House insulation is an important part of any home. It is also one of the most environmentally confusing products in the built environment. Insulation helps us create more energy efficient spaces, but the way most of our insulation is made isn’t so environmentally friendly. What makes insulation so environmentally tricky? What are some possible solutions? We will be answering those questions in this blog post.
What’s the Problem with Most House Insulation
The benefits of insulation in reducing energy consumption must be weighed against the deleterious effects of its production and ingredients on human and environmental health.
Conventional insulation comes at a heavy cost to our global carbon dioxide levels. One of the most common insulation material, extruded polystyrene, is made using a spraying agent that is essentially 1,430 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
The chemicals used in most insulation products also are a concern. Benzene and styrene are used to make expanded polystyrene, which are both highly toxic. Even polymeric flame retardant, that is supposed to be environmentally friendly, contains chemicals like butadiene, styrene, and bromine.
Alternatives to these conventional insulating materials are needed, and fortunately, there are a number of options available that are more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Some of the options are a bit more conventional, and some are a bit more out there.
Does the Solution Popcorn and Cooking Oil?
A common solution is to use recycled and repurposed materials to insulate homes. Some common ones are recycled blue jeans or industrial waste products like fly ash from coal plants.
More and more solutions are being proposed and tested. Some of the more recent and unusual ones involve popcorn and used cooking oil.
The production of insulation boards from granulated popcorn is a recent method developed by scientists in the Faculty of Forest Sciences and Forest Ecology at the University of Göttingen in Germany. The scientists say that their method could help to reduce the amount of waste generated by the popcorn industry, as well as provide a more sustainable alternative to traditional insulation materials.
The researchers explain that the popcorn boards are made by first mixing the granulated popcorn with a binding agent, before pressing it into shape. The boards can then be used in a variety of applications, such as insulating walls or floors.
Researchers at Australia’s Flinders and Deakin Universities and England’s University of Liverpool have developed a viable low-tech solution to home insulation via a novel composite made of wool, sulfur, and discarded cooking oil. Sulfurized wool-polymer composites (SWPCs) have been shown to be an effective, low-cost insulation material.
The research team created the SWPCs by combining two parts sulfur to one part cooking oil and adding this mixture to wool fibers. The resulting composite is both fire retardant and resistant to water and bacteria. The SWPCs were found to be more effective at insulation than either sulfur-based materials or wool alone.
The research team is now working on scaling up production of the new composite in order to make it available commercially. If successfully commercialized, the SWPC could provide a much needed low-cost solution for home insulation, particularly in developing countries.