Insulation is a hot topic as we approach 2023, with homes increasingly on the lookout for ways to curtail energy consumption and create net-zero houses. However, while beefing up the insulation is obviously at the top of the checklist in this regard, many of the most common insulation materials are not necessarily safe. For example, some products give off harmful dust that carries VOCs, while others will release toxins when exposed to excessive heat. Not to mention that many inorganic insulation products are not biodegradable and create challenges when it comes time for disposal.
Fortunately, there are a number of innovative insulation products that provide top-tier thermal protection with none of the associated health risks. Therefore, if you are looking for ways to meet building code insulation requirements without introducing toxic materials to your home, keep reading for a detailed breakdown of 3 healthy and non-toxic insulation materials to consider in 2023.
Hemp is arguably the most trendy option for homes looking for an all-natural continuous insulation material. It is an extremely sustainable material, as hemp crops can be grown and harvested in a very short time frame–usually less than 100 days. Hemp typically does not require much space or water to cultivate, and it usually does not require treatment with any toxic pesticides. While it may not seem intuitive for a plant to offer much in the way of insulation, this extraordinarily diverse crop will surprise you.
The inner fibrous layer of the hemp plant is extracted and used as the base material for insulation batts. Be sure to check the binding material, as some fabrications will offset the natural properties of hemp by cutting corners and binding the hemp fibers with a toxic product. The best choice to complement the natural hemp base is to look for batts that use flax or kenaf fibers as the binding agent.
The result is a dense insulation batt that somewhat resembles fiberglass insulation in its final appearance. Most hemp insulation batts will yield an R-value of 3.5 per inch of insulation. While this may not seem like an earth-shattering number, it is important to remember that hemp insulation will not lose any R-value over time and is much more moisture-resistant than standard insulation products.
In addition to no harmful VOCs, gas, or dust byproducts, hemp insulation is also fully recyclable and biodegradable, giving it a major leg up over inorganic insulation types that cause difficulty at disposal time.
Another all-natural insulation material is cork. Harvested from the outer bark of the cork oak tree (Quercus suber), cork provides a safe, non-toxic, and recyclable insulation option for homeowners.
You are probably familiar with cork as a stopper for wine bottles and tack boards, but how exactly does it function as an insulation solution? The granule byproducts from these cork products are collected, steam heated, and pressed into a board. This activates a natural binder called suberin that fuses the cork granules and yields a solid insulation board. It is an extremely efficient fabrication process, as no additional materials are required for binding, and any cork granules lost during fabrication are recollected and returned to the steam press for the next production run.
The insulation value of most cork boards can reach up to R-4.2 per inch. This exceeds the value of most basic fiberglass batts or blow-in options. It also has strong moisture resistance and is one of the best insulation choices for reducing sound transfer, making it a premier material for connected homes and multi-family dwellings.
Sheep Wool Insulation