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Insulation Dangers: Closed Cell/Spray Foam vs. Blown-in Fiberglass

Most homeowners never consider what kind of chemicals are literally over their heads. And by chemicals, we mean attic insulation material.

There’s a myriad of choices when it comes to insulation. What most customers don’t know, however, is that several types of insulation may contain hazardous material that can fuel long-term health problems.

For the sake of space, we’re going to place two types of insulation under our “blog microscope” (blog-oscope?) – Closed Cell/Spray Foam and Blown-in Fiberglass. Spoiler alert: blown-in fiberglass turns out to be safer AND more energy efficient.

Danger Above: Spray Polyurethane Foam

Spray Polyurethane Foam (SPF), as the name implies, is, well, spray foam composed of polyurethane. SPF’s are classified as high, medium, or low density. Attic insulation falls into medium or low. Medium-density SPF’s are sometimes called “closed-cell foam” because they are contained within an internal closed-shell configuration to improve thermal resistance. To make this simple: All closed-cell foam is SPF but not all SPF is closed-cell.

SPF has been a popular attic insulation choice because of its high R-value. Readers may recall the term from previous posts. EnergyStar defines R-value as “a measure of insulation’s ability to resist heat traveling through it. The higher the R-Value, the better the thermal performance of the insulation.”

Sounds great, right? Well, here’s the problem. SPF contains a harmful chemical scarily named
isocyanates. Now, if isocyanates stay locked inside the insulation, it’s probably not an issue.

However, the EPA notes: “If SPF was not applied properly, chemical contaminants may have migrated to hard and/or soft surfaces elsewhere in the building and may be the source of residual odors; therefore, removal may not resolve the issue.”

Think about your attic for a moment:

• What do you know about the composition of your attic insulation?
• Was it installed before you bought the home?
• What were the qualifications of the installer?
• Why do you have 5 years’ worth of magazines up there?

It’s likely the answers are “Not much,” “No idea,” “Dunno who installed, “Hey, those special editions of Good Housekeeping will only increase in value!” Therefore, most homeowners have no way of knowing if they have SPF or if it has been properly installed and, as such, don’t know if isocyanates have seeped out. Yikes!

What’s the worst that can happen if your attic is a ticking isocyanate time bomb? Let’s ask OSHA:

“Health effects of isocyanate exposure include irritation of skin and mucous membranes, chest tightness, and difficult breathing. Isocyanates include compounds classified as potential human carcinogens and known to cause cancer in animals. The main effects of hazardous exposures are occupational asthma and other lung problems, as well as irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and skin.”

According to Metropolitan Engineering Consulting and Forensics:

“We do know for sure that the prevalence of asthma in the overall United States population has
increased by almost 100 percent since the early 1980’s and links have been reported between these foams and the asthma or dermatitis incidents. A study that was done by Krone, et al. and published in the publication Environmental Contamination and Toxicology in 2003 showed that isocyanates in foam containing consumer products were present 30 years post-manufacture.”

Stay Safe with Blown-in Fiberglass

Commonly composed of fiberglass or cellulose, blown-in insulation is (surprise) blown into attic spaces like confetti. The tiny particles seep snugly into any space and can fill existing walls with minimal damage to any desired depth.

Of course, no insulation type is 100-percent without potential health risks. However, blown-in fiberglass offers maximum benefit with minimum risk – especially when installed by a qualified pro.

  • Blown-in insulation keeps indoor attic temperatures cooler in summer. In addition, blown-in stops heated and cooled air from leaking out. Since it fits into the smallest spaces, blown-in maximizes HVAC performance. Consumers report blown-in insulation often saves so much in energy costs that installation pays for itself in a couple of years.
  • Blown-in fiberglass insulation also reduces the risk of fire. Since it creates a tight seal across the attic, air can’t flow through small spaces to stoke a blaze.
  • Blown-in is easy to install quickly by a qualified installation team – often within a few hours.
  • Because blown-in creates such a tight seal, overall household noise is reduced. And, in these trying times when we’re stuck at home, a quiet home is a peaceful home.

Choose Wisely: The Right Pro for the Job

If you’re convinced that perhaps your attic needs some attention, the first step is an inspection. Attics and More offers a free attic inspection to determine if you have the safest and most efficient attic insulation, as well as uncovering other trouble spots. If blown-in installation is the best option, we’ve got you covered.

EnergyStar notes: “It is easier to get complete coverage of the attic floor with blown-in loose-fill insulation. It is best to hire an insulation contractor for this job.”

Contact us today to discuss how we can identify what’s above your head and … how safe it might be.

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Steps to a More Energy Efficient Home

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

As we commemorate the recent 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we can look back as a society and witness some solid victories in our quest for greater energy efficiency.

According to the Energy Efficiency Impact Report, investments in energy efficiency have significantly reduced spending on energy expenses over the past few decades.

The report notes:
“Without the energy efficiency investments made since 1980, energy consumption and emissions would have been 60 percent higher, and consumers would be paying nearly $800 billion more per year in energy costs. Efficiency’s benefits go beyond energy and cost savings, including a cleaner environment and improved public health.”

Within the average home, steps to energy efficiency can take many forms – from baby steps like switching to energy-efficient lighting to bigger steps such as sealing and insulating your attic. Of course, the bigger the step, the larger the savings.

Over the past two months of our shared “stuck-at-home” experience, it’s never been easier to take a look around our homes to see what steps can be taken to keep our nation on track for even greater savings and efficiency.

Take the LED
One of the simplest steps on the savings path is the replacement of inefficient lighting. From floor lamps to track lighting, your house should shine using LED technology. A light-emitting diode uses a semiconductor to convert electricity into light.

LEDs use heat sinks to absorb the heat produced by illumination. The heat sink dissipates the heat into the surrounding environment, keeping the light from overheating and burning out.
Energy Star-certified LED bulbs last 15 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Brightness is measured in lumens (light output) rather than watts (energy consumed). LED bulbs tend to be 6-7 times more energy-efficient than older incandescent bulbs. Studies show they may cut energy use by more than 80 percent. Taking a walk through your house to identify and replace inefficient lighting can save money down the road. They will cost more upfront, but the savings are well worth it.

According to a 2017 analysis by the Consumer Federation of America:
“Assuming an average $55 difference between the ten-year costs of LED bulbs and incandescent/halogen bulbs, a family may well save more than $1,000 by using LEDs during a ten-year period.”

“By using LED light bulbs, consumers not only save money, they also curb electricity use, potentially reducing the need for expensive new power plants,” said Mel Hall-Crawford, CFA’s Director of Energy Programs. “LED bulbs are a win-win-win for consumers, electric utilities, and the environment,” she added.

Tanks for the Savings
A “slightly-larger-than-baby” step you can take is to review the state of your water heater.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy: “Water heating accounts for about 18 percent of your home’s energy use. Reducing your hot water use, employing energy-saving strategies, and choosing an energy-efficient water heater for your home pool can help you reduce your monthly water heating bills.”
How old is your heater? If your water heater is more than ten years old, you may risk leaks or flooding. By upgrading to an EnergyStar-certified water heater, a family of four could save an estimated $3,500 over the appliance’s lifetime by heating water with a highly efficient heat pump. Also, many homeowners are going tankless. A tankless water heater – which heats water only when needed – can save a family of four more than $1,500 over its lifetime.
If you’re not ready to replace the whole water heater, you can realize baby-step savings by turning your water heater down. Most water-heater manufacturers set thermostats at 140⁰F by default. However, most houses will do just fine with the thermostat set to 120⁰F. Caution: Always shut off the electricity to the water heater before opening the heater’s panels to adjust the thermostat.

Energy Savings Above Your Head
What’s going on above your ceiling? If you rarely enter your attic (maybe to see if your prom dress still fits or if those old comic books are worth anything), you may be hemorrhaging dollars and cents if your attic space is drafty or improperly sealed.
You will often find some of your home’s most significant air leaks in the attic. This means higher energy bills and an inefficient home overall with hotter summers and icier winters.
If you’re ready to take an even larger and more cost-effective step in creating a super-efficient attic, now is the time to contact Attics and More for a complimentary home energy analysis by our qualified attic professional. We will make sure the attic is getting proper ventilation with natural airflow that keeps the roof deck cool and dry. This has the added benefit of extending the life of shingles and stopping ice dams. Finally, we can insulate your attic’s entry hatch using our Attic Gator. The Department of Energy offers tips on detecting air leaks and assessing ventilation needs.
While we are auditing your attic for leaks and ventilation issues, now would be a perfect time also to analyze your insulation needs. And, many homes can benefit from solar-powered attic ventilation systems. Attics and More utilizes solar power fans that have a lifetime warranty, can withstand hurricane force winds of 150 mph, and will work nonstop from sun-up to sundown. The necessary three actions we always reiterate for the most energy-efficient home are to seal, insulate, and ventilate.
For more steps you can take towards a more energy-efficient home (from baby to big kid), check out this exhaustive guide by the U.S. Department of Energy. Whether you decide to change a few light bulbs or launch an attic-renovation project, as Confucius said, “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” Now is the time to stop and see what Attics and More can do for you with our safe green products and our flexible financing.