Business Articles - Specialty and Trade

Choosing Green: Insulation

In the world of green remodeling, few projects are more important than installing and improving insulation. After all, proper insulation is the key to quiet, comfortable, and energy-efficient homes. Furthermore, as green remodeling expert David Johnston points out, the huge reduction in energy use that goes hand-in-hand with installing or upgrading insulation makes this home improvement green no matter how you slice it. That doesn't mean that there aren't steps you can take to make upgrading or installing insulation even greener, however, and that's what this Green Your Project guide is all about.

Going Green with David Johnston
ServiceMagic understands that it can be tough for homeowners to wade through all the "green" remodeling information out there, which is why we've teamed up with green remodeling expert David Johnston to provide you with the best, most accurate, green remodeling advice in the business. Johnston is the founder of the green consulting firm What's Working, Inc., the author of multiple books on green remodeling, (including the Nautilus Award winner Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time), and he knows more about going green with insulation than just about anybody we know. That makes him the perfect person to give you sound advice on what you need to do to end up with the greenest insulation on the block.

The Cost of (NOT) Going Green
There is a perception out there that green remodeling is more expensive than traditional remodeling practices. With insulation, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Improving the insulation in your home can have such a dramatic impact on your overall energy consumption that you're almost guaranteed to earn back your investment in the form of reduced energy costs in just a few short years, and if you green your insulation, those savings are going to be even more pronounced. If that argument doesn't sell you, Johnston is quick to point out that the value of going green extends far beyond dollars and cents. Green remodeling strives to create a healthier home for you and your family, it encourages the use of low maintenance, high quality materials, and it embraces a more thorough approach to any remodeling project, insulation included. Add to that the implications of going green with your insulation for future generations, and it's easy to see what Johnston means when he says that the true value of green remodeling is nearly impossible to place a price tag on.

Green Insulation Tips from David Johnston
Just what does Johnston suggest you do if you're interested in making sure your insulation installation is as green as possible? Here's a guide drawn from his wisdom, experience, and writings on how to achieve a healthier home, how to maximize energy savings, and how to ensure you're making the best decisions possible for the environment.

Green Insulation Tips for a More Comfortable and Energy-Efficient Home
First and foremost, homeowners install insulation to reduce energy consumption and increase energy savings. If you're looking to install or upgrade insulation, you're on the right track. Here are a few suggestions on what you can do to maximize your benefits.

  • Perform an Energy Audit—During the planning stages, have an energy audit performed on your home. An energy auditor will perform a number of specialized tests that will tell you where your home's present insulation is inefficient, where heat is escaping (i.e. leaks), and will identify other areas where measures can be taken to improve the overall energy efficiency of your home.

  • The Higher the R-value, the Better—First and foremost, you need to know that the higher the R-value of the insulation you install, the better the energy efficiency. You can maximize energy efficiency by installing products that naturally have a higher R-value than others, such as cotton bat and cellulose insulation; and you can improve R-value by installing thicker layers of insulation wherever possible.

  • Don't Forget the Attic — Insulation within your walls is important, but attics, crawlspaces, and other forgotten areas can be sources of serious heat loss and gain.

  • Caulk, Seal, and Weatherstrip—It only takes one drafty window or door to negate all the energy saving potential your new insulation provides. Be sure to caulk, weatherstrip, and seal any areas where heat loss is occurring in your home.

  • Build With SIPs—If you're building a new home or addition, consider using structural insulated panels (SIPs) for all floors, ceilings, and exterior walls. There isn't a close second in the green remodeling world when it comes to building an energy-efficient home.

Green Tips for Healthier, More Comfortable Homes
Improving energy efficiency isn't the only goal of a green remodel. Green remodeling philosophies place just as much importance on improving the overall comfort of your home and making sure your home is as healthy as possible as reducing your utility bills. Here are some suggestions from Johnston to help you come out on top in both departments.

  • Good Insulation = Comfort—Don't let dreams of huge energy savings cloud the fact that a well-insulated home is a more comfortable home. By eliminating sources of heat loss, heat gain, and drafts, a high quality insulation job will make for a warmer home in the winter, a cooler home in the summer, and more consistent, even temperatures year round.

  • Soundproofing—Soundproofing is a nice side benefit of insulating your home. In fact, a good test of whether your home needs an upgrade in the insulation department is to sit in your living room with the windows closed and listen for the neighbors. If you can hear them loud and clear, your insulation probably isn't up to par. SIPs, spray foams, and cellulose insulation provide better soundproofing.

  • Avoid Fiberglass Insulation—In addition to releasing glass fibers into the air that can cause skin irritation, respiratory problems, and in cases of long term exposure, cancer, most fiberglass insulation also contains a urea-formaldehyde binder (believed to be hazardous to your health) to reduce airborne fibers and retain the insulation's shape and thickness.

Green Insulation for Environmentally Friendly Homes
If you're asking what your options are, we saved the best for last. Not only are Johnston's suggestions in this section your best bet when it comes to energy efficiency, health, and comfort, but they're far and away the most environmentally friendly options you have when it comes to insulating your home.

  • Install Bio Based Spray Foam Insulation—Though relatively new on the market, this spray foam insulation may be the most efficient insulation in the business. And since it's soy bean based and water-blown, it emits no VOCs, CFCs, or formaldehyde into indoor or outdoor environments.

  • Install Cellulose Insulation— Cellulose insulation is made from recycled newspaper with borate added as a fire and pest retardant. It has a high insulation value, is made from 75 to 80 percent recycled materials (mostly newspaper), and it requires far less energy to produce than most other insulation options.

  • Install Formaldehyde-Free, Recycled-content Fiberglass Insulation—It's still fiberglass insulation, but it's made of 15 to 30 percent recycled glass content. Choose loose-blown fiberglass, and you won't have to worry about phenol-formaldehyde being used as a binding agent, either.

  • Install Mineral/Rock Wool Insulation—Made from molten slag (steel production waste), rocks, or both, this insulation has a higher density, better R-value, better sound blocking properties, and it's more fire resistant than fiberglass insulation.

  • Avoid CFC or HCFC Based Foam Insulation—Here's an insulation to avoid for the environment's sake. While spray foam insulation is an excellent insulator and a great barrier against noise pollution, it often uses ozone depleting CFCs and HCFCs as propellants. Use CO2 blown isocyanurate, CO2 blown polyurethane, or best of all, use the water propelled bio-based spray foam insulation mentioned above.

Which Shade of Green is Right for You?
While thinking green when it comes to insulation is a smart choice for your pocketbook, your home, your health, and the environment, it's not unusual for homeowners to feel a little overwhelmed when presented with the full scope of green remodeling options. If you're feeling unsure about how green you're willing to go with your insulation installation or upgrade, there's no need to worry. Going green isn't an all-or-nothing proposition, and any step you take in a green direction is a smart one, whether you spend a weekend caulking and sealing your doors and windows or upgrade your entire home with an eco-friendly option like cellulose insulation.

If you think green is the right choice for you, talk with your contractor about adopting a green remodeling philosophy, find a contractor who specializes in green building and remodeling, or seek out the services of a green consulting firm so you can be sure that your new insulation project is as green as it gets.

David Johnston
We are proud to partner with David Johnston, internationally recognized green building expert, to provide our homeowners and service professionals with the information necessary to "green" their projects.
• To learn more about David Johnston, click here.
• To learn more about Green Certification training, click here.

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