5 eco-friendly insulation materials for sustainable buildings

Australian construction companies can use eco-friendly insulation materials to create sustainable buildings that conserve energy and save on electricity bills. Zero-emission buildings must become the new global construction standard within the next decade, if humans hope to fight climate change. A joint report by UN Environment and the International Energy Agency stresses the strong connection between buildings and the environment. It highlights the vital role that construction companies can play in cutting pollution. Collectively adopting sustainable heating and cooling practices, for example, could reduce energy demands in buildings by 25 per cent.
Building envelope design, materials and construction all have a large influence on heating and cooling loads in buildings. (Global Status Report, December 2017)

Sustainable building materials – the importance of eco-friendly insulation:

When it comes to thermal insulation, inefficient resources and poor installation techniques tend to damage the environment. Sustainable building materials, on the other hand, can drastically boost the energy rating of buildings. Here’s a snapshot of some of the most common eco-friendly insulation materials:
  • Glasswool
  • Polyester
  • Sheep’s wool
  • Cellulose
  • Earthwool

sustainable buildings
Let’s take a closer look at each type:

Glasswool insulation (also known as fibreglass)

This cost-effective option is made from recycled glass bottles, sand and other materials. It’s naturally fire retardant, which makes it a good fit for areas where fire is a serious risk. On the downside, it causes itchiness upon contact, but this is mitigated by wearing protective gear during installation. Glasswool doesn’t rot or attract vermin –  so you can see why it’s so popular in Australia!

Polyester insulation

You can recycle this product and there’s no risk of itchiness upon contact. Polyester is made out of synthetic materials, including recycled plastic bottles. It’s certified as non-flammable and only burns when exposed to relatively high temperatures. Asthma sufferers will be pleased to learn there are no dust particles or breathable fibres.

Sheep’s wool insulation

This is one of the most natural resources, since it’s directly off the back of a sheep! The wool fibres trap air and and provide a thermal barrier. Sheep wool works well to regulate humidity. It doesn’t itch or doesn’t burn easily, when exposed to heat. As a bonus, this material can help to absorb harmful substances in the atmosphere.
sustainable building materials and sustainable insulation

Cellulose insulation

As far as green insulation goes, this is one of the most sustainable choices, since it’s mostly recycled newspaper. It’s affordable and highly resistant to air leaks, making it an effective insulator. Cellulose is treated with a fire-retardant chemical, but it’s still a tricky material for firefighters to handle).

Earthwool insulation

This product is fairly new in Australia and it’s made from renewable bio-based materials and inorganic glass fibres. Earthwool is resistant to fire and free of phenol, formaldehyde, acrylics and artificial colours.

Don’t bother using green insulation if you can’t install it properly:

Insulation that’s made from sustainable building materials must be installed correctly, in order to perform well. Did you know Australian buildings leak up to four times more air than their North American and European counterparts? This causes warmth to escape during the cooler months. Common locations where air escapes include exterior corners, outdoor water taps, electrical outlets, door and window frames. Compression, air leakage and dampness are the main culprits behind poor insulation. For example, insufficient space between the ceiling and roof contributes to leakages. Certain down lights and fans also cause problems, because they allow air and heat to escape. Luckily this all comes down to minor issues with building, design and construction, which can be tackled with awareness.

Buildings and the environment…

You can read more about sustainable building materials for commercial construction by following our series about buildings and the environment.