Insulation. Hazardous to Your Health?

Is Your Insulation Hazardous to Your Health?

insulationFor all of you do-it-yourselfers out there who are planning project that requires insulation, you might want to think carefully about your options. When I finished my basement last year I just went to my local home improvement store and bought the traditional fiberglass batts. Unfortunately I wasn’t aware of the danger I created for myself and my family.

I am not alone; fiberglass insulation comprises nearly 90% of the U.S. market for home insulation.

Fiberglass began as an accident as inventor Dale Kleist was trying to create a seal between two glass blocks when he discovered the heated glass formed tiny fibers. These tiny fibers are combined with resins to create what we now call fiberglass. Fiberglass is used in many products, one if which is insulation.

Fiberglass insulation poses many health risks. Imagine what happens when a window is broken: the glass is extremely sharp and is very dangerous. Fiberglass insulation has the same effect on our skin, lungs, and eyes. The area exposed to fiberglass will become itchy and irritated. If these small particles of glass become lodged deep in the lungs serious respiratory conditions may result.

OSHA even requires fiberglass insulation to be packaged with a label citing it as a possible carcinogen. Several government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency recognize the carcinogenic potential of fiberglass insulation.

Those most at risk are those who are installing or working near the fiberglass insulation. There are risks to those who inhabit the home as well. Many homes with forced air heating systems have leaks. Leaky ducts can suck in fiberglass particles and spread them around the house. The resins used to bond the fiberglass can also emit small amounts of toxic fumes.

Not only is fiberglass insulation harmful to us, it is also bad for the environment. Production of fiberglass insulation involves melting materials in a furnace, which uses up precious fossil fuels. Fiberglass also uses a rare mineral: boron. There are two main deposits of boron in the world, one of which is in the U.S. The number one use for baron is fiberglass insulation. At the current rate of extraction the U.S. deposit will not last more than 60 years.

Fiberglass is only good as long as it stays dry. Installing fiberglass insulation in basements is bad because of this, yet it is still a common practice in the building industry. Moisture that migrates through the concrete from the exterior, or moisture that condenses from the interior, will cause the fiberglass to deteriorate and loose its effectiveness. It will even promote the growth of mold and other fungi.

Don’t make the same mistake I did, and jump blindly onto the fiberglass bandwagon. There are alternatives to fiberglass that I wish I had known about before I started my remodeling project. Here are some options:

Cellulous insulation

is largely made from post consumer recycled newspaper, up to 80%. Cellulous is installed in two different methods: 1. Dry. 2. Moisture added. The dry method is simple enough to be done on your own using a blowing machine, which can be rented at most home improvement stores. The moisture added method requires training and special equipment, so it is best to hire a professional if this is the route you choose.

Reflective insulation

is different than other types of insulation because it acts as a reflective barrier to direct heat back into the home. It is easy to install and doesn’t require any special tools, has no health hazards, and is extremely versatile. It’s resistance to moisture makes it perfect for applications where moisture would damage other types of insulation and can also serve as a vapor barrier.

Rigid foam

is another safe and easy way to insulate your home. As with bubble foil, there are no special tools needed to install rigid foam insulation. Rigid foam can be installed on the exterior of the home as well as on the interior, which makes it excellent for basement applications. Rigid foam has a high R value for it’s thickness in comparison to the other methods of insulation.

Trends in construction are rapidly changing and it is time to take advantage of these alternative methods of insulating your home or business in a way that is safe for our families and the environment.

Image via Jinjasi

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