One of the most important factors to consider when building a new home or renovating an older building is the issue of insulation. It is insulation that keeps out the cold during the winter months. This has the dual effect of keeping the household bills down and reducing the amount of emissions that are lost from the house into the atmosphere. In the summer, effective insulation has the effect of keeping the house cool, again reducing fuel costs by minimising the employment of fans or air conditioning and therefore, once more, adding to the reduction in carbon deposits into the earth’s atmosphere.
We employ insulation systems for our roofs, walls and floors. Roof insulation is a straightforward task. Wall insulation is a lot more involved, especially if the walls are solid rather than cavity, and insulating the floor can be equally challenging. However, the reward for properly insulating a house has, as we have already described, more wide-ranging benefits than simply reducing the household bills.
Because insulation plays such a prominent part in the protection of our environment, it is hardly surprising that environmentally conscious builders in Devon, including The Builders SW, have been looking into the types of material that are used in the insulation systems in modern houses to find out whether organic, natural materials can be used to lend further assistance to the drive to keep our planet as free as possible from the over-use of man-made, artificial materials, whose manufacture adds dramatically to levels in greenhouse gases. In this article we look at just a few of these natural insulating materials, which, unlike their synthetic counterparts such as fibreglass, mineral wool, polystyrene and polyurethane do not contain high levels of chemicals or involve a significant expenditure of energy in the production process.
Sheep’s wool is an extremely effective insulating material, does not involve energy expenditure in its production and, although many builders will use wool that is treated with chemicals to reduce the risk of fire and insect infestation, others use it in its untreated form as an effective natural insulator.
Another excellent natural insulator, wood fibre is made from wood chippings that have been pressed into boards or batts, with water or some form of natural resin being employed as a binding agent. Once again, minimal energy is used on its production and energy and is uses natural by-products from the forestry injury rather than involving any direct deforestation.
Cellulose is a recycled product that is generally made from newspapers and other cellulose fibres. As well as being capable of being compressed into boards and quilts, it can be sued loose to fill the cavities of walls, floors and roofs alike. Borate is often added to counter fungi, insects and to add fire resistance.
Hemp and Flax
Hemp and flax, either individually or in combination, cost little in energy for their production and have high insulating ability. Potato starch is sometimes used as a binding additive for flax. As with cellulosel borate is often added for its protective qualities.
The Pros and Cons of Natural Insulation
Natural insulating materials have many advantages. Being made from renewable, organic resources, they involve low energy use in their production, are reusable and can be recycled and are entirely biodegradable. They are free from artificial toxins and allergens and are absorbent, assisting in reducing condensation. The biggest disadvantage is cost. Artificial insulation can be produced far more cheaply, sometimes for as little as a quarter of the cost, making it by far the more economical of the two. Despite this, some builders now see the use of sustainable, energy efficient, natural insulation as the way forward when it comes to protecting our homes and our planet.