Health, safety, and environmental issues have long been a concern in the insulation industry. However, for the environmentally conscious consumer, there are a number of alternative, eco-friendly insulation solutions available, including soy-based materials, wool, hemp, and even recycled denim. Although these niche products will account for a small fraction of demand in the $9.5 billion US insulation industry through 2021, their use is nonetheless expected to rise as eco-friendly builders and consumers seek alternatives to conventional petroleum- and fiberglass-based materials.
1. Soy-Based Foams
Despite having only a small share of the market, soy-based foams are growing in popularity among consumers due to their myriad advantages, including:
- high acoustical and air-sealing properties
- Class 1 fire ratings
- no off-gassing of chemicals and other materials that pose health risks
- completely renewable composition
- long-term resistance to degradation
Soy-based insulation can also enable buildings to earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications. The nation’s first LEED-certified military base – Fort Belvoir Army Base in Fairfax County, Virginia – managed to achieve this distinction in part through the use of soy-based spray foam insulation manufactured by BioBased Technologies.
Another alternative insulation product is natural wool, which is particularly catching on in the Northeast. Wool insulation offers many benefits to consumers, such as its:
- strong moisture absorption and desorption capabilities
- improved acoustics, as wool is a natural sound blocking material
- lack of carcinogens, which eliminates skin, eye, or respiratory irritation during the installation process
- ability to improve indoor air quality, as wool absorbs indoor air pollutants
Havelock Wool offers a range of natural wool insulation products, which include improved insulative and acoustic properties.
Although largely unknown in the US, hemp insulation has found a niche among those looking for eco-friendly insulation solutions. Like the aforementioned alternative insulation types, hemp insulation offers many environmentally friendly and health safety features, including:
- biodegradable and fully recyclable
- contains no hazardous materials
- can absorb a significant amount of moisture without degrading its thermal performance
- no degradation
- does not attract insects or rodents
4. Recycled Denim
If you’re wondering what to do with your old blue jeans, it turns out you can give them a second life – as building insulation. With higher acoustic ratings than traditional insulation materials, recycled denim insulation is an excellent alternative for interior walls in bedrooms or home theaters. These products are also environmentally friendly – denim insulation does not contain harmful components like volatile organic compounds and formaldehyde, and the manufacturing process is generally waste-free.
Recycled denim might also be the trendiest alternative insulation solution, and not only because it can come with a designer label. A number of both higher end and fast fashion retailers have partnered with Blue Jeans Go Green, a denim recycling initiative run by Cotton Incorporated. Via these partnerships, shoppers can turn in their old jeans to their retailer of choice, where they’ll eventually be upcycled into UltraTouch insulation manufactured by Bonded Logic. In exchange, retailers will often offer customers coupons and discounts on replacements for their denim apparel – and thus, the cycle continues.
Alternative Insulation Types Have Room to Grow
The limited number of alternative insulation suppliers makes it difficult to obtain these products in certain markets, thus limiting their growth prospects. Furthermore, these alternatives are often less cost-effective than traditional insulation types, contributing to their limited market reach. But as consumer preferences for green products continue to intensify, so will demand for eco-friendly alternative insulation. Going forward, expect suppliers to cash in on the trend by investing more in R&D to bring production costs down.
Find Out More
Need more information? For historical demand data and forecasts by insulation material, market, and US regions, see The Freedonia Group’s Insulation Market in the US industry study to find out more.
About the Author
Matthew Hurley is an industry analyst at The Freedonia Group, where he writes studies focused on the US construction market.