An environmentally friendly product, recycled paper insulation is a good option for both new construction and renovation projects. Commonly known as cellulose, and sometimes referred to as newsprint insulation, it is a green choice for insulating your home.
How Cellulose Insulation Works
Cellulose is made mainly from shredded newsprint. It is treated with a borate additive that acts as a fire retardant and is pest and mold resistant. With an R-value (measure of "insulating effectiveness") of about 3.6 per inch, it is competitive with other types of insulation. Although not recommended for installation in damp basement conditions, it is considered a good environmental option for attic and wall insulation.
Before insulating, make sure to seal all cracks and holes leading to your living space to minimize dust when working in a remodel. If you install it yourself, wear a good dust mask or respirator regardless of whether it's a new or remodeled home.
- Installation is normally performed using a blower where bales of cellulose are loaded into a hopper, then blown through a hose to the desired location.
- When blowing cellulose into wall cavities in existing homes, siding is normally removed at strategic locations and holes drilled through to the wall cavity. After insulating, the holes are filled and sealed, and the siding reinstalled. If siding removal is not possible, insulation can be done from inside the house.
- Settling in wall cavities is reduced to a minimum since the insulation is blown in under pressure to ensure the cavity and all crevices are filled tightly.
- An infrared scan is advisable after installation in walls to ensure all cavities have been filled.
Follow a couple tips for best results in attics and new homes.
- Attic insulation is fairly straightforward, with the cellulose blown in loosely to the desired depth for the recommended R-value. It can also be spread out manually.
- Cellulose is sprayed dry in most situations but can be applied wet for certain applications where adhesion to a surface is required before covering, such as new wall construction.
Environmental and Health Factors
Recycled paper insulation is environmentally friendly, using newsprint and other paper products for manufacture that would otherwise end up in a landfill.
- According to the Cellulose Insulation Manufacturers Association (CIMA), paper insulation is composed of up to 85% recycled materials.
- Manufacturing cellulose insulation uses less energy than any other insulation product including fiberglass and foam.
- The CIMA also posits the reduction of greenhouse gases through the use of cellulose insulation that would be otherwise produced by paper in landfills.
The Debate About Borates
Paper insulation contains non-toxic borates that act as a fire retardant and are mold and insect resistant. BuildingGreen points out that while borates have been used for years, they have recently been added to a chemical hazard list in the European Union.
Overexposure to borates can be harmful, but when cellulose insulation is installed properly, including complete sealing of the insulated area from the living spaces of the home, exposure is minimal.
The Good and the Bad
Proper installation is important to achieve good results and should be performed by reputable professionals. With blower rentals available through most retailers selling cellulose insulation, installation can be done by homeowners but it is of the utmost importance to follow manufacturers guidelines and know the building code rules for your region.
Cellulose insulation is a great option for many homeowners, whether they are DIYing or paying someone else to install it.
- Good soundproofing qualities when used in walls, floors, and ceilings.
- Cellulose can be packed into existing wall cavities by blowing it in through holes made in the walls. This can be done without removing the existing wall covering, such as old plaster, making it a good choice for older homes.
- Dense-packed cellulose blocks air flow better than fiberglass.
- Cellulose has a high fire resistance with a Class I fire rating.
If you're not experienced with insulation, you'll want to call a professional. Consider these potential downsides to DIYing:
- Paper insulation is sprayed into wall cavities under pressure (dense-packed). Damage can occur to plaster walls, such as cracking or whole sections of the wall coming loose.
- Cellulose is heavy and can cause ceiling sections to collapse when applied to depths needed to achieve high R-values. Ensuring the ceiling structure can support extra weight is important before installation.
Where to Buy Cellulose Insulation
You can buy cellulose in bags from the following retailers:
- Greenfiber in individual bales, by the pallet, and offers an all-Borate product. Greenfiber is described by the manufacturer as "made with up to 85% recycled material" and has an R-value of 3.7 per inch. It is priced at about $12 for a 19-pound bag.
- TrueValue stores offer Cocoon insulation at less than $10 per 19-pound bag. Manufactured by Greenfiber, it also contains up to 85% recycled material, with an R-value of 3.7 per inch.
- INSULMAX is available from Menards for approximately $8 per 18-pound bag. It is made from 85% recycled paper fiber and has an R-value of 3.7 per inch.
- TAP Insulation, with an R-value of 3.6 per inch, costs $14 per bag and can be ordered online. It contains 87% recycled paper and a borate-based pest control additive.
Go Green With Recycled Paper Insulation
The high percentage of recycled paper products and the low amount of energy used during production are two reasons to consider cellulose insulation when building a new home or renovating your old one. When installed properly, cellulose insulation can be a safe and energy efficient alternative.