Greening An Old House With New Cellulose Insulation
A great story comes to us from the Lakewood Ohio Observer. Chris Perry’s insightful article on upgrading a 100-year-old Lakewood Home is a text book outline on how to green an old house. It’s worth a read for anyone interested in energy savings and environmentally sound retrofits.
One of the most critical items for such projects is selecting the right insulation. Perry gives a good recap on why he chose cellulose insulation. The article also clears up an old myth about cellulose insulation and settling:
Insulation comes in several forms and the costs can vary widely. This is when you have to balance health (does it release noxious fumes indoors), performance, life cycle (from its production to end use) and cost effectiveness (payback timeframe). The biggest decision we had to make was the choice between foam or cellulose insulation. We went with cellulose – it’s the cheapest (roughly 1/3 of the cost of foam), and undeniably has a lower carbon footprint in its life cycle compared to foam. It seems to be the popular choice, but questions are out there about how much it may settle over time – potentially leaving some gaps in your sidewalls. The Department of Energy (DOE) has been monitoring thousands of cellulose insulated homes across the country for almost ten years now, and only a few isolated homes encountered any cellulose material settlement issues. In those that did, it was found to be minuscule amounts.
At the time, the DOE payback calculator gave us a payback period for our cellulose blow-in insulation to be within three years. For foam it would have been at least seven years. Even though we plan to stay in our home the rest of our lives, we just didn’t have the extra dough available for foam insulation. Foam does have a higher R-value than cellulose (the higher the R-value, the greater the insulating effectiveness), but has its downside as well. Most brands of foam promise 50% more R-value than cellulose – but none come with a very green lifecycle. Also, with younger children at home, there are too many questions still floating around about its health and safety. Synthetic foams still contain formaldehyde, a well-chronicled carcinogen. Most insulation companies now claim to use Tripolymer foam, which does contain significantly less formaldehyde than prior applications – but it will still off gas its chemical compounds at a much higher level than the more natural fiber-based cellulose.
Read Perry’s full story recapping his experience. It’s an excellent example of how to really do an innovative green restoration project.