One of the most environmentally friendly things a homeowner in Toronto can do is install insulation. There have been studies that estimate about %60 of homes in North America are poorly insulated. Fortunately, with proper insulation, you can slash your cooling and heating bills by %30 with proper insulation.
Insulation is made with everything from cotton to newspaper and different chemical foams. Some are more environmentally friendly than others.
Homeowners generally consider the R-value of an insulation when deciding what to use in their home, R-value is the resistance to heat flow. When the R-value is higher, the material is superior at reducing energy consumption and this is very desirable amongst people in general. Where the insulation will go is another major determiner of effectiveness. The most important area to insulate if saving money and energy are the goal is the attic, it also happens to be the easiest. Air leaks come second as they should be sealed when found, followed by basement insulation.
With an R-value that ranges from 3.3-7 per inch, spray foam insulation is on of the most effect insulators out there. When sprayed onto whichever surface is being insulated, it starts as a liquid which then expands and fills all the nooks and crannies. Some of these foams are good for retrofitting, whereas some can be sprayed only into new walls. Regardless, it is highly recommended to be installed by a professional.
Spray foam insulation has the ability of being used in places where other insulating materials can’t be used such as foundations. It’s ability to stop air leaks is uncanny. However the presence of ,plastics, known as polyurethane means spray foam insulation is not at all natural.
There is however a newer environmentally friendly generation of vegetable-based foams that use small amounts of oils from different vegetables as well as a minimum of %5 recycled materials. These new generation vegetable foams are sprayed with water and carbon dioxide which don’t damage the ozone layer.
These environmentally friendly foam insulations are low density, which means they have a lower R-value that are in the 3-5 range rather than their more toxic counterparts 6 or 7. R-value is only part of the reason to consider foam insulation, another downfall for the foam is that it releases toxic chemicals when being installed, once cured they become inert however.
There is also the polyisocyanurate foam, a rigid foam superior at exterior retrofitting, frequently on roofs with R-values of 6 to 7.5 per inch. This type of foam was created with HCFCs(Hydrochlorofluorocarbons) as blowing agents which are detrimental to the ozone. There are now green versions that use hydrocarbons and don’t cause this environmental damage.
There is another extremely stable insulation which is nonflammable called cementitious foam. It is derived from seawater and made of magnesium oxide. When cured, it will have no impact on a chemically sensitive person.
Cotton insulation is often made with leftover materials from textile plants such as denim manufacturers that would have otherwise been thrown away. Sold in batts or as loose fill, it is similar to fiberglass, without the respiratory or chemical irritants. Cotton is treated with boric acid to turn it fire retardant, anti fungal and as a pest repellant. boric acid is fairly nontoxic compared to other pest repellants and antifungals.
Recycled newsprint, cardboard and paperboard makes up %80-90 of cellulose insulation. Sometimes it is made into a wet “paper mash” and sprayed into walls, or shredded dry and used as loose fill in attics. Boric acid is used often to treat the cellulose insulation.
Some chemically sensitive people are affected by cellulose insulation even though it is earth friendly, it is the newsprint in that can trigger this. Cellulose is more absorbent than other types of insulation because it is made of wood fiber. If it does happen to get wet often and unable to dry out, mold could grow if the boric acid leaches out.
You should consider where you’re going to use insulation and what effects it will have on R-value when you are considering insulation options. Damp insulation doesn’t work as well as dry insulation, this is when “vapour barriers” help protect the material from snow or rain. Loss or blown in insulation such as cellulose can be shifted by animals or can settle which in turn reduces R-value. Spray foam insulations retain their R-value very well over the years because of the trapped gasses which block the airflow. You should consider installing a foil radiant barrier to prevent gases escaping. The climate you live in often determines how much insulation you need.