Insulation types multiply during third energy crunch

By Tom Gocze, BDN Staff
Posted Oct. 03, 2009, at 2 a.m.

It is interesting to have lived long enough to experience my third energy crunch. The first one was in 1973, the year we got married, and I was still in college. I recall sitting in a gas line waiting to fill up my VW bus (yeah, I know) before going to class.

The next hit was 1975, but it was not as frantic as the first go-around. I do recall wondering if I would be able to get gas to get back to Maine. Can you imagine being stuck anywhere south of here without gas?

Last year was the third time.

Those of us well over 30 remember those earlier times and have taken steps, I hope, to counter the impact.

Young people are doing the same thing we started doing years ago as they purchase homes and try to get them as energy-efficient as possible.

Since this is my thing, I spend a lot of time talking to people on the radio about insulating and watch the younger generation of first-home buyers struggling with these issues on TV on channels such as Planet Green and DIY.

There are times when I have to stop and step back from the TV. In fact, the TV gets shut off and I starting Googling the next big thing that I just saw on TV.

Most of them are things that I know about, but I want to double-check to make sure I have it right.

Tonight, I just checked out several insulating products that I knew about but want to comment on.

The first one is a foam that is injected into walls. It is made from foamed cement.

It is an interesting product that has been around for a while and I have ignored it since it had a lower insulation value than plastic foam. It looks good, and it is completely inert to mold and bugs and fire. It installs wet and has to dry in the wall before it is covered up. This limits it to rehabs that involve gutting open walls. You can certainly call it a “green” product, since it is pretty much nontoxic and does not have any petroleum in it. I am a little skeptical of its utility in installing it in existing walls since it has to go in wet.

Installed properly, it looks like something I might consider. Oh, and its insulation value is 3.9 per inch.

The next product that tweaks me is bio-based foam. This is plastic foam that touts that it is made from plant oil, not petroleum. The problem is that there is only a small fraction of the chemicals used in its production that are bio-based.

This means that you are paying a premium price to be “green” but are still basically buying petroleum-based insulation.

Is this bad? I don’t think so. I would rather invest once in properly insulating my home, and whether it has 85 percent petroleum-based foam or 100 percent petroleum-based foam does not matter one bit. You are not burning the petroleum, so it is not contributing to global warming. And I am also skeptical of the energy costs of producing bio-based oils for displacing petroleum for this application.

Most people I know in the insulation business consider bio-based foam to be solely a marketing ploy, not a true step toward a “greener” planet.

That being said, high-density foam, regardless of its source, is an extremely important tool when trying to save energy.

The last one that seems goofy to me is insulation made from recycled cotton — specifically bluejean waste. This looks like a fun insulation to work with, but I cannot cozy up to its premium cost when compared to a truly green insulation such as cellulose fiber insulation, which is inexpensive and is made from recycled paper.

Does that make the BDN a leader in “green” technology?

Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at www.bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.html.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/10/03/living/insulation-types-multiply-during-third-energy-crunch/ printed on September 23, 2014