Non-Toxic Insulation: A Complete Guide

Updated October 2019 

There are so many excellent choices for non-toxic, healthy, green insulation, there should be one to fit everyone's needs.

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 or safe. Look very closely at what's in it. Flame retardants and mildewcides are not counted as VOCs.

On top of that, certifications are not that useful: almost every insulation now qualifies as GreenGuard Gold, which for sensitive folks is not enough information.

The post includes the best of green non-toxic insulation and includes a cost comparison for 2019.

I recommend all of the products here, some products have affiliate programs and some do not. Upon purchase, I earn a small commission though affiliate links at no extra cost to you.

For assistance with choosing the best insulation for your needs, sensitivities, and budget, you can contact me for a one-on-one consult. 


Options Used in Wood Framed Houses


1. Fiberglass 


Fiberglass is the most common insulation used in standard stick framed houses in Canada and the US. This option has improved a lot in recent years and specific brands have become extremely low in VOCs.

Formaldehyde-Free Brands:

EcoBatt by Knauf is recommend by a number of extremely sensitive folks who could not tolerate polystyrene, cotton or wool. The SDS claims an "inert polymer bonding agent derived from plant starches" and fiberglass.

No other materials are listed (but anything less than 1% does not need to be listed such as a possible mildewcide and or preservative in this case, see more below). They do claim formaldehyde-free.

Owens Corning Ecotouch Fiberglass insulation has GreenGuard Children and Schools certification which was the best GreenGuard certification for low emissions (now rolled into GreenGuard Gold). The binder is formaldehyde-free and "made from widely available plant materials" according to the company.

Certainteed Fiberglass insulation is also made with a plant-based binder.

Johns Manville Fiberglass insulation is GreenGuard Gold and uses a formaldehyde-free acrylic binder.

What are BioBinders?

We don't know much about what biobinders actually are, but by looking at this patent you can tell that they look mostly safe. However it's hard to zero in on what it is. There are some preservatives there and when they use a biobased binder it looks like they are adding a biocide as well.

Are there Flame Retardants in Fiberglass?

Fiberglass insulation is made with boron but I don't see any other flame retardant added, especially in the batts that do not have paper backing, and the spray in type.

Blow in fiberglass that I have looked at recently contain borates, soda ash, lime, siloxanes/silicates/silane, mineral oil and an unknown "anti static additive". Owens Corning unbonded loose fill, and Knauf Jetstream Ultra look similar. A client reported a "strong smell" from JM Climate Pro Fibgerglass blow in, but I don't see the ingredients for that one, so I cannot compare it to the other two.

R-Value

3.5 inches is R-13-R-14.

Cost USD (2019)

Knaff Ecobatt is 0.49/sq ft and you can buy it at Home Depot or through your contractor.

2. Mineral Wool


Mineral wool is my top choice for batt insulation. It is in widespread use by builders who build green or high quality homes. It is easy to source in North America.

Brands

Rockwool (formerly Roxul) is the most common and accessible mineral wool insulation. They have a new version called AFB, that does not contain formaldehyde, but it has a proprietary and unlisted ingredients and ammonia (here is the label). It's also much harder to source.

The standard Rockwool ComforBatt does contain phenol formaldehyde which will cure completely and quite quickly if it's not already cured by the time it gets to you. You could try both options, but there are few situations in which the regular Rockwool does not work for someone.

It is mould resistant. I did get a rash from handling it where it contacted my skin but I did not pick up a smell/offgassing of formadehyde.

Thermafiber by Owens Corning is a brand that has a formaldehyde-free line (you will see the letters FF) this usually has to be special ordered through a store.

American Rockwool is a brand which is harder to source. The company claims no chemical additives or binders, and that would be a bonus for the extremely sensitive. They also have a blown in option.

Other Info

An easy way to cut through mineral wool is with an electric carving knife.

This insulation has good soundproofing qualities. The Safe n Sound version can be used on interior walls for soundproofing between rooms.

R-Value

3.5 inches is R-15.

Cost USD (2019) 

$0.95/ sq ft for Rockwool (Comfortbatt, 3.5 inch)

Where to Buy

You can find Rockwool and Thermafiber at hardware stores across the US and Canada or through your contractor.

3. Wool Batt and Blow-In


Less common and more expensive, wool batting might be the next insulation batting to consider if you don't do well with fiberglass or mineral wool.

Brands

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 to their NatuWool which is 95% wool with 5% polyester binder and is treated with borax.

Blow-in

The purest options here will be the blow-in wool insulation. Some extremely sensitive folks have done well with Oregon Shepard blow-in and another extremely sensitive person found Havelock loose fill had "no smell". I tested Havelock and found that it did have a very wooly smell. The natural oils of the wool have an odour that may not be okay for many sensitive people, although it is not an additive or chemical smell.

While none of them claim organic certification, wool is one of the purest options. As for borax/boric acid, I'm mostly concerned about inhalation, ingestion and absorption through touching eyes and mouth. I'm not very concerned about it once it's behind the wall.

R-Value

Wool in batts has R-13.7 in 3.5 inches
Blow in densepack R-value: can be 15.3 in 3.5 inches

Cost USD (2019)

Havelock Loose Fill is $1.97/sq ft
Havelock Batts is $1.62/sq ft

Where to Buy

Buy through local green building supply shops or ship from the closest one.

4. Recycled Cotton Batt


Ultratouch Insulation is what I used in my chemical-free tiny home. If you rule out fiberglass and mineral wool, this would be something else to consider that is low cost.

It used to be made from new denim scraps but they have moved to recycled denim. It does contain boric and ammonium sulfate and an olefin binding fiber (similar to rayon).

You have to test for your own sensitivities. I became more sensitive to fabric treatments after I moved in to my house (and I had the type made from new scraps).

Other Info

Wear a mask while cutting and installing as it does get extremely dusty when working with it.

R-Value 

For the 3.5'' thickness, you get an R-Value of 13

Cost USD (2019) 

$0.79/sq ft

Where to Buy

This had to be special ordered when I built my house. Now, you can buy it at Lowes and Home Depot.


5. Hemp 


Hemp insulation is the newest alternative insulation in the North American market. It's been used for much longer in Europe. I think it is very promising. It's harder to source and more expensive than some of the other options in this category, but it could be really great for someone who wants something natural.

There are a few companies manufacturing it now:

One of the first ones was Thermo-Hemp in Europe.

NatuHemp Semi Rigid panels are available in the UK and Canada. Canadian NatuHemp, which can be shipped throughout Canada and the US, is made of 88% hemp fiber and 12% polyester fiber, with no chemical binders and no off-gassing (they claim).

Sunstrand was in the early stages of production in 2018, of producing hemp insulation batts for the general market in the US. The binder is unspecified/proprietary.

Companies have been coming and going in this industry.

Ask them what they add to it, apart from hemp: alternate fibers, binders, flame retardants and if it's organic. And always test a sample first!

R-Value

It is R-13 for 3.5 inches

Cost USD (2019)

NatuHemp is $1.80/sq ft
Sunstrand batt is $1/sq ft

Where to Buy

Contact the companies on where to source it.

Blown-In Insulation


1. Cellulose


Recycled cellulose is an option often slated for those with chemical sensitivity. It is a blown-in insulation made with recycled newspaper that contains a fire repellent like boric.

Newspapers are made with soy-based inks but they still contain many other chemicals in the inks apart from soy and there are additives to the insulation.

Dense packed cellulose is often used in Passive Houses, which have great attention to details around moisture management and green healthy materials.

Brands

Lowes and Home Depot both carry the Greenfiber brand which is 85% recycled newspaper. It contains boric acid, sodium polyborate, sodium tetraborate pentahydrate, amylopectin and mineral oil.

Home Depot also carries Ecocell, which makes batts that are a mixed of cellulose and cotton. It also contains PET plastic, very small amounts of boric acid, as well as sodium poly borate and ammonium sulfate. You can find this insulation without ammonium sulfate - that may be special order.

Rona in Canada carries Weathershield brand.

R-Value 

13.3 for 3.5 inches

Cost USD (2019)

$0.32/sq ft

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.

We don't know what the undisclosed 2% of this product's ingredients are, but many with severe chemical sensitivities have chosen to go with this option and done well with it.

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, although people have reported shrinking, crumbling and trouble drying. Here is the source for the concerns.

R-Value

R-13 for 3.5 inches

Cost USD

Around $2.25/sq ft including installation costs

Where to Source

You would have to check to see if you have a certified installer in your area before proceeding.

3. Real wool, mineral wool, and fiberglass can be blown in as well. Brand names in those respective sections. 


Exterior Insulation for Houses 



1. Styrofoam/Rigid Foam

i. Polyisocyanurate "Polyiso" is one of the most common types of exterior insulation. 

Typical current blowing agents for polyiso are CO2 and pentane. There is some "thermal drift", meaning the blowing agents offgas over time. The offgassing is extremely minimal.

This is going to become a very common insulation as codes move to require exterior insulation.

Flame retardants are a bigger concern than trace pentane. The most common flame retardant is TCPP. It's best to look for brands that use a phosphate based FR instead. Though the foil does block the FR, the edges are unsealed and it will never be perfect.

Brands

Johns Manville Foil Faced Polyiso has been the most popular brand among those who are sensitive. But they have discontinued Energy 3E which was the one made without TCPP (it used organo-phosphorus FR).

GAF polyiso EnergyGuard-NH uses a halogen-free flame retardant (which is phosphate based, like Energy 3E was). "Unlike TCPP, the flame retardant becomes part of the polymer backbone of the insulation—so there is no free flame retardant that can leach out, according to GAF’s director of sustainability Martin Grohman. TCPP, by contrast, is not chemically bonded to the polyiso polymer, so it can more readily escape." Source

Sheets of polyiso by these brands (and others) can be used as exterior insulation or you might find polyiso in the form of ZIP System R-Sheathing, which is the Huber Zip OSB sheathing, polyiso and weather resistant barrier all in one.

R-Value 

Technically it's R-6/ inch but it's really about R-5.6/inch over its lifespan because it loses R-Value over time. It also loses R-value the colder it gets.

Cost by R-Value (R6)

R-6 is $0.60 / sq ft

ii. Extruded Polystyrene (XPS)

XPS can also be used as exterior insulation. XPS like polyiso has some thermal drift, some very slow offgassing of the blowing agents over time.

"Over a long period of time (50 to 75 years), the blowing agent slowly diffuses through the thickness of the foam" (source).

Typical blowing agents for XPS are CFC-12, HCFC-142b and HFC-134a, but they change their formulas over time. HFC-134a will be eliminated from extruded polystyrene by January 1, 2021.

XPS insulation was treated with the flame retardant hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) until recently. The two main brands, Dow Styrofoam (Lowes) and Owens Corning Foamular (Home Depot) no longer contain HBCD. Many are now using a butadiene styrene brominated copolymer. (Source).

How Concerning are these Flame Retardants in Rigid Foam?

Flame retardants are sometimes considered non-volatile and sometimes semi-volatile and are found in dust form. If they become dust borne the main route of exposure is hand to mouth, though you also inhale them.

R-Value

R-5/inch

Cost by R-Value

R-5 is 0.60/sq ft

2. Mineral Wool Board 

The other common and easy to source exterior insulation used in the US and Canada is Rockwool in board form.

The Rockwool Comfortboards will be used more and more as many codes across the US shift to requiring exterior insulation. Foam and Rockwool will be the two main types to consider since they will be familiar to builders and easy to source.

R-Value 

R-4/inch

Cost by R-Value (R6)

R-6 is $1. 24 sq ft

3. Cork


Thermacork 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 does give off a smoky smell as well as the natural smell of cork.

This is a newer product in North America and is more expensive than the more conventional options. If you can afford it, it is my top pick for non-toxic exterior insulation due to lack of additives and flame retardants.

It can be used as exterior insulation or even the facade of a house which serves the purpose of siding, insulation and noise reduction. See this post as an example or cork used as the facade.

R-Value

R-4/inch

Cost by R-Value (R8)

R-8 (doesn't come in R-6) it's $4.93/sq ft for the insulation type (rougher than the facade)
R-8 in the facade grade, which covers your exterior insulation and your siding in one, is 10.77/sq ft

Where to Buy

You can buy this through green building supply stores.

4. Wood Fiberboard


Wood fiberboard is often used in High Performance/Passive House designs.

One popular brand in North America is Gutex. It is 95% wood (spruce/fir, post-industrial, recycled and new wood), 4% polyurethane and about 1% paraffin. Total VOC level of 187 μg/m3.


R-Value

R-3.7/inch

Cost

R 5.8 is $1.81/sq ft

Where to Source

You can buy this through 475.

Insulation Typically Used in Trailers, RVs, and Vans


1. Rigid Foam


If you prefer to watch a video on the three rigid foams I made this video to explain the toxins in them.

EPS (Expanded Polystyrene aka Styrofoam)

EPS is often used in trailers and can be referred to as "block foam" by the companies.

EPS usually is made with pentane as a blowing agent, the final product has trace amounts of pentane which dissipates rather quickly and so even as it breaks down it does not offgas further. EPS, despite the name (polystyrene), does not offgas styrene.

It is considered 0-VOC - pentane and styrene are not exempt from the VOC testing.

The concerns over polystyrene (Styrofoam) and styrene comes from the following a) chemicals released during the manufacturing of the product b) the product is very toxic if you burn it and c) the styrene can leach if you drink beverages especially hot or very specific beverages out of Styrofoam cups.

In the form of insulation, I would consider this product to be non-toxic, 0 VOC, odourless and stable, with the only risk being flame retardants. This is a very old product with a long track record, here are a couple links to back up the claims.

EPS used to be treated with hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), but no longer is. The foil faces of these insulations block the flame retardants if they are sealed up. But the foil and plastic backed versions can have a strong offgassing odour.

EPS used in packaging and cups, does not contain a flame retardant, and people have sometimes been able to source this type of foam for small structures.

If using EPS in a living space I would recommend borate treated foams to prevent ants which love this insulation.

R-14 for 3.4 inches EPS.

2. Reflectix and Prodex

Reflectix is a bubble foil made of aluminum over polyethylene bubble wrap. It is flexible, very thin and claims to have a very high R-value. The thicker version claims 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 (the same as a single pane of glass).

This would hardly be useful anywhere unless it is in a curved trailer or other RV or vehicle where all other options have been ruled out. Sometimes it's just used to insulate windows, which can be a great help.

Prodex is another similar material, foil and polyethylene based, whose R-value is disputed.

Many similar brands can be found easily on Amazon or Home Depot.

3. Aerogel


Aerogel is a fairly new product, unusual and harder to source. The term itself can refer to a variety of materials ranging from silica, to polyisocyanate to formaldehyde. You will have to check with the company to find out what they are made of and what the VOC levels are.

Most of the Aerogel insulation brands are silica based. I have seen some that I would expect to be very low or 0 VOC. Buy Aerogel site has foil backing which would block all the VOCs if sealed up. It does give off ammonia.

They claim an extremely high R-Value of R-10 to R-30 per inch. The R-value claims are doubted by GBA. They are ideal for curved structures such as domes, arched cabins and curved trailers. They are also very pricey.

You can find some brands on Amazon.

4. Thinsulate

3M Thinsulate (SM600) is an insulation used in vans, other vehicles and RVs. It is made of polyethylene terephthalate (a type of polyester) and polypropylene fibers which will be tolerable to many. The backing is polypropylene. 1% or less of the additives are proprietary and therefore unlisted. The health rating is 0 which is good.

What I don't love about this product in vehicles is that the insulation itself is vapour permeable and it is attached to the walls with 3M 90 Spray (GreenGuard certified, not GreenGuard Gold, not reported to be very tolerable).

You may find this insulation tolerable and it may be a good product for a tiny house or structure. You can buy it on Amazon and Ebay.

R-value of 5.2 for the 1.65 inch

I have seen similar but more unusual insulation made from polyethylene and polyester for homes in batts. (It is more popular in some countries outside of North America.) It may be tolerable depending on what is added to it.

5. Vacuum Insulation Panels 

Vacuum Insulation Panels have the highest insulation value of any of the insulation materials.

These Panasonic panels have an R-Value of R-60 per inch. They were used in the latest Leaf House design (tiny house). This would allow you to build a tiny house for almost any climate.

The foil vacuum pack will block any VOCs from migrating through, but your moisture management system would have to be planned carefully here.

These won't work in most houses and they might not work in most trailers either.

They are very pricey and harder to source than almost all others.








Insulating Around Windows and Doors - Non-Toxic Options



Spray foam is often used around window and door. Handi Foam is GreenGuard Gold and will be tolerable for many folks after curing. In Canada the best source is OL. I find this spray foam to be odourless once cured. Other brands like Great Stuff, which you can find anywhere, seem to be to me to be very similar, if not the same.

Instead of using spray foam around windows and doors you can fill in the gaps with Backer Rod and seal with non-toxic caulk if needed. (I have a post on caulking if you need to test multiple brands).



healthy home consult, building biology, choosing materials, healthy home

Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist with 5 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.



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Non-Toxic Windows, Blinds & Curtains

Updated October 2019


1. Window materials – Windows made of thermally broken aluminum are the top choice for non-toxic windows. Accoya wood is also a healthy window option. Some vinyl and fiberglass can be considered, though they do offgas.

2. Window treatments – Natural untreated fabric, natural fibre roll down blinds, non-painted aluminum blinds and aluminum screens. Blackout bamboo shades, polyester curtains, hemp, cotton and paper pleated shades should be considered. Avoid PVC shades/curtains, flame retardant and wrinkle-free finishes, and wood and aluminum blinds with finishes that offgas.

3. Window sealing – Polyurethane canned foam is the norm, which does cure quite well. The least toxic option is backer rod.

I recommend all of the products here, some products have affiliate programs and some do not. Upon purchase, I earn a small commission though affiliate links at no extra cost to you.

Non-Toxic Curtains and Blinds


The best non-toxic window coverings are natural untreated fabric, natural fibre roll down blinds, aluminum blinds and aluminum screens.

For blackout shades, bamboo shades with liners, polyester curtains, hemp, cotton and paper pleated shades should be considered.

Avoid PVC shades/curtains, curtains highly treated with flame retardants and other chemicals, and wood and aluminum blinds with finishes that offgas.

1. Fabric


Fabric curtains are usually treated with wrinkle-free chemicals and flame retardants. Natural fabrics do break down in UV light but are a healthier option. Look for Oeko-Tex or GOTs certified fabrics to guarantee no chemical treatments.

Libeco linen is not GOTS certified but is usually grown without pesticides and the natural colours don't contain dyes.






2. Blinds and Shutters


blindschalet.com
Bamboo

Green versions include bamboo roll down blinds that are not treated with chemicals like those from Earthshade and Blinds Chalet.

Check to see what the backing is if any.

Wood

I have not found wooden blinds with a 0 VOC finish since this is so hard to accomplish with something that holds up to UV. Real wood blinds are also prone to warping. Real wood is best used in shutters.

Faux wood blinds are PVC, but composite blinds can be made of a safer plastic mixed with wood.

www.earthshade.com
Aluminum

Aluminum blinds used to use powder coated metal which was very safe. You can find some older blinds like this. But currently all metal blinds in North America, Asia and Europe are made with a polyester based baked on enamel finish that does offgas. I have also seen additives, for example, Hunter Douglas ads an anti static additive to the coating. This may be something like Teflon, which would offgas as well.

You can find brushed aluminum blinds with no paint or coating, like those from Earthshade. At some retailers, brushed aluminum does have a coating.


3. Between the Glass


Between the glass is a really cool option that eliminates the worry of offgassing. Here is an example from Pella.

4. Screens


Conventional screens are very smelly at first. They can be left outside to offgas, or aluminum screens can be used instead. Marvin is one brand that makes aluminum options.

Non-Toxic Blackout Shades 


1. Bamboo Shades


blindschalet.com
Blinds Chalet blackout liner on the bamboo shades is PVC- free and they claim that it is environmentally friendly.














2. Polyester Curtains


Polyester with No PVC will work for many. If you can wash and or air them out first that will help:
West Elm 100% polyester curtains still have that new fabric toxic smell but will offgas.

These Eclipse polyester curtains from Amazon do not contain flame retardants, can be washed and aired out and should be tolerable after washing and airing for most people.

These Sleep Well polyester curtains do not guarantee no flame retardants or fabric treatments, but they are 100% polyester and free of PVC. They are washable. You can remove that new fabric smell by washing. Some have reported these having no smell and others more sensitive still can pick up the new fabric smell.

3. 100% Blackout Shades


earthshade.com
Earthshade makes eco blackout shades and rollers that are probably the safest ready-made option on the market. The blackout roller shades do contain 35 ppb formaldehyde which is produced when pressing the polyester sheets together to laminate them with heat. The shades have also been processed with bleach. Those are the only two treatments of the fabric.

Generally my recommendation on formaldehyde (as long as it's not urea) is to give it 3 months of offgassing. When installed with a proper blackout system these will get you the most light blocking of the list.




4. Something Simple for Light Blocking


Another option to consider is this paper black pleated shade - the company claims in an email they do not give off any hazardous chemicals (I bought the natural colour version of this - it has a slight toxic smell and needs to be offgassed only for a short while).

They are not that great at blocking light compared to the other options and you will need to double them up to make a bigger difference. But these are super inexpensive, easy to install quickly, and worked perfectly in my tiny house.

5. Hemp


Another really safe option (truly the safest) would be to make your own blackout curtains with pesticide-free hemp fabric.

Though it's difficult to make traditional looking curtains from this thick, not very flexible fabric.








6. Cotton


IKEA Room Darkening Curtains are made with 100% cotton are somewhat light blocking. They should be washed or aired out before using.

Avoid: vinyl roller shades and vinyl mini-blinds, PVC and conventional blackout curtains.







Non-Toxic Window Frame Options


The top choice for green non-toxic window frames is aluminum (thermally broken). Accoya naturally treated wood can be considered another top choice, though wood is more difficult to upkeep.

Fiberglass and Vinyl are the next best choices - they do offgas, but some brands will cure quite quickly or be low enough emissions to not cause any issues.

Non-Accoya wood is treated with pesticides, insecticides and fungicides and it prone to warping and water damage. Let's look deeper:

1. Metal Window Frames


Aluminum windows are the healthiest, safest option. It is what I used in my tiny house (pictured left). On the interior, I added wood framing trim. You can also use decorative moldings around the windows.

I used DYG windows from Canada. Milgard is a brand that makes thermally broken all aluminum windows (US and Canada).

What is used in the windows as a thermal break is blocked by the glass and metal so there is no need to worry about much offgassing. Thermally broken aluminum windows are all aluminum with polyurethane inside.

Non thermally broken aluminum windows are not a good idea to use as they conduct heat and cold and easily condensate. Aluminum clad means there is an exterior of aluminum which usually has wood inside.

The most extremely sensitive clients can pick up the seal, PVC glass stop and some glues used.

The finishes I have seen on aluminum windows are baked on enamel, resin paints, powder coated and anodized. Some baked on enamel finishes and paints can offgas, the other two are considered safe. The gaskets are made out of rubber or PVC.

2. Wooden Window Frames


Wood windows are usually treated with fungicides, pesticides and insecicides. You could use a sealer that seals those chemicals like AFM Safe Seal, AFM Transitional Primer or Zinsser Shellac.

Safer Wood

Accoya wood used in some window brands uses a non-toxic process called acetylation to naturally provide rot resistance. They use no chemical fungicides or mildewcides and they claim this process helps to obtain less shrinking and swelling than most solid wood windows. Loewen is one of the brands that uses Accoya, and allows you to choose your paint brand.

Custom Wood

You could go with totally custom made wood windows to avoid fungicides/pesticides, but they are more expensive and you still have to consider what kind of sealer you can tolerate on the inside and outside. For an exterior sealer see my post on paints and sealers.

Problems with Wooden Windows

All wood (through and through) windows are not a good idea as they do not hold up well to moisture in the long run, Accoya wood claims to have solved this problem.

You can also consider ones that are wood on the inside and a more weather resistant material on the outside if you like the look of wood inside. Consider also the glue that is used in conventional wood windows could be irritating for the sensitive person.

Wood Treatments

Marvin's wood windows (which have aluminum on the exterior) are treated with TimberTreat pesticide, tebuconazole and propiconazole fungicides, an unlisted insecticide and mineral oil. Pella and Anderson also make wood windows that are treated with the same or similar chemicals (they are also aluminum on the exterior).

3. Fiberglass Window Frames


Pella Window frames from pella.com
Fiberglass offgasses VOCs and some sensitive people do report reacting to it. Though it may be tolerable for some. Some types and brands are better than others (in terms of offgassing) and this could result in a preference of fiberglass over vinyl or vice versa.

Marvin's Ultrex was not tolerated by the very sensitive though some less sensitive have done well with it. Marvin has two different kinds of fiberglass, one has an acrylic component and one has a polyurethane component. You may find them to be different with the polyurethane one being better tolerated. Pella fiberglass is tolerated by some sensitive folks.

Kolbe has their own fiberglass called Glastra which is mixed with another polymer (plastic).





4. Vinyl Window Frames



Vinyl is generally not healthy, but since this is a hard plastic, many very sensitive individuals report tolerating it. I did not pick up any offgassing on the vinyl windows I tested (and used in a little camping trailer).

I can pick up the offgssing in some of them used in apartments under one year old. Others have reported reacting with new ones, some let them offgas for a while before installing. Personally, with a bit of time to offgas, I find these to be good. Better than fiberglass, but not as good as aluminum.

Fibrex is a PVC and wood composite made by Anderson which some sensitive folks have reported being too high in offgassing for them.

Vinyl Components

Vinyl components can be used in any window frame type. Look into the gasket, window stops, jamb liners and tracks which can all be PVC.  I have seen some companies (like Alpine), replace the PVC stop with aluminum. More details on Alpine (which makes fiebrglass and vinyl windows) and other low toxin "High Performance" windows in this post on Passive Houses.

What are the High Quality Trusted Window Brands?


High quality window companies recommend by architects include: Marvin, Kolbe, Anderson, Pella, and Wasco. Alpine for High Performance windows.

Are Gas filled Windows Non-Toxic? 


Windows filled with argon or krypton gas have a higher insulative value and both gasses are considered non-toxic.

Are Low-E Coatings Non-Toxic?


The two main types of Low-E coatings are both non-toxic. The"soft coat" which is a mechanically applied silver coating that is within a double pane window system. You will have no exposure to the silver. A "hard coat" is a layer of tin oxide that is applied while the glass is still hot. The tin is a more integral part of the glass in this case, and is therefore not a risk.


Sealing Around Windows


Caulking


The first two I would test out are AFM Caulk and silicone. Silicone caulks all have different odours/offgassing and rates of curing. Try Chemlink and GE.

I have a post on caulking that goes into more detail.

Sealing Around the Frame


Plastic backer rod (polyethylene) can be used to seal around windows. This is non-toxic and odourless alternative to polyurethane canned spray foam.

Many people do tolerate the canned spray foams after some offgassing (give it 24 hours to cure or more). Great Stuff is a common one to find easily online and in stores. Handi-Foam is another brand, that is certified with Greenguard Gold for more assurance (but I cannot tell the difference between the two).

Wool is another option, if you are sure you won't have moisture issues around windows. I prefer not to have wool around windows.

Window Flashing


For zero-VOC window flashing use TYPAR AT. They do not recommend this being used in the rough openings, and it doesn't fit all building codes.





Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist with 5 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.


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Free Location Effect Sabbatical E-Booklet

Sign up for the email list for a free 15 page e-booklet on the Top Six Spots for a Location Effect Sabbatical, 2019


This includes the top 6 American locations in four states: Arizona, Nevada, California and New Mexico. These are campsites for RVs and tents (some have cabins, but not vetted) where experienced mold avoiders have found a lot of healing within the last year. Many of these locations are tried and true for many years, but I make sure I have recent reports on all of them.

The brochure covers the basic information you need to decide on which one will be best for you, including:

Location, elevation, basics on the campsite (hook ups, bathrooms etc), how spacious they are, costs, proximity to stores, WiFi and cell coverage, temperatures (and other weather related details).

This post on the Locations Effect goes into more detail on what a sabbatical entails (and also what to bring!)

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10 Best Non-Toxic Rugs for the Chemically Sensitive

Non-Toxic Eco Rugs: The Top Natural and Organic Options

There are only a few companies who have gone the extra mile to fully disclose what is in their rugs. These are the top companies making green healthy rugs safe for the chemically sensitive.

The most sensitive should use rugs that have not been treated with detergents, or dyes (even eco dyes), and should confirm no moth treatments which is a pesticide, usually permethrin (on wool), or other treatments such as stain guard treatments.

For the less sensitive, eco or vegetable dyes might work. Wool won't contain flame retardants.

1. Earth Weave (Wool)


Earth Weave - Earth Weave rugs are made out of wool, with no moth proofing and no other chemical treatments to the rugs.

Dyes are organic. The rugs do contain natural latex. Custom sizes are possible.

You can order them through Green Design Center.

A 4 x 6 rug is $418






2. DMI (Seagrass)


DMI - Makes rugs out of their carpet material. These are seagrass rugs with no dyes, insecticide or chemical treatments. They do contain natural latex in the backing.

They also make wool rugs.

Contact Green Design Center to choose the custom size.






3. Novica (Wool)


Novica  - Has a number of Mexican Zapotec 100% wool rugs dyes with natural dyes, they do not contain any other treatment, they claim, such as mothproofing, stain resistant coatings and natural latex.

A 4 x 6 wool rug is about $390.








4. Loloi Rugs (Wool/Mixed)


Urban Natural - Carries Loloi rugs that are 100% wool, and wool/jute. They use vegetable dyes and no adhesives.

You can buy samples of the Loloi rugs from Urban Natural.

A 4 x 6 rug is about $220.









5. Hook and Loom (Wool or Cotton)


Hook and Loom - One of my top choices for rugs because of how forthcoming they are, and the fact that they used untreated wool. The wool rugs are made from undyed natural wool, no detergents, no pesticides, no flame retardants and no latex.

A 4 x 6 wool rug is around $245.

They also have cotton rugs which are made from recycled cotton, and have some polyester and other materials. 4 x 6 is around $90.




6. Organic Weave (Wool & Cotton)


Organic Weave -  Another great pick - these are the only GOTS certified organic rugs I have seen. Their rugs are made from wool and cotton, and dyed with all natural dyes.

They claim no chemicals in the cleaning of the raw material and the dyeing of the yarn or the final cleaning of the rugs. No synthetic moth treatments or chemical flame retardants. The wool rugs do have latex. They deliver to Canada and the US without import duties.

A 5 x 8 rug is around $2400





7. Lorena Canals (Cotton)


Lorena Canals - What I like about these rugs is that they are washable. That might suite some people more than the other options. 97% cotton with "eco dyes".

A 4 x 5 rug is $230.










8. Cali Bamboo (Bamboo, Cotton, Jute, Bamboo, Wool)


Cali Bamboo - Carries some rugs that are undyed, unbleached but I did not hear back from them with the full specs (mothproofing etc.).

They carry a number of lines: rugs are made of various materials from wool mixes, jute, bamboo, PET (plastic), nylon, and cotton. Rugs made out of denim scraps usually retain the chemical fabric treatment of the blue jeans or might be recycled.

Bamboo rug pictured is $135 for 4 x 6.



9. Dana Haim (Wood & Cotton)


Dana Haim - Uses natural dyes but I did not hear back any other details when I asked. The wool and cotton rugs are handmade in Mexico.












10. Libeco (Linen) 


Libeco - Libeco is a company that makes linen in Europe. All of their linen is either organic or usually grown without pesticides (only in the odd occasion). It is all Oeko Tex 100 which certifies no chemical additives to the rug. 

When the linen is in its natural colour it does not have dyes. Technically they are dry clean only, but you can hand wash them and dry them flat on hung in a way that they won't wrinkle.

A 4 x 6 rug is $415.




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Corinne Segura is a Building Biologist with 5 years of experience helping others create healthy homes.



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