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Alternative Insulation

It simply is not feasible for every American family to keep the house on high heat all winter, especially for families that live in areas where winter can last for several months. With some prep work prior to cold weather setting in, however, it is possible to significantly cut the electricity bill and generally make your home more fit for winter conditions.

Certain parts of the home require more insulation than others, depending on the size of your home and the materials used to build it. About half of the heat that your home loses comes from your attic/loft and wall space; if you are looking to increase the energy efficiency of your home, start with these areas of the house. If your home has an attic, attic insulation should be of utmost concern. Because attics are usually lofty areas with poor insulation, they can be a huge drain on the house’s heating source. The better insulated an attic is, the less artificial inflation in your energy bill will occur.

Natural Insulation

As with most environmentally friendly endeavors, natural insulation can require a lot of time to install and begin using properly. Once installed, however, natural insulation is easy to maintain, and there are few, if any, environmental or health side effects to be concerned about. Companies that produce natural forms of insulation usually choose substances like recycled glass, clay, and even volcanic materials. Forms of natural insulation are usually tough materials that last longer than other materials, but they can require additional processing that may have environmental impacts and certainly drives the cost up when compared with organic forms of insulation.

Organic Insulation

Like natural insulation, organic forms of insulation usually have no impact on the environment, though organic insulation requires less processing on average and is often easier to maintain. Organic forms of insulation range from those that are slightly processed—expanded corkboard insulation, for example— to those that are not processed at all, like straw and hemp. Because there are so many organic materials that can be used to insulate the home, there is little reason to continue to rely on forms of insulation that are costly, inefficient, and often accompanied by health risks. Industry professionals are unsure of the effects of long term exposure to materials like fiberglass, but installation is certainly a point of intersection that exposes homeowners to unnecessary risk.

Organic Insulation – Cellulose and Straw

Cellulose boasts a wealth of advantages over other organic insulation sources. It is a fire-retardant substance that can double as a repellent for cockroaches and other home pests. It requires much less energy to produce than traditional forms of insulation, and production has a much lighter environmental impact than other forms of insulation. Cellulose is the most sustainable form of insulation that is produced and one of the most cost-effective.

Similar to cellulose insulation, some companies produce a fire-retardant form of insulation using old denim. Not only does this solve a waste solution for denim companies, it is also an extremely efficient production process that minimizes transportation emissions. It is slightly better for you than traditional cellulosic insulation because it is treated with a natural fire retardant. It is, of course, far healthier for you than traditional fiberglass insulation, and does not require any protective measures to install.

Straw is another organic insulator to consider. Because no manufacturing is required to produce an insulation-ready straw product, this is one of the best renewable resources that can be used for insulation. Little to no processing is needed, and straw bales can simply be dropped off at homes that plan on using straw as insulation. In addition to providing excellent insulation from extreme temperatures, straw also provides substantial noise insulation. Straw insulation requires very little attention over the years, and one unexpected bonus is the way that straw reacts to fire. Rather than quickly catching fire, straw bales smolder, potentially slowing the spread of the fire. One of the largest disadvantages involved with using straw as insulation is that it is extremely susceptible to mold. While straw is an affordable form of insulation, it is important to factor in the cost of replacing straw periodically as it molds, both for health and efficiency issues.

Organic Insulation – Hemp & Cork

The practice of using hemp as a form of organic insulation did not begin in the United States. Largely pioneered in New Zealand and parts of Europe, farmers are growing hemp specifically to produce products like insulation. This is a low-narcotic crop, meaning it is fundamentally different from the marijuana plant that is used to get high. Significant changes in U.S. drug policy will need to be made before hemp is a viable option in the United States, however, because farmers who grow hemp are often subjected to raids or arrest by police officers looking to make marijuana arrests. Because hemp cannot be grown in large enough quantities in the U.S. to create insulation materials, hemp or hemp-based insulation would have to be imported from abroad. While it might be an option for those with large insulation budgets, the costs associated with importing insulation would make it prohibitively expensive for most families looking to retrofit their homes with additional insulation. Like other organic forms of insulation, hemp is easy to install and does not require any special equipment or safety precautions. Hemp is safe to install in walls, floors, and in attic-like spaces, but industry experts caution against using hemp under the ground floor. Not only is hemp an efficient way to control the temperature in your home, it also automatically regulates the moisture within any given space, absorbing and releasing moisture as required to keep your home comfortable.

Like hemp, cork insulation did not originate in the United States, but it is now making its way. Portuguese companies started introducing expanded cork insulation into the U.S. market this summer as an incredibly environmentally friendly source of insulation. Cork-producing forests are increasing rapidly in Portugal, which is the leading producer of cork. Unlike traditional cork products (flooring, etc), expanded cork molecules are superheated in large metal containers, and the particles bind together. Like straw, cork has a high degree of resistance to flame, making it a safe choice.

If you are looking to insulate your home with safer, more environmentally friendly materials, it may be worth researching the availability of these materials in your area.

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