newsprint (or other post-consumer paper products) treated with boric acid, a flame retardant. Cellulose insulation is great for DIY projects. It is a loose fill insulation and you can rent the blow-in machine to install it. Home Depot even gives a free 24-hour rental of the blower machine with purchase of certain loose fill cellulose insulations. This insulation can be blown over existing insulation or in new construction. It has an R-value of 3.7 at 1 inch and a 19 pound bag can cover 40 square ft (density of 9 lb/cubic foot when compressed). The density or thickness to apply depends on the desired R value: R 13 at 4.3 inches at install, R 60 at 18.37 inches at install – note that the product will shrink an inch or two when settled. You can get this product at your local hardware store.

PROS FOR THIS INSULATION

Seeing as this product is 85%+ recycled newsprint, “The Cellulose Insulation Manufacturers Association (CIMA) claims that insulating a 1500 ft2 house with cellulose will recycle as much newspaper as an individual will consume in 40 years. If all new homes were insulated with cellulose, this would remove 3.2 million tons of newsprint from the nation’s waste stream each year” (source). Additionally this insulation uses just one-fifth the energy to manufacture as opposed to other commercial insulation products. This is also a nontoxic insulation, free from hazardous materials such as formaldehyde, asbestos, etc. that are found in some commercial insulations.

CONS FOR THIS INSULATION

This product is not ideal for areas of extreme temperatures and humidity and may need to be re-installed throughout the structure’s life. Rodents and other pests may choose this insulation for their homes.

COMMERCIAL OPTIONS

Greenfiber has a multitude of recycled cellulose products. For the purpose of this article we focused on their Blended Blow-In insulation product. Greenfiber Blended Blow-in insulation is 85% recycled newsprint (cellulose fiber), <10% boric acid (for flame retardant), and <10% ammonium sulfate. It is sold at Home Depot at $13 for 19 lb bag that covers 40 sq ft ($9/bag if you buy 100+). Greenfiber is eligible for several LEED credits. For the purpose of this tutorial we were looking at the “blended” product, but for extreme temperatures and humidity the all-borate treated products would be more suitable. This insulation is fire retardant thanks to the boric acid treatment; the Greenfiber site boasts that this “gives you more time to escape from a fire.” Their SDS lists that the product is “Combustible: Material may decompose on contact with extreme temperatures and open flames” which raises some concerns about fire safety.

Greenfiber Company Website (see bottom for Fact Sheet, Installation Guide, etc.)
Spec Sheet PDF Download

 

PRODUCTS BELOW THIS RAISED TOO MANY HEALTH CONCERNS

Products from here down raised enough health concerns for us to stop researching them after we identified the areas of concern. We wouldn’t recommend these products, but we list them here to show they were looked into. We list them from least concerning to worst and include our comments as to why.

 

#8 :: SOY SPRAY FOAM INSULATION

A popular green alternative to petroleum-based spray foam insulations is soy-based spray foam insulation. Throughout our research, Demilec HEATLOK SOY 200 PLUS surfaced as an industry leader for soy-based spray foam insulation. Because it is a spray foam insulation that uses soy in place of petroleum it is a popular option and many external articles referenced this product as a great sustainable insulation. We did some digging and ultimately decided not to look further into this one once we learned that it contained MDI, the toxic chemical linked to respiratory issues previously mentioned. This is a popular green insulation because it is a soy insulation, which sounds positive but in reality it is only 14% soy while the other 86% is a myriad of complex and sometimes hazardous chemicals. Their flyer boasts that they have also reincorporated 300 million plastic bottles for use in this insulation since they launched this product in the early 2000s. This is no doubt a great repurposing of soy and other recycled content, but we simply cannot look past the red flag of MDI and we were unable to find a soy-based spray foam insulation that did not include the toxic MDI component.

 

#9 :: CLASSIC SPRAY FOAM INSULATION

Spray foam insulation is a popular option because, as previously mentioned, it is the only type of insulation that is totally impermeable to wind, water, and vapor. Icynene brand spray foam is another product that we came across often in our research but ultimately opted to discontinue research because it also contains the toxic chemical MDI. Icynene is a spray foam insulation which has its own benefits but the health concerns were too significant to ignore. The exact chemical makeup of Icynene is Diphenylmethane diisocyanate (MDI), Benzene, isocyanatophenyl methyl. This mixture is linked to asthma, lung damage, and other health concerns. Their technical data sheet admits this too, stating that “Asthma, other lung problems, and irritation of the nose and throat can result from inhalation of isocyanates. Direct contact with the skin and eyes can result in irritation.” Their site claims that the most dangerous time to be exposed to Icynene is within the first 24 hours of installation, and that after that period the product is inert. We prefer not to take the risk and therefore ceased research on this product.

Article: “Open Cell vs Closed Cell Foam: Which Should I Choose?”

 

#10 :: STYROFOAM

Styrofoam boards make a great insulator and can even provide an R-value up to R6 per inch. They also withstand extreme weather and moisture exceptionally well compared to fiber insulations. This insulation is relatively inexpensive and is easy to buy at your local hardware store and install yourself at home. The installation process consists of cutting the foam boards to size and fitting to the wall studs. The main pitfall of this insulation is that cutting the boards to size consequently means that there will be a lot of unusable styrofoam scraps that will end up in a landfill. Once in a landfill, styrofoam will essentially stay there forever, never decomposing. We decided not to look into styrofoam insulation because our main criteria is that the insulation be sustainable, and styrofoam waste is terrible for the planet.

 

#11 :: FIBERGLASS

Fiberglass insulation is arguably the most popular and prevalent of insulation options, but it is also one of the most toxic. Fiberglass insulation is made of plastic and glass fibers and is extremely harmful if handled. Anyone familiar with construction is likely familiar with the “fiberglass itch” which refers to the itchiness, rashes, and irritation that occurs when your skin is exposed to fiberglass particulates. In addition to skin irritation, fiberglass is also dangerous if inhaled, causing coughing, nosebleeds, and other respiratory issues. Although fiberglass is relatively inexpensive, it is extremely toxic. It is also prone to mold growth because it traps moisture. For these reasons we have ranked it last.

Article: “What is Fiberglass Insulation? How it Works and What it’s Made of”

 

LEED MATERIALS POINTS EXPLAINED

Highest Good society, fulfilled living, enriched life, enriching life, living to live, how to live an enriched life, keeping it all running, sustainable living, social architecture, fulfilled living, thriving, thrivability, emotional sustainability, the good life, a new way to liveLEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system propagated by the US Green Building Council as the leading standard for green buildings worldwide. Short for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, LEED Version 4 (the most current as of this writing) is designed to standardize and reward environmentally conscious building practices through assessing water usage, energy efficiency, environmental impact, materials selection, air quality, and countless other environmentally relevant factors. With independent crediting systems for newly constructed buildings (Building Design and Construction), interior construction (Interior Design and Construction), individual homes (Homes), whole neighborhoods (Neighborhood Development), and even entire cities (Cities and Communities), LEED v4 aims to provide a comprehensive blueprint for any project team, business, or individual seeking to undergo a more ecologically minded construction process.

Projects that participate in the LEED program are awarded points based on their compliance with the LEED v4 Standards and on a scale of 0-100. Depending on the number of points accumulated, projects are awarded a level of certification as follows:

  • 40-49 points: LEED Certified
  • 50-59 points: LEED Silver Certified
  • 60-79 points: LEED Gold Certified
  • 80+ points: LEED Platinum Certified

Achieving LEED Certification demonstrates an intense commitment to sustainability and ecological responsibility and can be immensely beneficial for improving the public image of a company. More directly, LEED Certification can often lead to significant tax credits and has also been shown to increase property values. LEED Certification can be immensely beneficial to businesses and normal people alike and we support its use as a standard for sustainable development.

Paints, stains, sealants, and primers are a group of products crucial to achieving LEED Certification. Using products compliant with LEED Standards is an invaluable tool for accruing points and certification. Depending on which area of LEED Certification one is aiming for, paints, stains, sealants, and primers can help with a significant portion of the necessary points. The amount of potential points, including paints etc. and organized by LEED Certification area, is as follows:

 

BUILDING DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION

In order to secure the maximum of 9 points, one must complete the following requirements:

1. MATERIALS AND RESOURCES – ENVIRONMENTAL PRODUCT DECLARATIONS

Materials and Resources – Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Environmental Product Declarations (1-2 points): This component stresses selecting products from manufacturers with completed and environmentally preferable life-cycle impact analyses for their products. There are 2 options within the credit, each worth 1 point. Completing both earns the maximum of 2 points.

Option 1 – Environmental Product Declaration (EPD): In order to earn this credit, the project team must provide proof that they have used at least 20 different products sourced from at least 5 different manufacturers, meeting at least 1 of the following criteria:

  • Products have publicly available and critically reviewed life-cycle assessments conforming to ISO 14044.
  • Products have publicly available Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) as standardized by ISO 14025 and ISO 21930. EPDs must have at least cradle to gate scope, with industry-wide and/or product-specific certification.
  • Alternatively, project teams can use USGBC approved products and/or certification programs.

Option 2 – Multi-Attribute Optimization: In order to earn this credit, project teams use 3rd-party products with available life-cycle analyses demonstrating reduction above industry averages in:

  • Global Warming Potential (GWP)
  • Depletion of Ozone Layer
  • Acidification (land/water)
  • Eutrophication
  • Tropospheric Ozone Formation
  • Depletion of Nonrenewable Energy Sources

Industry averages can be retrieved from relevant Environmental Product Declarations in same product categories. To ease the process, use products/materials from the USGBC List of Certified Products/Materials. In addition, products sourced within 100 miles yield 200% value consideration.

 

2. MATERIALS AND RESOURCES – MATERIAL INGREDIENTS

Materials and Resources – Building Product Disclosure & Optimization – Material Ingredients (1-2 points): This component emphasizes material ingredient reporting and certification. There are 3 options within the credit, each worth 1 point. Complete 2 of the 3 following options for a maximum of 2 points.

Option 1 – Material Ingredient Reporting: In order to earn this credit, one must initially utilize (and provide evidence of utilization of) at least 20 different products from at least 5 different manufacturers. With that prerequisite completed, one must then provide a fully realized chemical inventory for each product, conforming to or certified by a USGBC approved program/standard. USGBC approved chemical inventory services are as follow:

Option 2 – Material Ingredient Optimization: To achieve this credit, at least 25% of products (by cost) must have documented material ingredient optimization crediting from one or more of the following USGBC approved programs:

Option 3 – Product Manufacturer Supply Chain Optimization: To achieve this credit, at least 25% (by cost) of building products must meet the following criteria: Products must be sourced from product manufacturers with comprehensive safety, health, hazard, and risk program validations, which document at least 99% of materials used.

If the product manufacturer has conducted and completed third party verification that meets the following criteria, that would qualify as well:

  • There is active, transparent effort to evaluate chemical makeup of all products, especially those with more pressing hazard, exposure, and use information.
  • There is documentation on health, safety, and environmental characteristics of chemical ingredients.
  • There is active effort to productively manage products based on above information on characteristics.
  • Optimize health, safety, environmental impacts when designing and improving chemical ingredients.
  • Communicate, receive, evaluate chemical ingredient safety and stewardship information along supply chain.
  • Has publicly available info about chemical ingredients at every point along the supply chain.

Note: Products sourced within 100 miles of project site valued at 200% for Options 1 & 2.

 

3. MATERIALS AND RESOURCES – PBT SOURCE REDUCTION: LEAD, CADMIUM, AND COPPER

Materials and Resources – PBT Source Reduction: Lead, Cadmium, and Copper (2 points): This credit is intended to reduce use and release of Persistent, Bioaccumulative, and Toxic chemicals (PBT) within the life cycle of materials. To achieve the credit, project teams must specify and provide proof that there is no use of interior or exterior paints containing lead or cadmium.

 

4. INDOOR ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY – LOW-EMITTING MATERIALS

Indoor Environmental Quality – Low-Emitting Materials (1-3 points): This credit is intended to reduce concentrations of chemical contaminants in interior products with a focus on reducing Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) concentrations and emissions. There are 2 options for achieving this credit. Each option contains the possibility to achieve all 3 points.

Option 1 – Product Category Calculations: To complete this credit, one must comply with chemical content thresholds up to the percent listed in the table below. Threshold resources are listed and, depending on the extent of one’s compliance, points are awarded:

  • If 3 categories comply, 1 point
  • If 5 categories comply, 2 points
  • If 6 categories comply, 3 points

Option 2 – Budget Calculation Method: If products do not meet the above criteria, points can still be awarded using the budget calculation method. Based on the percentage of total compliance across all categories, points can be awarded. There are 3 Budget Calculation equations, all of which are listed below:

Equation 1: Total Percentage Compliance

  • (% compliant walls + % compliant ceilings + % compliant insulation + % compliant furniture) / 5

Equation 2: System Percentage Compliant

  • Flooring, walls, ceilings, insulation % compliance: [ (compliant surface area of layer 1 + compliant surface area of layer 2 + etc) / (total surface area of layer 1 + total surface area of layer 2 + etc) ] * 100

Equation 3: Furniture Systems Compliant (use ANSI/BIFMA)

If project is greater than or equal to 90% compliant based on equations, the system counts as 100% compliant. If project is less than or equal to 50% compliant based on equations, the system counts as 0% compliant.

VOC Emission and Content Requirements for Options 1 and 2:

Laboratories that conduct the tests specified (for VOC emissions + content) must be accredited under ISO/IEC 17025.

For manufacturer claims, first and third-party statements of product compliance must follow CDPH SM V1.1–2010, Section 8. Organizations that certify manufacturers claims must be accredited under ISO Guide 65.

 

INTERIOR DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION

In order to secure the maximum of 7 points, one must complete the following requirements:

1. BUILDING PRODUCT DISCLOSURE AND OPTIMIZATION – ENVIRONMENTAL BUILDING DECLARATIONS

Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Environmental Building Declarations (1-2 points, CI, Retail, Hospitality) – This credit emphasizes the procurement and disclosure of Environmental Product Declarations for products used in the project. It also includes a Multi-Attribute Optimization framework, intended to encourage project teams to demonstrate above average reductions in environmentally relevant fields, with life-cycle analyses serving as proof. In order to secure the maximum of 2 points, project teams must complete both of the options below:

Option 1 (1 point) – Environmental Product Declaration (EPD): To achieve compliance with this option, project teams must have at least 20 permanently installed products from at least 5 manufacturers meeting at least 1 of the following criteria:

  • Must have product-specific declarations with public, critically reviewed life cycle assessment conforming to ISO 14044, with at least cradle to gate scope. Declarations of this type are valued at 1/4 of a product for crediting, meaning 80 products are required instead of 20 to secure the credit.
  • Must have Environmental Product Declarations conforming to ISO 14025, 14040, 14044, and EN 15804 or just ISO 21930, also with at least cradle to gate scope. Industry Wide (Generic) EPD’s are valued at 1/2 product, meaning a total of 40 are required, while Product Specific EPD’s are valued at 1 whole product, meaning 20 products are adequate. For a concise explanation of the differences between the various types of Environmental Product Declarations, follow this link.

Option 2 (1 point) – Multi-Attribute Optimization: To achieve compliance with this option, at least 50% by cost of permanently installed products must meet at least 1 of the following criteria:

  • Uses 3rd party products with life-cycle analyses demonstrating reduction above industry average in: GWP, Depletion of Ozone Layer, Acidification (land/water), Eutrophication, Tropospheric Ozone Formation, and Depletion of Nonrenewable Energy Sources, with industry averages retrieved from relevant EPD’s in same product category.
  • Products sourced within 100 miles are valued at 200%.
  • Structural and enclosure materials may not constitute more than 30% of value.

 

2. BUILDING PRODUCT DISCLOSURE AND OPTIMIZATION: MATERIAL INGREDIENTS

Building Product Disclosure and Optimization: Material Ingredients (1-2 points, Commercial Interior, Retail Commercial Interiors, Hospitality Commercial Interiors) – This credit is intended to promote prioritization of products and materials with positive, publicly available life-cycle information. It is intended to reward project teams for having comprehensive inventories of the chemical ingredients of their products and materials, demonstrating minimization of harmful substances. The credit is composed of 3 options, each of which is worth 1 point. In order to secure the maximum of 2 points, 2 of the 3 options must be completed:

Option 1 (1 point): To achieve compliance with this option, project teams must have at least 20 products from at least 5 manufacturers, and must use one of the following methods to demonstrate completed chemical inventories of products to at least 0.1%:

Option 2 (1 point): Material Ingredient Optimization – 25%+ by cost of products document material ingredient optimization using one of following:

Option 3 (1 point): Product Manufacturer Supply Chain Optimization – to achieve compliance with this option, at least 25% (by cost) of building products must be sourced from product manufacturers with third party verification that:

  • There is active, transparent effort to evaluate chemical makeup of all products, especially those with more pressing hazard, exposure, and use information.
  • There is documentation on health, safety, and environmental characteristics of chemical ingredients.
  • There is active effort to productively manage products based on above information on characteristics.
  • Optimize health, safety, environmental impacts when designing and improving chemical ingredients.
  • Communicate, receive, evaluate chemical ingredient safety and stewardship information along supply chain.
  • Has publicly available info about chemical ingredients at every point along supply chain.
  • Has comprehensive safety, health, hazard, and risk program validations.
  • Documents at least 99% of materials used.

Note: For options 2 and 3, products sourced within 100 miles valued at 200%. 

Structure and enclosure materials may not constitute over 30% of value.

 

3. LOW-EMITTING MATERIALS

Low-Emitting Materials (1-3 points) – This credit is intended to reduce concentrations of chemical contaminants in interior products, with a focus on reducing Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) concentrations and emissions. There are 2 options for achieving this credit. Each option contains the possibility to achieve all 3 points.

Option 1 – Product Category Calculations: To complete this credit, one must comply with chemical content thresholds up to the percent listed in table. Threshold resources are listed. Depending on the extent of one’s compliance, points are awarded:

  • If 3 categories comply, 1 point.
  • If 5 categories comply, 2 points.
  • If 6 categories comply, 3 points.

Option 2 – Budget Calculation Method: If products do not meet the above criteria, points can still be awarded using the budget calculation method. Based on the percentage of total compliance across all categories, points can be awarded. There are 3 Budget Calculation equations, all of which are listed below:

Equation 1: Total Percentage Compliance

  • (% compliant walls + % compliant ceilings + % compliant insulation + % compliant furniture) / 5

Equation 2: System Percentage Compliant

  • Flooring, walls, ceilings, insulation % compliance: [ (compliant surface area of layer 1 + compliant surface area of layer 2 + etc) / (total surface area of layer 1 + total surface area of layer 2 + etc) ] * 100

Equation 3: Furniture Systems Compliant (use ANSI/BIFMA)

If project is greater than or equal to 90% compliant based on equations, the system counts as 100% compliant. If project is less than or equal to 50% compliant based on equations, the system counts as 0% compliant.

VOC Emission and Content Requirements for Options 1 and 2:

Laboratories that conduct the tests specified (for VOC emissions + content) must be accredited under ISO/IEC 17025.

For manufacturer claims, first and third-party statements of product compliance must follow CDPH SM V1.1–2010, Section 8. Organizations that certify manufacturers claims must be accredited under ISO Guide 65.

 

HOMES

In order to secure the maximum of 3 points, one must complete the following requirements:

INDOOR ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY (EQ) – LOW-EMITTING PRODUCTS

Indoor Environmental Quality (EQ) – Low-Emitting Products (3 points): This credit is intended to reduce exposure to airborne chemical contaminants through product selection. There is only one aspect to this credit, and it must be completed in full to accrue the maximum 3 points:

  • Use products for interior of home that have been tested and found to be compliant with California Department of Public Health Standard Method V1.1–2010 using CA Section 01350, Appendix B, New Single-Family Residence scenario. For emission testing, products must meet 90%+ of requirements to be considered compliant.
  • Interior paints and coatings must meet requirements of CA Section 01350 (0.5 points).
  • Flooring, insulation, site applied adhesives and sealants, must all meet requirements of CA Section 01350 – 0.5 points each.
  • Composite woods have different grading system, and is worth just 1 point. For more information on this credit, refer to p.100 of Homes.

 

RESOURCES

Here are any other resources we’ve found (or that have been shared with us) and we think may be helpful:

 

SUMMARY

Eco-friendly Insulation, Green Insulation, Eco-friendly Insulation, Ecologically Conscientious Insulation, Ecologically Conscious Insulation, Most Sustainable Insulation, Toxin-free Insulation, non-toxic Insulation, healthy Insulation, Highest Good housing, eco-housing, sustainable construction, eco-friendly construction, holistic construction, healthy construction, safe construction, building ecologically, eco-renovation materials, eco-housing materials, green construction, One Community GlobalInsulation is a must for any construction project as is protects against external temperatures, weather, sound, allergens, and more. There are many options for insulations out there, but the market becomes much smaller when you narrow the scope to insulation that is safe for the planet and safe for the consumer. Fortunately, as the need and desire for sustainable and safe insulations increases, so does the market for these insulations. Ourselves, our families, and our communities benefit from selecting companies that engage in responsible manufacturing processes and do not include hazardous chemicals or heavy metals in their products. This page shares our research into this topic as component of our open source sharing model for providing free and accessible blueprints for sustainable development and replication. We’ll continue to evolve this page with everything we learn and experience with sustainable insulation as we build the Duplicable City Center and the 7 sustainable villages.

 

FREQUENTLY ANSWERED QUESTIONS

Q: What was your criteria for selection, from most important to least and why?

Our main criteria when evaluating insulation was primarily health and safety, secondly sustainability, then cost, practicality, and lastly durability. Products that were deemed unsafe for health were not looked into further.

Q: What are the health effects of the hazardous chemicals used in insulations? Which chemicals are they?

VOCs, SVOCs, urea formaldehyde, asbestos, and other hazardous chemicals can have adverse effects on human health if used in too great of quantities. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) as well as Semi-Volatile Organic Compounds (SVOCs) are solvents which can be found in certain insulations, such as commercial spray foams. Exposure can lead to irritations of the skin, eyes, and lungs in the short term, as well as carcinogenic effects in the long term. Excessive formaldehyde exposure has been shown to lead to severe irritation in the short term, and is also a suspected carcinogen.

Q: If I were only interested in R-value, which insulation would have the highest?

It is impossible to define an insulation by just one factor, such as R-value. Not only does R-value not speak to any of the aforementioned criteria that we used to evaluate insulations, R-value also does not provide an accurate measurement of how well the insulation will perform. In most cases, the R-value is derived by testing the insulation in a lab setting, removed from weather, wind, and water. Regardless, if you were to only consider the R-value of each of the insulations we evaluated, this is how they would rank:

  1. Demilec HEATLOK SOY 200 PLUS – R-value: 7.4 at 1 inch.
  2. Styrofoam. R-value – 6 at 1 inch. While standard EPS board has an R-value of 4 per inch, there is a variation known as Polyisocyanurate foam board which can achieve an R-value of 6 per inch.
  3. Wool. R-value – 4.3 at 1 inch. Loose-fill wool insulation can achieve a high R-value when densely packed and installed properly.
  4. Bonded Logic UltraTouch Denim Insulation – R-value: 4 at 1 inch.
  5. Airkrete – R-value: 3.9 at 1 inch.
  6. Hemp insulation – R-value: 3.7 at 1 inch.
  7. Wool batt insulation – R-value: 3.7 at 1 inch.
  8. Cellulose insulation – R-value: 3.7 at 1 inch.
  9. Icynene – R-value: 3.7 at 1 inch.
  10. Straw bale insulation. R-value: 1.3 at 1 inch. Though straw bale insulation has the lowest R-value by far compared to the other insulations we evaluated, it should be noted that straw bale insulation is also typically installed at much thicker densities than other insulations. Straw bales are typically installed at about 18 inches to reach its maximum potential. Straw bale width can vary but it is generally around this number. Having such thick walls of course has its own pros and cons, but just keep in mind that although straw bale insulation has the lowest R-value per inch it is also the most thickly installed.

Q: If I were only interested in health, which insulation would have the lowest toxin content?

If we were to disregard the functionality of insulation options and only focus on which are the most safe to use, this is how they would rank:

  1. Wool: We’ve ranked wool as #1 healthiest simply because it is the most raw and organic of the insulation options.
  2. Straw: Straw is a close second as it is also a naturally occurring material. We have only ranked it second compared to wool because straw insulation typically requires a plaster layer to be added on the outside, and the components of this plaster can vary.
  3. Hemp insulation: Hemp insulation is also a naturally occurring product, but depending what it is treated with, synthetic chemicals have the potential to act as irritating additives.
  4. Airkrete: Airkrete is only composed of air, water, and Magnesium oxide, which is nontoxic. It has only ranked 4th because although it is just as safe as the top 3, it is not something you can produce and install without professional help.
  5. Wool batt insulation: This insulation option is very safe but has only ranked so low because the additives for fire resistance, pest resistance, or binding fiber functionality can vary.
  6. Cellulose insulation: Since this insulation is made from recycled paper products, most commonly newspaper, the microcosmic composition can be varied, depending on things like what type of ink or paper was recycled. Additionally the recycled paper product is then treated with a number of treatments depending on the product. In some trials with mice, the product has been proven to have adverse health effects if enough is ingested/eaten. Obviously this would not be an issue for humans who only want cellulose insulation for the purpose of insulating their house, but it is still interesting to mention.
  7. Denim insulation: Again, another problem with insulation created from recycled products is that, though the insulation product itself is harmless, you may still have some sensitivity to the original product that has been repurposed. For example, those with sensitivities to synthetic dyes that are commonly used in the textile industry have reported dissatisfaction with denim insulation.
  8. Styrofoam insulation: Although made of completely synthetic materials, styrene does not seem to have many components that are noticeably toxic.
  9. Soy insulation: This spray foam insulation variation, although containing the same toxic chemical MDI, is slightly healthier than other traditional spray foam insulations because some toxic components are instead replaced with soy.
  10. Icynene: This spray foam insulation ranks just below soy insulation because in general they have similar toxic compositions (namely MDI) except that while soy insulations replace some percentage of their makeup with soy, Icynene does not.
  11. Fiberglass insulation: While most insulations, if dangerous, are typically most dangerous at the time of install, fiberglass is pretty much always dangerous to be around. For the lifetime of the product fiberglass insulation can easily let off airborne particulates which can cause skin irritation or inflammation and respiratory issues if inhaled. Many also believe that fiberglass has many carcinogenic properties.

Q: If I were only interested in convenience, which would you recommend?

If we were to disregard functionality (R-value), health, and sustainability and only focus on convenience, this is how they would rank:

  1. Batt insulation: Hemp, denim, or wool. We’ve ranked this #1 because insulation that comes in batts is a super easy DIY project. Most times these batts are perforated so you can easily tear them to fit the space. Then you just roll them into place, secure them, and you are done.
  2. Loose fill insulation: Wool or cellulose. Loose fill insulation would be the most convenient to install except it requires a blow-in machine. That said, it is still totally DIY-able and secondly, it can be used in new construction or it can be blown over already-existing insulation. Hardware stores typically have the blow-in machine for rent and the rental fee may even be waived with purchase of insulation. You simply input the loose fill insulation to one end, then the machine will blow it into the space you are trying to fill, thereby providing an easy way for even distribution. Additionally it is convenient that if you already have insulation but are not satisfied or want a more green option, you can either tear out your old insulation or simply blow in loose fill insulation over it and it will still be just as effective.
  3. Styrofoam insulation: Styrofoam insulation is also a typically easy DIY project. It has ranked lower for convenience than Batts and Loose Fill mainly because styrofoam needs to be cut to fit the space, a process that is much more difficult than separating batts or blowing in insulation. Considering that styrofoam doesn’t biodegrade, cleanup must be thorough and can be a tedious process too.
  4. Fiberglass insulation: As easy to install as our #1 choice, but low on the list because it is so hazardous to work with. It can still be a DIY project though, you just need to wear the right clothes, breathing mask, and eye protection.
  5. Spray foam insulation : Airkrete, Icynene, or Soy insulation. Spray foam insulations definitely require a contractor to install, and with many of these spray foam insulations still not being broadly used, it may be difficult to find an installer in your area. Additionally, many spray foam insulations require the homeowner to vacate their house during the installation and setting process, which could take several days. However, it should be noted that Airkrete is so safe that the homeowner does not need to vacate their home during installation or setting.
  6. Straw bale insulation/construction: Straw bale insulation/construction is only a viable option for new construction. While all the other insulations mentioned can either be used in new construction or can be used to replace your current insulation, straw bale insulation is only possible in new construction. This is due to the fact that the straw bales are serving not only as your insulation but also as your wall itself. Additionally, while straw bale insulation can be a DIY project, straw needs to be kept dry before installation and then installed properly. If this means you want to hire a professional, that can be difficult too because this construction alternative is also still on the up-and-coming.

Q: If I were only interested in sustainability, which would you recommend?

If sustainability were our only criteria for ranking, here’s how the insulation options would stack up:

  1. Insulations made completely from raw, naturally occurring materials: Straw, wool (loose fill or batt), or hemp insulation. These insulations are all made from 100% (or pretty darn close to 100%) naturally occurring materials. Because of this, they require low energy to manufacture, are renewable resources, and are completely biodegradable.
  2. Insulations that are made from recycled product: Denim or cellulose insulation. Insulations made from recycled material help to eliminate waste in our landfills. Additionally they can take a relatively low amount of energy to manufacture compared to other commercial insulations.
  3. Airkrete
  4. Soy Insulation. Uses soy and recycled plastics to replace a percentage of the composition that is typically petroleums in other commercial spray foams.
  5. The other commercial insulations did not have substantial sustainable qualities…

Q: Are there recyclable versions of EPS (styrofoam) board?

Yes! But they are few and far between. Here’s one we were able to find: www.benchmarkfoam.com/products/eps360-100-recycled/

Q: Where can I learn more about the dangers of fiberglass?

A simple Google search into the dangers of fiberglass insulation will yield countless results. Here are some webpages that informed our analysis:

Q: What is MDI and where can I learn more about it?

According to the Environmental Working Group, most common spray polyurethane foam insulation contains methylene diphenyl diisocyanate, or MDI. MDI is a synthetic chemical linked to asthma, lung damage, and even death. “Because of the chemical’s risks, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has set the maximum legal limit for MDI exposure among workers who handle it and related chemicals at 0.02 parts per million in workplace air,” reports EWG. This is fine for professional installers, as they have the equipment necessary to protect them from MDI. But homeowners and DIY-ers may not even be aware of the danger. In 2011, the EPA considered restricting or banning MDI’s use, but no action has been taken to date (source).

Q: What is offgassing in respect to insulation?

Offgassing is a phenomenon typically associated with spray-foam insulation. Spray-foam insulation is usually created by combining a part A and a part B to create a chemical reaction resulting in foam. Not only does the process itself cause offgassing, but if the parts are combined at an incorrect ratio the foam insulation could continue offgassing long past installation. The chemicals being offgassed are toxic and dangerous for prolonged exposure. For more information about spray foam insulation offgassing, click here.

Q: What is LEED? What about WELL?

The LEED Green Building Certification System, propagated by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), is designed to standardize and reward environmentally conscious business practices related to construction and general building projects. With independent crediting systems for newly constructed buildings (Building Design and Construction), interior construction (Interior Design and Construction), individual homes (Homes), whole neighborhoods (Neighborhood Development), and even entire cities (Cities and Communities), LEED aims to provide a comprehensive blueprint for any project team, business, or individual seeking to undergo a more ecologically minded construction process. Each rating system has a wide, in-depth selection of potential credits, each of which cites relevant standards and goals.

The WELL Standard, supported by the International WELL Building Institute, is a similar but more accessible accreditation system. In favor of readability, WELL sacrifices some of the specificity so characteristic of the LEED system. Both support the same general mission, and can be effectively used individually or in tandem.

 

One Community