Insulation. Oh. The. Agony.
There are three types of insulation, plant based, mineral based and plastic based.
While, environmentally there is no question about the fact that insulation based on things like hemp, wool, flax (for the walls & roof) and foamglas or mussel shells (for the foundation) are best. Still this isn’t an easy question because, budget.
Remember how I mentioned that I’ve always had this dream of installing a beautiful biosystem for wastewater/sewage. Well, insulation is like that for me too. Long before starting this project I had decided that if I was to ever build a house I’d of course use something rad like mussel shells for the foundation and flax for the roof, both of which can be sourced locally here in Scandinavia.
However, since I want to be transparent about all materials we’re using, not just the ones I’m super psyched about, I won’t sugarcoat what’s actually ended up happening. Last week we put EPS insulation into our house foundation. If you don’t know what EPS insulation is, it’s basically styrofoam. In other words it’s a plastic-based insulation and SO far away from the original dream.
If you’d take a peek beneath the layers of floor, heating and concrete of your own building you’re very likely to find either glass fiber insulation or EPS insulation. EPS is widely used (even in ’green’ homes) and is less than 4 times cheaper than natural insulation even though it relies heavily on fossil fuel (both for energy during production and material-wise since it’s made of plastic). EPS insulation also contain Styrol (which is extremely toxic) and chemical fire retardants. In other words, this ain’t good stuff for anything but our wallet and our home being well insulated (energy leeks are not energy-efficient/sustainable).
So why are we doing this when there are more natural and green options?
Great question. In the end it was down to lack of time (ironically since this project has taken such a long time). We scrambled to find a good and non-toxic insulation for the foundation before the actual building was due to begin, but couldn’t find one aligned with our budget. We really wanted foam glass but as mentioned previously it’s quite heavy on the dollars. If we would have started this discussion earlier we’re pretty sure we could have found a way to make it work economically, but with life being as crazy as it is, months flew by. The only other option we could find for insulating the foundation were mussel shells. After doing massive research we learned that while the cost would just slightly exceed EPS insulation, the shells needed to dry out for 1-2 years before using them. Sadly we couldn’t find a source for shells that had already been dried. So. Agony
We decided to go for the EPS foundation insulation and see it as a means of being able to use other much better materials in and around the house. There’s no point in letting this less awesome thing take over. A better idea is to focus on the things we’re actually doing to create change and support the earth. Just as with life in general.
So. Insulation Crazytown in our Wildlyh home ended up like this:
Foundation: EPS insulation
Walls: Our walls are massive (500mm thick) blocks of lightweight concrete with tiny air pockets all through them. Both the air pockets and the thickness work as insulation.
Roof: Cellulose (waste paper) insulation from ICell (which is the only company we’ve found that doesn’t use boric acid or borate when preparing their cellulose).
The people over at http://www.sustainablebuild.co.uk/InsulationMaterials.html write:
”Natural insulation are low impact, made from renewable, organic resources and have low embodied energy. They can be reused and recycled, and are fully biodegradable. They are non-toxic, allergen-free and can be safely handled and installed. They also allow for a buildings to breathe by regulating humidity through their absorbent properties, and reducing problems of condensation. This keeps the indoor environment comfortable and protects any timber structures from rot
Unfortunately, natural insulation materials are currently up to four times more expensive than conventional materials, which can be prohibitive to builders, architects and developers. But the environmental and health benefits of natural insulation materials far outweigh their costs, and growing consumer demand combined with government regulation, and rising oil prices will inevitably drive prices down. Despite the high price, natural insulation is an energy-efficient, healthy and sustainable choice for a better indoor and outdoor environment.”
I whole heartedly agree and I’m on a quest to bring sustainable (for both earth and wallet) building materials and insulation to the people. This is just the beginning. You with me?
Let me know if you have any questions in the comments below!
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Elenore Bendel Zahn