Why insulate?

You insulate to make your home more comfortable and to save money. Any heated home will lose heat and any home that is cooler than the outdoors will gain heat. This natural law of physics is immutable, and you can’t do anything about it. However, you can to a limited degree control how fast heat enters or escapes from your home by insulating and sealing the building envelope: floors, exterior walls, attic floor and interior roof deck. The job of insulation is to slow heat transmission through the building envelope. Insulation materials contain millions of tiny air pockets embedded in foam (foam insulation) or fibers (cellulose and fiberglass insulations) which slow the transmission of heat.

Why install cellulose insulation rather than fiberglass or foam?

Use of Recycled Materials

The use of recycled materials is the most recognized environmental attribute associated with consumer products. This is because products manufactured with recycled content advance three well known environmental goals: (1) require fewer virgin resources to be used in their manufacture, (2) divert materials from the solid waste stream, thus keeping them out of landfills and (3) require less energy during manufacturing (more on this under Embodied Energy).

Cellulose insulation is made from post-consumer recycled paper. In fact, 85% of cellulose insulation is made from post-consumer paper, making it the insulation that uses the highest percentage by far of recycled material that might otherwise be land-filled. To put this in perspective, insulating a typical 1500 square foot ranch-style house with cellulose insulation productively recycles as much newsprint as an individual will consume in 40 years.

By contrast, recycled content in fiberglass insulation approximates 20–40% (and this recycled material is not from post-consumer sources, rather it is from excess or waste in the manufacturing process) and in foam insulation recycled content is virtually non-existent — rather, foam is made from an oil by-product! Even so-called bio-based foams are primarily made from petrochemicals.

Embodied Energy

According to NRDC (National Resources Defense Council), cellulose insulation takes 10 times less energy to manufacture than fiberglass insulation. (Some reports claim that it takes 25–30 times less energy to manufacture cellulose than fiberglass insulation). Simply put, fiberglass insulation is produced in giant furnaces that gulp natural gas and release vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These furnaces operate day and night, month after month, regardless of how much insulation is needed.

Cellulose insulation on the other hand is produced in electrically-driven mills which consume relatively little energy when operating, and no energy when shut off at day’s end.

The embodied energy of foam insulation is substantial since a large portion of foam insulation is made from components containing oil by-products (particularly polyol and isocyanate). That is to say, not only is there the energy consumed in the drilling, transporting, refining and storage of the oil, but in addition there is the energy consumed in manufacturing the foam insulation. While no exact figures of embodied energy for foam are available at this time, it is estimated that the embodied energy of foam insulation is even greater than that of fiberglass insulation.

Health

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) classifies cellulose insulation particles as a “nuisance dust.” While it is only common sense to wear a dust mask and is required by OSHA when installing cellulose insulation, the cellulose dust particles are too big to be respirable and, therefore, are considered only a nuisance factor. Other studies have found no negative impacts caused by cellulose insulation and it’s associated “nuisance dust.” In fact, cellulose insulation is the only insulation that does not require hazard labels on the packaging or for applicators to wear special respirators.

The most substantial and well known documented public health treats are associated with fiberglass insulation. While listed as “unclassified” (i.e. can’t quite determine whether to list as a carcinogen or not) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the National Toxicology Program lists fiberglass as “reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen. Further, OSHA views safety guidelines for fiberglass installers as a priority. Aside from being a potential carcinogen, fiberglass can also cause skin, eye and upper respiratory irritations. Finally, applicators of fiberglass blown loose fill for attic applications are required to wear special respirators to protect against breathing microscopic glass shards.

Fire Safety

Because of its dense structure and added fire retardants, cellulose insulation is one of the safest construction materials. Studies of actual fires and demonstrated burns have proven that the dense fiber structure of cellulose insulation combined with the added fire retardants slow the spread of flame, giving occupants more time to escape and fire fighters more time to save the structure. In a test conducted by the Maryland Fire Services Training Facility at Aberdeen Proving Ground, when two structures were ignited, the one insulated with cellulose stood more than 57% longer than the other insulated with fiberglass. Scientists at the National Research Council of Canada report that cellulose insulation in the wall cavity provided an increase in fire resistance performance of 22–55%.

Regarding permanency of cellulose insulation’s fire retardant chemicals, studies by researchers associated with Oak Ridge National Laboratory have proven that they don’t deteriorate, evaporate, sublime, leech out or otherwise disappear over time.

Fiberglass is not a barrier to fire because of its low melting point. Fiberglass insulation normally melts (disappears) from the heat associated from the fire long before the actual flames reaches the insulation.

While foam insulation has a reasonable fire rating, when reached by flame it emits blinding smoke. Under testing by ASTM methods, smoked developed from foam insulation is 40 times greater than from cellulose insulation. And as is well known, more people die from smoke than from flame in an actual fire.

R-Value

R-value is a measure of the ability of an insulation material to retard heat flow. While R-value is the single most important attribute consumers will consider in their decision of which insulation product to purchase, there are other factors which will have a major bearing on the “real effectiveness“ of insulation selected. These other factors associated with fiberglass and foam insulation products are (1) air movement in and around pipes, wires, electrical outlets, and the insulation material itself and (2) the voids left in insulated wall cavities.

Regarding wall insulation:

Cellulose insulation is pneumatically blown into wall cavities in such a manner that the cavity is completely filled, leaving no voids due to electrical wires, pipes or inset stapling. Thus the effective R-value for cellulose insulation is as claimed, completely filling the wall cavity, snuggling tightly around wires, pipes, electrical outlets and other obstructions.

Fiberglass batts on the other hand are stuffed into the wall cavity with their edges stapled to the inside framing and compressed around wires, pipes, electrical outlets, etc. This leaves air pockets or voids throughout the wall cavity, thus reducing the effective R-value from that claimed. According to a study conducted by National Research Council of Canada, the claimed R-value of fiberglass batts degrades by 14% to 35% due to voids or areas around pipes, wires, electrical outlets, etc. left without insulation. In another study conducted by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), found that 2x6 walls insulated with fiberglass batts lost 46% of their R-value due to voids.

Foam insulation can fill the entire wall cavity but is rarely installed to do so. Most applicators only fill 85% of the wall cavity in order to avoid the time, labor and wasted foam created when the excess foam protruding beyond the framing is sawed or cut away. More importantly, by filling only 85% of the wall cavity, the effective R-value of foam insulation is reduced by 15%. In addition, during application, the rapidly expanding foam on occasion will fold onto itself creating air-pockets or voids, thus reducing the effective R-value.

Regarding attic insulation:

Cellulose insulation performs as well in attics as it does when tested under laboratory conditions. Blown on attic floors, filling all cavities, nooks and crannies, it provides the effective R-value claimed on its label.

Fiberglass insulation suffers from a drop in effective R-value in cold climates. Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) found that the efficiency (R-value) of fiberglass blown-in loose-fill in attics decreased as much as 50% as temperature was lowered from +45˚ F to -18˚F.

Foam insulation also provides the R-value claimed with one exception: during application, the rapidly expanding foam occasionally folds on itself leaving air-pockets or voids. Again, these voids or air-pockets result in reduced R-value from that claimed on their label.

Tightens Envelope

One of the most important characteristics of insulations is the degree to which they tighten the house envelope to stop air leakage. Air flow moving through or around insulation will drastically reduce its thermal performance. Therefore, insulation products should be dense or tight enough to slow heat loss by convection (i.e. air movement through and around the insulation material), but not so dense that the insulation material actually conducts heat through it.  A 1979 study conducted by the Oregon Department of Energy found that houses insulated with cellulose tighten the house by 15 to 20% over fiberglass. Blower door tests (equipment that measures air loss from a home) have consistently shown that homes insulated with cellulose insulation change 20% - 30% of their volume of air every hour compared to a change of 65% - 75% for homes insulated with fiberglass. Again, air movement into or out of a home reduces thermal performance, so the less air exchange of 20% - 30% obtained with cellulose insulated homes is the desired effect.

Regarding foam insulation, it would be anticipated that foam itself would not permit air leakage if installed properly. One interesting note here is that while foam is considered a sealant, it maybe unhealthy to tighten the home beyond the level that cellulose insulation achieves according to indoor air experts. If a home’s envelope  is “too tight,” other expensive equipment would need to be installed to increase the home’s air exchange rate.

Sound Control

All insulation materials absorb sound, both reverberation (echoing sound bouncing off walls) and sound transmission (inside and outside sound that travels through walls and ceiling). Both cellulose and fiberglass insulation are more absorbent than foam, thus they do a better job at eliminating or reducing sound. Cellulose does a particularly good job at controlling sound because of the way it is installed and its higher density. Cellulose insulation covers all open spaces leaving no way for sound to travel around or through the insulation.

The Price Tag

Obviously, prices for installing insulation vary by home design, installer and geographic location. But in general, cellulose insulation cost about 15% more than installing fiberglass insulation. And, installing foam insulation costs over 400% more than installing fiberglass insulation.

Simply put, the cost of installing fiberglass or cellulose insulations in both walls and attic is very similar. But the cost to insulate with foam is dramatically greater than using either fiberglass or cellulose insulation.

Summary & Bottom-line

On a scale of 1–3, where 3 is the best, the important characteristics of insulations are evaluated:

Factor Fiberglass Cellulose Foam
Recycled 2 3 1
Embodied Energy 1 3 1
Health 1 3 3
Fire Safety 2 3 1
R-Value 2 3 3
Envelope Tightness 1 2 3
Sound Control 2 3 2
Price 3 3 1
Totals 14 26 15

 

The bottom line is this: cellulose insulation is more environmentally friendly, safer around humans, insulates better to keep you more comfortable and save you more money, and costs a very little more than fiberglass insulation and significantly less than foam insulation. To the discerning builder and homeowner, cellulose insulation is clearly the right choice!

Why install Tascon insulation

Manufacturing Experience

Tascon Industries, Inc. has been manufacturing cellulose insulation for over 30 years, since 1977. Today, Tascon Industries, Inc. is one of the largest insulation manufacturers in the southwest US, located in Houston, Texas. Tascon Industries, Inc. currently supplies cellulose insulation to customers in Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi. Also, Tascon Industries, Inc. ships insulation products to Mexico, Italy and Chili. Customers include insulation builders, contractors, retail stores, government agencies and manufactured home builders.

Product Testing

Tascon’s insulation products have been tested under the standards of ASTM (American Society of Testing & Materials) by Underwriter’s Laboratories and other independent testing laboratories. Tascon’s insulation products have been tested and are labeled with the appropriate designations signifying they are made in accordance with governmental requirements and industry standards.

Quality Control

Tascon’s employs several quality control technicians to constantly monitor the manufacturing process, conducting in-house tests and making adjustments where warranted. In addition, Underwriter’s Laboratories is contracted with to make unannounced thorough inspections of the manufacturing process and final products to provide assurance of the products’ integrity and be in compliance with government and industry standards.

Customer Service

At Tascon there is the fundamental belief that the customer deserves prompt and professional assistance. Whether the request is for product information, product delivery, making pricing estimates, calling on commercial and residential customers, Tascon’s staff is always ready and willing to help out.

So, if you want truly effective insulation, the kind that will keep the homeowner comfortable in the home and conserve the homeowner’s money for the life of the home, install the best and greenest. Install Tascon cellulose insulation!

 
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