Zero VOC Insulation

Why we are still putting highly toxic, formaldehyde and VOC filled insulation in our homes is beyond me! 

*and by the way, there are many new options that claim to be "green" "soy-based" or are formaldehyde-free - this DOES NOT mean that they are VOC-free. Look very closely at what's in it* 

But no need to worry, because there are a number of safe options to choose from:

1. Wool Batt

Wool is made into batts and you can get an R-13.7 (3.5 inches) for $3.54 per square foot, plus shipping (from Florida. Ships to Canada as well as the US), and installation, from Good Shepard Wool.

A commenter below has stated that Good Shepard Wool uses a latex binder and Latitude brand adds boric acid and an acrylic binder. Jeff of Safe Shelters has looked into Oregon Shepard batts and found that they add boric acid, sodium pentaborate decahydrate and a proprietary formulation using a natural protein. Black Mountain adds recycled polyester and borate. I do not know of a company that makes pure wool insulation so you must test brands first.

2. AirKrete

AirKrete is a cementitious blown in insulation that claims to be VOC-free. It has passed the "sleep next to it test" of many a MCS patient.  The company however has declined to participate the industry standard VOC test as well as the proper R-value test, so there is some doubt around this product's claims. Because it is a foam, it will get into all the cracks and crevices and therefore give you a higher "real life" R-Value than the batts. You can get it in the thickness that fits your wall. In a 2x4 wall, you will get about R-13 for 3.5 inches. 
It doesn't yet have CCMC (2014), but the contractors claim it has the paperwork needed to get it approved in new buildings in Canada.

3. Recycled Cotton Batt

Ultratouch Insulation is what I used in my chemical-free tiny home. For the 3.5'' thickness, you get an R-Value of 13 and it is only $1.35 per square foot*. You can order it from any Lowes in BC. It is made from denim scraps and does contain Boric and Ammonium Sulfate and a olefin binding fiber. You have to test for your own sensitivities. I would not use this product again as I have become more and more sensitive to synthetic fabrics as well as the new clothing smell (from dyes and other chemicals used in making denim). (*for 24" centres)




4. Recycled Cellulose

Recycled cellulose is another option often slated for those with a chemical sensitivity. It is a blown-in insulation made with recycled newspaper that contains a fire repellant like boric. Lowes, Home Depot and Rona all carry separate brands and you should look into the ingredients of any one that you are considering. Newspapers are now supposedly made with soy-based inks that are not irritating to the chemically sensitive. I don't know, cause I haven't picked up a real live newspaper in ages.  It is the least expensive option of the four, and it has an R-Value of 13.3 for 3.5 inches.



5. Hemp 

Hemp insulation is a newer green option that I think is really promising. There are a few companies manufacturing it now, and one to check out is Thermo-Hemp. If you can find a company and supplier in your country you can ask them if they add anything to it and always test a sample first!

It is R-13.3 for 3.5 inches


6. Styrofoam/Ridged Foam

Johns Manville Foil Faced Polyiso foam does not contain flame retardants and claims that it does not offgas (the foil would also block it if it did). It is the only foam insulation on the market that does not contain flame retardants. 3.5 inches is R-22.8. I was not able to source this in Canada as of 2015.

EPS and XPS insulations are both treated with the flame retardant hexabromocyclododecane - you would need an additional vapour barrier to block the flame retardant. They claim no other offgassing of VOCs. They also have no odour and many sensitive people do not react to them. For use in a tiny house, they have the advantage of having a high R-value.

All three foams have a high insulative value compared to batts or cellulose. In a 2x4 wall, you will get 3.5 inches of insulation at about R-19 for XPS, and R-14 for EPS.

7. Cork


Cork insulation, unlike cork flooring, does not contain adhesives. It is held together by compressing it with heat which releases a natural binder in the cork. The cork therefore gives off a smoky smell as well as the natural smell of cork. This is a new product in North America so it is harder to source and more expensive than many others. It is about double the price of XPS. The R-value is about 13 for 3.5 inches.




8. Roxul 

Roxul is a mineral wool insulation that may be easier to source in hardware stores than some of the above materials. It does contain formaldehyde but the company claims it is cured but the time it hits stores and will not offgas. A good option for those who are not hyper-sensitive. It does not mould. I did get a rash from handling it where it contacted my skin.

3.5 inches is R-15.



9. Fiberglass 

There are a number of fiberglass insulations that are very low in VOCs. EcoBatt by Knauf was recommend by someone who could not tolerate polystyrene, cotton or wool. It is made with a "natural" binder and does give off ammonia (source). Owens Corning Fibreglass insulation has GreenGaurd Children and Schools certification which is the best GreenGaurd certification there is for low emissions. Johns Manville Fibreglass insulation is GreenGaurd Gold.

3.5 inches is R-13-R-14.



10. Reflectix

Reflectix is a bubble foil made of aluminum and polyethylene. It is flexible, very thin and claims to have a very high R value. The thicker version claims an R-21 (which is higher than 5 inches of wool). These claims are disputed by Green Building Advisor and the Government of Canada. The former states that the 3/8th inch foil has an R-value of only 1. This would hardly be useful anywhere unless it is in a curved trailer where all other options have been ruled out.

Insulating Around Windows and Doors - Non-Toxic Options

Instead of using spray foam around windows and doors fill in the gaps with Backer Rod and seal with non-toxic silicone.



41 comments:

  1. Great tips here. Its so hard to find this sort of insulation in Barrie however. Any good online stores I should check out? Thanks again.

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    1. ECO Building Resource in Aurora
      Tel. 1-877-741-3535
      Web www.eco-building.ca

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  4. Do you or Paula Baker-Laport have any suggestions for radiant barriers (metallic sheeting material for ceiling of attic)?

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    1. I don't know anyone that uses them in Canadian climates but what about Denny Foil?

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  6. Good Shepherd wool insulation had latex as I binder last time I checked. (It was _very_ difficult to get the owner of the company to admit this, but after checking out a sample it was very clear to me there was something in there besides wool, and he finally admitted it was latex.) I had talked with Shepherd's Dream about getting some wool that was really just wool (they are a very eco-minded company, and I consider them trust-worthy). I ended up going with Latitude brand. It has boric acid, and an acrylic binder. Acrylic is much more tolerable for me than latex, and boric acid doesn't seem to pose any MCS-related problems. (As Corrine said, don't eat it or breathe it, and you will probably be okay with it, as it does not put of any VOC's.)

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    1. Wow very interesting! Thanks for sharing Leslie

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    2. Acrylic is definitely more toxic than latex...

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  12. Which of these forms of insulation could be installed using the blow in insulation? I want to use a less invasive form of insulation installation, but it would also be great for the insulation to also be green! I am thinking that the recycled cellulose is my best choice for that?

    http://www.earlytimeshomesolutions.com/attic-insulation/

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  15. Do you suggest a vapor barrier such as tu-tuff under the Eva and against the outside wall if attaching to a fiberglass shell trailer wall or on top of an aluminum tread floor? Would that help condensation? Should i apply reflectix first in order to have a better R value?

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  18. I would tend to think that a wool bat might be a more common option for people, but I don't know a lot about insulation types. However, I liked when you mentioned that materials are going "green" more, it seems like that might appeal more the the general populace. Nowadays with technology and different manufacturing, it seems like there are more options for those who want an eco-friendly solution. Thanks for the information. http://www.allweathershieldpa.com/services.html

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  22. Roxul's MSDS states that it is 1-6% "cured urea extended phenolic formaldehyde binder". Please comment, thx. Pg 1: http://www.roxul.com/files/RX-NA_EN/pdf/MSDS%20and%20Safety%20Bulletin/Roxul%20Material%20Safety%20Data%20Sheet%2002-13-14.pdf

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    1. That's why I mention - not for the hyper sensitive.

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  23. Cork insulation is purported to be pure cork - no additives and have an R-value of around 4 per inch

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  27. Is there polyester insulation in Canada? It's rather popular in au and nz. But not so popula in Canada, usa and Europe. Why? Do you know?
    Regards, Mike

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    1. It was discontinued at Lowes in the US due to low sales it seems. This one is still available in the US. http://www.middletownlumber.com/enguard.html

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  28. So many options!! We need to choose one for our basement. My husband wants soundproofing so we don't hear everything from upstairs. I don't want any toxins if possible. We are not chemically sensitive, just like to live as clean as possible. Can you suggest which of these will do the job for us?

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    1. Ridged foam or Roxul would be god.

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    2. We are currently installing Roxul "Safe and Sound" for soundproofing between some interior walls. We can barely hear a very noisy washing machine :) It's also very fire-resistant.

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  30. Yes, this excellent blog is giving me hope once again that I might be able to live a chemical free life and "get my life back" once again! I can't thank you enough.

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  31. Great expanded article about cork insulation here: http://www2.buildinggreen.com/blogs/expanded-cork-greenest-insulation-material

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