The skinny on cellulose insulation sourced from shredded recycled newspaper, cardboard boxes and other discarded paper products..
BY BILL HENSLEY
NEWSPAPER READERSHIP CONTINUES TO DECLINE in favor of online news consumption. Still, roughly 25 million newspapers are printed in the U.S. daily. For many decades, newspaper inks were made using petroleum-based oils – “vehicle” in printing ink terms – that dried quickly and printed crisp images and text. As petroleum prices rose and as environmental concerns increased, alternatives were pursued, and soybean oil became the vehicle of choice in the modern printing plant. This also makes newspaper more recyclable. Still, of those 25 million daily papers, most still end up in landfill.
One industry that is an active user of recycled newspaper (and other recycled papers) is the cellulose insulation industry. Blown-in cellulose insulation sourced from shredded recycled newspaper, cardboard boxes, and other discarded paper products is an exceptional insulation choice, trapping air between fine fibers to slow the air flow. When professionally installed, it can deliver the R-value (the capacity of an insulating material to resist heat flow) needed based on the home construction and climate. Cellulose is particularly well-suited for cold climates as it does not break down or lose its R-value in extreme cold.
Professionally installed cellulose will fill in around the corners and harder-to-reach spots, limiting the potential for thermal bridges — those spaces such as in a wall cavity or behind obstacles in the attic where gaps in the insulation allows hot or cold air to move freely. For wall cavities in new construction, cellulose is blown in with a mixture of dry adhesives activated by a small amount of water that enables the insulation to stick to most materials (drywall, plywood, lumber, metal studs). Wet spray techniques can be used in attics and ceiling spaces as well.
Loose shredded paper in the attic and walls sounds like a recipe for fire danger, so cellulose insulation is typically treated with fire retardants such as boric acid or ammonium sulfate. These flame retardants are less-toxic alternatives to the traditional polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) flame retardants. Even with flame retardants, cellulose is an eco-friendly insulation choice compared to fiberglass, largely due to being mostly recycled organic material.
But regardless of the amount or type of insulation applied, there is one practice that needs to precede it to enable the insulation to deliver its best result. Proper sealing makes all the difference. The better the home is sealed the more efficient the insulation can be, thus lowering the heating and cooling bills, reducing drafts, increasing air quality, increasing comfort, even reducing the size of the heating and cooling systems required for the space. In the upcoming Fall issue of Technology Designer Magazine, we’ll look at a project turning a house into a zero-emission home where sealing was an essential element in the positive result. And the client was no ordinary “ok, that’s green enough” customer, but a green-tech executive who has delivered the Climate Reality Project’s “Truth in Ten” presentation to well over 100 different audiences. In this zero-emission remodel, one of the early steps in the project was removing the existing insulation. Hmmm.