Choosing the least toxic green insulation is important when building or remodeling a healthy home. It is especially important if someone who will be living in the home has any type of chemical sensitivities. However, most healthy home specialists agree: There really is no truly safe insulation.
All types of insulation can contaminate a home interior space to varying degrees, so care must be taken during installation and encapsulation. The key is to choose the least toxic green insulation, take care to clean up afterwards and seal the interior wall to protect the indoor air quality throughout the living space.
The purpose of this article is not to evaluate R value and how well each insulation performs, but to zero in on the safety recommendations for healthy home construction or remodeling.
Application, climate, budget and health preferences will ultimately help you determine which is best for your situation.
Without an in-depth examination of all the pros and cons associated with each type, here is a top recommendation based on expert research and anecdotal evidence, as well as the most toxic types to avoid.
Top Green Insulation Recommendation for Healthy Homes and the Chemically Sensitive
Fiberglass insulation is still one of the most popular, but the recent demand for formaldehyde free products has now made it easy to find a fiberglass brand that is green labeled, plus is well tolerated by most people.
Many healthy home builders use Johns Manville Formaldehyde-Free insulation. You can find it at some building supply stores including Lowes. Many chemically sensitive people have had good success with this brand and the cost is negligible compared to other more toxic brands. Even if you’re not chemically sensitive, but want to build healthy, this is a safer choice.
Johns Manville also offers a Foil Faced Polyiso foam insulation that is good for some applications and has had success with chemically sensitive homeowners. Although not completely free from VOCs, this product does not contain flame retardants and claims to emit no offgasing, which is typically blocked anyway by the foil.
The use of bubble foil, or Reflectix, as insulation in traditional home building is not typically recommended because of the questionable R value, even though the company claims that the 3/8 inch foil has an R-21 value in the thicker version.
It may, however, suit insulation needs in non-traditional applications such as trailer remodels and tiny home building, especially for warmer climates. Care to provide enough space in the wall cavity for breathability is also important so as not to create condensation. It is made from aluminum and polyethylene, but is typically inert.
It’s best to stay away from cellulose insulation and many of the blown in types because of toxicity, mold problems and possible rodent or insect infestations. Even the newer cotton insulation (Yes, there’s cotton insulation!) poses health problems since recycled jeans, etc. have toxic coloring agents, mixed fibers such as polyester and agricultural pesticides used in growing the cotton.
Other green products new to the market include insulation made from hemp and cork. There is even wool batt insulation derived from sheep’s wool, but again, there are fillers and additives in some of these product. The cost can be prohibitive for some budgets as well. If you’re interested, you can check out companies like Oregon Sheperd and Black Mountain for more info.
So, again, there is no perfectly safe insulation even if it is labeled ‘green’. That’s why care should be taken to select the least toxic as well as to encapsulate insulation in an airtight manner from the interior living space. Fortunately, the demand for green insulation has produced tried and true brands like Johns Manville that offer formaldehyde free options.