Opting for an eco-friendly insulation in your walls, roof and flooring will help you lower your energy usage, as well as improving your environmental credentials and carbon footprint.
Even more, using a more natural and sustainable type of eco insulation means you’ll also benefit from the reduction in your exposure to volatile organic chemicals, which are used during the manufacturing phase.
Cheaper bills, a smaller carbon footprint and better health outcomes – what more could you ask for?
Let’s take a look at what eco-friendly insulation is, the full benefits of using it and the 7 best types of eco insulation you should use in your home.
Why eco friendly insulation?
If you’re looking to improve the sustainability credentials of your home, as well as making it a comfortable place to live, the type of insulation you go for is an important consideration.
On the whole, good insulation will help you save energy and money – helping you to go green at home.
However, insulation types that do perform well such as polystyrene (a form of plastic) and fibreglass insulation (also called glass wool) come with energy-intensive, resource depleting manufacturing processes.
Creating these forms of insulation can use up to 10 times as much energy as their eco-friendly alternatives.
When it comes to energy and cost efficiency, it makes much more sense to invest in high levels of insulation for your home, rather than investing in fancy heating/cooling technologies. Many manufactured products also contain irritants and potentially hazardous fibres that are linked to health issues, such as eyes, skin and respiratory irritation.
As well as considering the performance side of insulation – how it impacts the efficiency of your home’s energy performance and how much money it saves you – weighing up sustainable insulation needs to account for how the product is made.
Namely, do they require resource depleting materials? How much energy goes into making them? Do they contain harmful substances?
What is eco-friendly insulation?
Eco-friendly insulation is a type of insulation manufactured in a sustainable way and that can be recycled or reused afterwards. Eco insulation will reduce your need for heating when it’s cold and help to keep your home cooler in the warm weather.
There are four main areas that need to be ticked to be classed as eco-friendly insulation:
- Low embodied energy – this means the product requires little energy (and carbon) to make
- It’s recyclable or compostable – so it won’t end up in landfill
- Uses sustainable materials – the raw materials need to be readily available and sustainable over the long term, which means the earth’s resource of the material won’t be depleted
- Safe, non-hazardous materials – anything used in the product shouldn’t cause harm or irritation to people who work with it or have to live with it
Many of the eco-friendly insulation options use natural fibres as the primary material choice.
In the UK, the home insulation market is worth over £800 million a year, however, only about 1% of that is made up of natural insulation products.
This is quite a staggering statistic, but one that’s expected to be significantly improved over the next few years as more people start to opt for greener living and as the government tries to meet its carbon emission goals.
Benefits of using natural environmentally friendly insulation
Aside from offering good thermal insulation properties, there are plenty more benefits of using natural insulation in your home:
- Low to zero toxins and irritants
- Safe to handle
- Much less risk of health issues across lifetime use
- Good levels of acoustic insulation
- Lower carbon footprint
- Zero waste from the offcuts
- Treated to fire safe
- More likely to be locally manufactured
Where is sustainable eco-insulation used?
Eco-insulation materials is used just like any of type of insulation. There are three main places where eco-insulation is used:
- Roof space
- Wall space
- Floor space
Timber framed homes, which includes many tiny houses and shepherd huts, need wall insulation to occupy the space between the timber stud walls. This type of insulation mostly comes via a batt, board or roll that is cut to size before installation.
If your home is constructed with a solid structure, such as stone or cob, the thermal mass property of these materials will work as insulation as it’s not possible to insulate in the convention way unless another layer is added to outside or inside.
Roofs will generally work in the same way as timber framed walls, and you’ll be able to use insulating rolls or bags to fill the gap, although it will depend on the type of roof structure your home has.
Although heat rises, percentages of it can still be lost through the floor. Especially with a small construction or tiny home, it’s crucial to properly insulate the floor to make your home as efficient as possible. Much like your walls and roof, batts, rolls and bags are the most common ways to insulate this space.
7 best types of natural eco-friendly insulation
Now you’ve got all the necessary information on what makes insulation eco-friendly, the benefits of using natural insulation (both for your health, the environment and your bank balance) and where it needs to be used, let’s take a look at the actual products.
Here are 7 of the best eco-friendly insulation types for you to create a more sustainable home.
1) Sheep’s Wool Insulation
A superb natural product that’s becoming an ever-increasingly popular choice for sustainable insulation. Sheep can live in some incredibly harsh environments and their wool has evolved over millions of years to keep the animal at an optimal temperature.
The formation of wool fibres, especially when compressed, helps to create a huge number of microscopic air pockets, and it’s this that gives this material its insulation properties.
Sheep’s wool is a great natural insulation choice and can be used in your walls, roof and floor.
2) Wood Wool Insulation
Wood wool is a light, bio-degradable material made from timber shavings. It’s the same stuff that packs out a hamper or fine wine in a wooden box.
When compressed together, it can be customised and cut into a range of shapes and thicknesses to suit the space you’re trying to insulate.
It has a high heat storage capacity, makes good soundproofing, is damp proof and it’s compostable when it’s no longer needed. This is a great eco friendly insulation choice whilst also giving a valuable resource a second life.
3) Cellulose Insulation
Cellulose’s first and foremost job in nature is to give plant cell walls their basic structural strength. Getting from a plant cell wall to inside your own home walls comes via newsprint and other paper sources.
Old newspapers and other waste paper is hammer milled down to a fine dust and treated with a chemical to make it fireproof (usually boric acid). The materials that go into this type of insulation make it quite a cheap alternative.
Cellulose natural insulation has an average thermal conductivity (similar to rock wool), but because of its nature, it can fit into tight spaces to make sure you’re fully insulated.
4) Cork Insulation
Cork comes from the outer bark layer of the cork oak. This natural product ticks all the boxes – it’s recyclable, renewable, hypoallergenic and is a thoroughly good insulator – you can read more on just how eco-friendly cork is here.
In fact, cork is such a good insulator that it is used by NASA to provide thermal protection for a range of spacecraft and rocket parts, including areas such as the engines and rocket boosters that have high predicted heat loads! Now that is mightily impressive.
As well as great thermal properties, cork insulation has excellent acoustic insulation and damp proof properties. It can be a little bit costly but this type of eco friendly insulation is incredibly effective for a long time. A great option.
5) Cotton Insulation
Sometimes referred to as cotton/denim insulation, the raw materials of this one come from thrown out jeans and clothing.
Unfortunately you can’t just chuck your old jacket or 501s into the cavity, the materials need to be shredded and recycled down into thick sheets that can be cut into the correct size. The fibres and air spaces help give cotton products good heat insulation.
You probably won’t be surprised to know that this is one of the more costly eco-friendly insulation alternatives.
Earthwool is a type of rock mineral wool insulation produced by Knauf Insulation.
In comes in a couple of different forms: a roll for the roof and building slabs which are multi-use – floors, internal walls, timber-frame walls. It has excellent thermal properties as you’d expect, plus great sound absorption and is non-combustible.
Earthwool is made from recycled materials and can be fully recycled at the end of its life. It contains no added formaldehyde and no artificial colours, so comes in a natural earthy brown.
It’s manufactured using ECOSE Technology which is a bio-based binder meaning it delivers greater environmental sustainability.
7) Hemp Insulation
Coming from the hemp plant, hemp wool is an excellent insulator.
Like the other forms of eco friendly insulation listed, hemp insulation is available in the form of batts or boards which can be cut to size for installation. As it’s a completely natural product, hemp is recyclable and non-irritating, as well as making good acoustic insulation.
On the downside, is used in damp scenarios, you’ll need to apply a vapour barrier which can add to the already slightly more expensive cost.
And there you have it, 7 of the very best types of sustainable eco-friendly insulation to install in the wall space, roof and floors of your home. The benefits of eco insulation are plentiful, including helping to reduce costs, making better use of the energy produced inside your home and playing its part in help you to lower your environmental impact.