Ins and Outs of Insulation: Formaldehyde-Free Fiberglass Insulation

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formaldyhyde free fiberglass insulationMore than a decade ago, I got a crash course in formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation. That’s because, at the time, our home was undergoing a major renovation. I didn’t understand the ins and outs of insulation then, but I learned quickly. Here’s what happened.

Our contractor had just started installing traditional fiberglass insulation in the drywalls. He hadn’t yet enclosed the insulation in the drywall, which was a good thing. Why? Because I thought I was having an allergic reaction to it.

On the day the insulation went in, I developed a migraine out of nowhere. My throat itched and my eyes burned. Something was very wrong in my home.

Fumes from traditional fiberglass insulation

To most people the smell of home insulation is just  a mildly offensive odor that supposedly goes away over time. But I’m one of those people who is sensitive to smells. There was no way I could live with the odor, or risk closing up the walls and not having the smell dissipate.

I needed our contractor to rip out all of the fiberglass. Then, we had to find a replacement.

This change in the work order had nothing to do with the contractor or the quality of their work. This had everything to do with the noxious smell of fiberglass insulation. The insulation was making my house almost unliveable.

Turns out that nearly all insulation gives off an odor. The cause? The formaldehyde manufacturers use to bind the fiberglass together.

Frankly, it creeped me out to think that there was formaldehyde gasses in my house at that time. Isn’t formaldehyde the stuff they use to embalm people after they die?

formaldahyde free fiberglass insulation

Less toxic home insulation options

At that time I decided to research less-toxic home insulation options. I found a few options. However, in today’s world, there are so many more. Here’s what I found out.

Formaldehyde-free insulation

When I search on The Home Depot website for formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation, I get more than 160 results. Back when we were doing our renovation, we discovered a company at The Home Depot called Johns Manville that offered JM Formaldehyde-Free Insulation.

Today, plenty of other companies sell formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation. They come in a variety of insulation levels.

FYI, The Home Depot is one of many stores that lets you buy online and pickup curbside.

Owens-Corning is one such company offering formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation. You’ll know them from their pink insulation product that features the Pink Panther on it.

Owens Corning formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation

Owens Corning makes formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation for all different kinds of uses around the house. First, is kraft-faced formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation. This is insulation with a brown kraft paper front and back.

Next, is unfaced insulation. It does not have any paper on it.

After that, metal framed formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation. Plus, many other options. Each has a different use.

You use some of these formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation products in attics, others in walls and ceilings. Some are made for basements and others are made for wrapping pipes. All, though, are formaldehyde free, which means no noxious fumes.

Johns Manville formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation

From what I can tell, nearly all of the JM Johns Manville insulation products are formaldehyde-free. I ended up recommending my contractor use this brand as a replacement.

I’ve spoken with other people who are sensitive to smells like I am. They, too, have used this product to great (and odor-free) results.

It’s what he ended up installing. After dealing with debilitating headaches from the original insulation, my headache cleared within 24 hour of him taking it out and replacing it with formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation.

Fiberglass insulation made from recycled glass

Recycled glass is a component of all fiberglass. However, I found one brand that is making a formaldehyde-free product with other recycled materials, too. The brand is called Knauf Insulation, and you can find it at The Home Depot.

Knauf Insulation formaldehyde-free insulation

The company says that its formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation is low dust and soft to the touch, and much easier to work with than traditional fiberglass insulation. In addition, it uses plant-based technology for binding, further reducing the potential toxicity of your insulation.

Non-fiberglass insulation

If you want to avoid fiberglass all together, there are options. For example, there are companies making insulation from wool, wood and even cotton. Not surprisingly, you will pay more for these.

When I was first researching formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation, I discovered companies making insulation from recycled denim. However, these specialty companies came with challenges.

One, they normally cost three times more than traditional fiberglass insulation. Two, you couldn’t buy this product at The Home Depot or Lowe’s. And three, it was hard to find stores nearby or companies that would install this specialty insulation. Thankfully, times have changed in the decade since we did that major renovation.

Non-fiberglass insulation at major retailers

Today, you can find home insulation made from natural fibers like denim or wool at major retailers like The Home Depot. I like the idea of insulation made from cotton or recycled denim. Plus, I was so pleased to find this option at The Home Depot from a company called Bonded Logic.

Recycled denim home insulation

Here’s how the company Bonded Logic describes its Ultra Touch denim insulation:

“The high quality recycled textile fibers that make up UltraTouch Denim Insulation provide for effective sound absorption and maximum thermal performance. UltraTouch has no fiberglass itch or chemical irritants and is easy to handle and work with.”

I researched and learned more about UltraTouch. It is manufactured using post-consumer denim and cotton fibers that the company sources from various facilities. On average, this non-fiberglass insulation contains between 80 percent and 90 percent recycled denim and cotton fibers.

fiberglass free home insulation

This Arizona Central article from a few years ago explains where the company is sourcing its denim. It’s buying it in bulk from non-profits like Goodwill and The Salvation Army.

I know for a long time that the Levi-Strauss company was collecting denim to recycle. This article explained that when you brought in a pair of jeans to recycle, you would get 20 percent off the purchase. Then, the denim would be recycled into home insulation products, like the ones I mentioned above.

6 thoughts on “Ins and Outs of Insulation: Formaldehyde-Free Fiberglass Insulation”

  1. Hello,
    We have Ultra Touch Denim batting /cellouse installed a year ago. Since then we are experiencing an odor that comes and goes when the temperature changes. We are not staying in our home. We are going to remove it. I suggest if you select Ultra Touch Denim try to get a sample before installing it. We are looking into Fiber Green.
    R/,
    Demaras

    Reply
  2. We pulled cellulose and denim batts right out of our attic and crawl areas, both smelled to high heaven. The handiwest fsc orange spray foam was the stinky cherry on top, we spent more time and money removing these materials and remediating than it cost to put in. The fire safety chemicals in non fiberglass are major problems. The production of fiberglass also is a problem. We’re now pre purchasing what we hope to use, and living with some raw material just out in the garage to see ifit smells acceptable or not. We really want hemp flax panels, you don’t need fire safety chemicals, what a racket.

    Reply
  3. I realize this is an old post, but am curious what is smelled like? i have new insulation in a few rooms we remodeled and it smells like urine or cat pee. No one else can smell it but me! Couls you please reply via email? Thank you!

    Reply
    • Yup, that’s the smell–cat pee. And if it gives you a headache, have them rip it out. So sorry you’re going through this.

      Leah

      Reply
  4. And it’s not just the insulation… it’s also really important to make sure the house doesn’t leak excessively (which most do). (More on that at the link below…)

    And ideally one gets rid of thermal bridges (due to the studs in the walls themselves having almost no insulating value) by either having some rigid insulation outside the studs, or strapped horizontally inside the studs with 2x3s so that the only “all wood” spots are where the studs cross the 2x3s. And there are more ways.

    Other types of insulation which would for you:
    – dense-packed cellulose (recycled newspaper)
    – dense-packed fiberglass (“blown in batts)
    – low-density-foam (LDF) like icynene

    The cellulose is probably about the same price as the fiberglass and works better.

    Some useful links for you:

    on leaks:
    http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/musings/pinpointing-leaks-fog-machine

    on insulation:
    http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/energy-solutions/how-much-insulation-needed

    on thermal bridging ideas
    http://www.coldhamandhartman.com/upload/documents/BE07-WallSystemOptions.pdf

    Reply

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