Images like this one are beautiful to me. Maybe it is my many years in the mineral (glass or rock based) fiber products industry, but when I see these products I find them beautiful. I know some see an old product, one they don’t think has changed much over time, but I see an ageless beauty that for over 80 years has been a sustainable choice for insulating our homes and businesses. Its sustainable qualities are numerous, but here are my top 6:
- Environmental Stewardship. It’s is alive and well among mineral fiber insulation manufacturers. Certainly among insulation technologies the mineral fiber industry is most advanced in this regard. Need environmental product declarations or ingredient disclosures, or third-party certifications? Go to any manufacturer’s website and find them, then compare what’s being offered by any other green insulation provider. Mineral fiber insulation is sustainable. For an R-38 fiber glass blown into an attic, according to NIST Bees 4.0 software, today’s modern manufacturing produces a product that has the same environmental impacts as ground up paper “cellulose” insulation which is the self-proclaimed “green insulation” standard.
- Noncombustible. Unfaced (no kraft paper) mineral fiber insulation is non-combustible. It will not burn and adds little or no fuel to a fire. On the other hand, paper or fossil fuel based insulation products add 8,000 to 20,000 British thermal units (Btu) of energy available to burn per every pound used in a home or building. One Btu is about equivalent to the energy released by one kitchen match. So stating it another way: Paper or oil based insulation products add 8,000 to 20,000 kitchen matches available to burn in a fire for every pound that’s used in a home. The amount of fuel added by mineral fiber based products? None.
- Extremely Low Impacts on Indoor Air Quality. A mineral fiber based insulation was the first GREENGUARD certified product for indoor air quality. Today there are thousands of GREENGUARD certified products that go well beyond insulation ranging from copying machines to cleaning products. Mineral fiber based products are largely inorganic and are composed of about 95 percent inert ingredients. And while historically there was concern about formaldehyde-based binders used in the products, today’s binders are bio-based, formaldehyde-free and very interior friendly.
- Extensively Studied and Tested. Fiber glass is the only validated choice from a health and safety standpoint. Thirty five years of research conducted by national and international health agencies has demonstrated that mineral fiber insulation products are safe to manufacture, install and use when recommended work practices are followed. They are the most extensively tested products on the market. When you hear claims about product safety, always remember that “untested” doesn’t mean “safe”.
- A Softer Side. Mineral fiber has always been considered a mechanical irritant, but all of today’s batt insulation products are significantly less irritating than those in the past. Modern day products use a softer binder (adhesive) as well, along with lubricants which tend to give the product a much softer feel as well. When consumers touch today’s products they are amazed at the degree of softness imparted by the finer fiber and softer binder adhesive.
- Saves Energy and Water. Yes, water! It takes on average about 2 gallons of water to generate a kilowatt of electricity. Electric power generation uses more water than anything else in the US. Because mineral fiber insulation is an effective insulator, it saves energy from being used in a home. What characteristics could better embody a green insulation product? You are saving energy you are saving water as well. How much water is being saved? Let’s look at a 1,800 square foot home built in Indianapolis, Indiana in the 1970’s. It’s poorly insulated and with lots of air leakage. If it’s brought up to code and air sealed, through reduced energy use it saves the equivalent of about 40,000 gallons at the average electric utility. Let’s do the math: 100,000,000 single family homes in the U.S x 40,000 gallons of water saved per home to equal to about 40 trillion gallons the utility does not need to use. Water is perhaps the mother of all sustainability issues. Insulation is one of the major solutions to water issues.
So how long does it take to pay back the all of the energy it takes to make mineral fiber insulation? For the insulation in the walls and attic of your home it takes about 40 to 60 days, depending on the product of course. So after about two months it is paying back the environment day after day for the life of the structure.
That’s my definition of beauty. All of this from a technology invented 80 years ago. To me this is what sustainability looks like. And, it’s beautiful.
Scott Miller is Dir. of Sustainability and Product Affairs at Knauf Insulation North America. He is responsible for analyzing sustainability projects & life cycle assessment of Knauf products. A mechanical engineer by training, Scott holds several U.S. and International patents relating to insulation and is a recognized expert regarding the assessment of insulation materials.
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