The impact of insulation products on the environment

find out what insulation products are best for both your property and the environment.

There are a lot of claims about the environmental friendliness of different types of insulation products. These claims can have a big influence on what you decide to use in your home, so lets take a closer look.

Glasswool insulation often includes the use of a high percentage of recycled glass cullet, although some virgin sand is required. Phenol formaldehyde binders are commonly used, and formaldehyde emissions can be produced during manufacture at low levels. Boron may also be used as a flame retardant and as a treatment against microbial growth which ensures its longevity.

Glasswool products generally use up a lot of heat energy in the manufacturing process compared to other form of insulation. However, these products can be packaged much more tightly for transport than many other products, making it better for the environment with less shipping emissions transporting it from the factory to your place.

Polymer-based materials, such as polyesters and polystyrenes are made from plastic, some of which is recycled plastic. The amount of heat energy used in the manufacturing process is less than glasswool Insulation, which is an advantage. However, the product cannot be as tightly packaged so it is not possible to transport as much glasswool.

Sheep’s wool insulation, often perceived as being the most environmentally friendly, is derived from sheep – a renewable resource. However, chemicals and grease-laden effluent from the scouring process may adversely impact waterways if good controls are not in place. Sheep’s wool is also often treated with borate to resist pests, fire and mould. In New Zealand sheep’s wool insulation is commonly blended with polyester fibres to reduce slumping in wall cavities. These products can often be up to 70% polyester and 30% sheep’s wool.

Mineral wools are derived from non-renewable sources such as virgin rock and iron ore blast furnace slag which is a waste product from the iron making process. Like Glasswool Insulation, phenol formaldehyde is commonly used to bind the fibres.

Cellulose insulation, which is no longer common in New Zealand, is most commonly derived from recycled paper. It is typically composed of 80% recycled paper and 20% fire retardants, insect resist agents and acrylic binders3. Borates are commonly used as flame retardants and insect resist agents, and can be leached from the paper if it gets wet. The additives in cellulose insulation may make it difficult to recycle at end-of-life.

In summary, all insulation products will have environmental advantages and disadvantages. It is difficult to say which, if any, are more environmentally friendly. Therefore spending 2-3x more on a perceived ‘environmentally friendly product’ may not deliver a lot of benefit. You would be a lot better investing in higher R-Values (thermal rating), where it is known to improve energy efficiency of properties.

Premier Insulation and Goldtex Insulation offer a full range of products and in a good position to be impartial when discussing insulation products in the context of the environmental impact they may have. Contact us now for a free quote.