Some of the benefits of insulation are obvious. In a home or building, insulation reduces energy use which in turn reduces utility bills, pollution, and cuts down on water use (used in power generation). But while all insulation types generally reduce energy consumption, specific insulation types can impact the environment and the economy differently in other ways.
Buildings consume a large amount of energy, and homes today are built larger, contain more appliances, and rely more heavily on space cooling than those in 1990. Taking measures to improve the home’s energy efficiency has resulted in a reduction of energy use by 21.5 per cent between 1990 and 2010. However, more can still be done.
Canadian homes contribute over 40% to the nation’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and an average household spent $1,963 on energy needs in 2010, of which approximately 65 per cent is used for space heating and cooling alone. Installing high levels of insulation in all areas of the house effectively reduces the amount of energy required to heat or cool the spaces, and in turn saves money on energy bills and reduces overall GHG emissions.
Comparing Environmental Benefits of Insulation Types
|Fiberglass||Rock and Slag Wool||Spray Foam||Cellulose|
|Recycled Content||Contains upwards of 70% recycled glass||Products vary, but they all contain natural rock and blast furnace slag||As a chemical product, it typically contains very little recycled content||Generally has upwards of 80% recycled content|
|Raw Materials Used in Production||Recycled glass and sand, renewable and abundant materials||Minerals like basalt or diabase and blast furnace slag||A blend of various chemicals, typically including Methylene diphenyl diisocyanate (MDI), other isocyanates and polyols (derived from petroleum and agricultural sources)||Newspapers or wood fibers|
Use of recycled content
NAIMA Canada members together used more 373 million pounds of recycled glass in the production of residential, commercial, industrial, and air handling thermal and acoustical insulation.
U.S. and Canadian facilities used more than 666 million pounds of recycled blast furnace slag in the production of thermal and acoustical insulation. Since the industry’s recycling program began in 1992, NAIMA members’ plants have diverted more than 52 billion pounds of recycled materials from the waste stream.
While recycled content is just one indicator of a product’s environmental impact, the survey results illustrate the significant impact that an industry can have through the conscientious use of materials.
“Embodied Energy” and insulation products
In researching insulation products, you may come across references to “embodied” or “embedded” or total (material) energy. These terms have varying meanings. Sometimes they refer to the total “cradle-to-grave” energy, from mining the raw materials through to land fill once discarded. Sometimes this definition includes all or some of the associated raw material exploitation, refinement, transportation, conversion, distribution, installation, removal, and landfill energy usages. Certain insulation types claim to have the lowest embodied energy. However, these claims should be viewed carefully.
Refer to third party environmental product declarations (EPDs) for complete information.
Purchasing mineral fiber (fiberglass, rock wool, and slag wool) insulation products supports and helps to grow an industry that directly and indirectly employs approximately 17,000 people and contributes more than $3 billion to the nation’s economy each year. The industry ships some $600 million worth of product, of which approximately 80 per cent is for the domestic market. The insulation manufactured in Canada supports an additional $1.4 billion in economic activity through installation and construction.[i]
Building highly insulated residences can increase a home’s value due to its energy efficiency[ii]. More and more homeowners are requesting homes that are energy efficient, and offering homes that are not only highly insulated, but reach the requirements to be accepted into the ENERGY STAR® and Net Zero Energy programs provide you with a competitive advantage in the housing market.
[i] Altus Group—letter summary available upon request
[ii] Co-star report