30 Healthier Insulation, Reduced Formaldehyde Building Materials

There is a lot going on behind the scenes in fiberglass insulation factories all over the United States right now.  Since 1999, there has been mounting reports of formaldehyde content in fiberglass insulation.  Composite wood materials, especially particleboard, is the subject of new guidelines proposed by the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), to reduce formaldehyde off-gassing inside newly built homes and buildings.

Formaldehyde Free Fiberglass Batt Insulation

However, ever since a 2003 California study, formaldehyde content and off-gassing has been a subject of concern and debate.  The study was conducted by the California Department of Health Services (DHS) for the California Integrated Waste Management Board.  DHS continues to recommend avoidance of products with added formaldehyde.  Testing of fiberglass batt products with no added formaldehyde has shown passing scores for the “01350 test,” with no detectable emissions of formaldehyde.  The California 01350 test refers to the California Department of Health Services Standard Practice CA/DHS/EHLB/R-174 developed for testing and threshold levels of VOC emissions.

Why the concern about formaldehyde (other than this is the toxic chemical that undertakers embalm dead people with to insure that they remain dead and somewhat preserved)?  The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer and the State of California Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment have both identified formaldehyde as a carcinogen and respiratory irritant.  Therefore, this is a substance that we really do not want in our homes, or in the building products that make up our homes and that could contaminate the air that we breathe in those houses.

The EPA’s Role

Rand Soellner, AIA contacted the SE USA regional EPA office today (2-29-2012) and spoke to a staff person about the above concerns and was referred to a Washington D.C. senior staff person of the EPA, whom Rand requested information from regarding established regulations or pending policies affecting the manufacture of building products and fiberglass insulation with formaldehyde.  She wanted to insure that she had the latest facts and promised to get back to the Home Architects in the next couple of days.  She did say that she believed that the currently drafted proposed guidelines mainly addressed fabricated pressed wood panel products, not fiberglass insulation.

Rand Soellner also spoke with a person from Guardian Glass in their Albion, Michigan plant today, and that person said that they will be changing their fiberglass manufacturing process to remove formaldehyde and instead use acrylic binders, like Johns Manville is currently doing with its Formaldehyde Free Fiberglass Batt insulation.

California Leading the Way

At this point, it appears to us that what has happened is that the State of California had several knowledgeable scientists who conducted studies of off-gassing of formaldehyde several years ago (2003), observing that their 13.5 ppb (parts per billion) standard after 7 days was being exceeded by fiberglass batt insulation.  Over the course of several years, this study has been passed around the Internet and raised people’s level of understanding of this issue.

At some point, one major manufacturer of fiberglass batt insulation, Johns Manville, decided to start making fiberglass batt insulation without using formaldehyde.  Formaldehyde was used as a binder between the long fiberglass strands, to allow them to re-inflate after being compacted in tight constraints during shipping and storage for sale and delivery.  It is this re-inflation that is critical to the thermal performance of fiberglass batt insulation, because, as any scientist knows, it is actually the tiny pockets of air trapped between looser materials that give them their higher insulating properties.  For instance, that is why a 12″ thick solid chunk of dense steel or concrete does not insulate anywhere near as well as 3-1/2″ of fiberglass insulation (after it has expanded back to its 3-1/2″ dimension after being tightly compressed during fabrication for shipment economies.

Johns Manville Producing Formaldehyde Free Fiberglass Insulation

Okay, so Johns Manville comes up with a new method of producing fiberglass batt insulation, using acrylic binders instead of formaldehyde.  They now tout it as the only on-formaldehyde fiberglass batt insulation available.  That’s quite a smart marketing move, as  well as being good citizens in our ever-Greener evolving society.  Let’s face it: who wants chemicals that can possibly cause you cancer within the very walls of your house?

So, what appears to now be happening, is that while other major manufacturers have press releases circulating that the “trace” amounts of formaldehyde in their products have not been conclusively determined to cause cancer in the people using them in their homes, that is likely a loosing battle.  Sort of like when smoking began to be thought of as possibly causing lung cancer or throat cancer, way back in the 1950s and 60s.  It might be a good idea to not smoke if you want to remain healthy.  So, it appears that other majors fiberglass batt manufacturers see the handwriting on the wall and are starting to gear up to change from the usage of formaldehyde binders to acrylic.

The senior staff member of the EPA in Washington told us that she did not see that fiberglass insulation is part of the present guidelines that may soon be enacted into law.

However, smart insulation manufacturers can see the marketing spin that Johns Manville now has and with architects and others wanting to specify products in an ever Greener house design and building design, who wants to stick with a product component that may very likely be a health risk?

A Good Idea Being Adopted by Insulation Manufacturers

So, quietly across our country, in the approximately 27+/- major United States manufacturing facilities where fiberglass batt insulation is produced, and in their board rooms, there are discussions going on and retrofitting being accomplished.  All so that you, the residential buying public, can have better, safer, and healthier houses in which to live.   When?  We have been told probably by the end of 2012 or early 2013.

Being on the cutting edge of healthy house design, Rand Soellner Architect has already modified his specifications to not allow formaldehyde in hid projects’ fiberglass insulations.  Click here to contact –> Contact Us .  Click here for Soellner’s : Green Design Index .

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