Getting Winter-Ready: Denim Insulation

By Erin S. Ihde, MA, CCRP

With winter here and many parts of the country already in blizzard mode, it’s been time to get the Healthy Home Project ready, too. Houses a century ago weren’t built with insulation, so there were a few places where it was needed. The question is, what type of insulation is good for the planet and good for us?

Home insulation has long been associated with health hazards, from the asbestos insulation popular decades ago, to the fiberglass insulation stocked in home centers now, which still requires protective gear during installation. (The EPA has a great resource for protecting your family from asbestos insulation if that’s an issue in your home).

After reading up on it, it seemed like recycled blue jean insulation from Bonded Logic was the #1 choice for this project. However, the big box stores don’t stock it in-store, though some have it online. Wait times can be an issue when ordering and my contractor needed it…yesterday. When work crews are being held up because they don’t have materials, that botches up the budget, too, and makes “green” items impractical. So I tried to find the insulation locally, which led to a bit of an adventure.

Green Depot sells Bonded Logic, so I went to their NYC showroom (which is beautiful and just makes me dream of every possible green project imaginable), to place my order. (Note: the store does have a drop-ship program for some states and calling to order is also an option). One thing to keep in mind is unlike the insulation at big box stores, Bonded Logic doesn’t come with the option of an attached vapor barrier. So, if a vapor barrier is needed, it’s also necessary to buy a separate plastic sheeting product called MemBrain from CertainTeed, a permeable moisture barrier. The permeable part might seem insignificant, but it keeps the insulation “vented” so that it can breathe, meaning it will help protect it from ever getting moldy if it happens to get wet.

Easy enough, right? Green Depot placed the order, which I was then to pick up at a distributor about 20 minutes from home. The logistics of picking up product from a large distributor was new for me…first I went to the front office, waited in line and showed my paid receipt, then drove back through a huge lumberyard, had the receipt stamped when the insulation arrived from the warehouse, and was on my way. Insulation being very bulky, not much fit into my car…which meant multiple trips. It also meant different pickup times as the distributor only stocks certain R-values, and one had to be ordered as there wasn’t enough in stock. The R-value means the insulation value of the product. The higher the R-value, the better it will protect against the cold. Different applications require different R-values, depending on where it’s being placed.

Things got sticky when it was time to order the vapor barrier, as it wasn’t in stock. The rep started to get plastic poly sheeting, which wasn’t what the manufacturer recommended. Once I explained, it turned out to be not in stock at any distributor on the East Coast…super stressful when the project is being held up and supplies are needed.

Having gone this far, it was hard to turn back, and I really wanted to see how easy or hard it was going to be to get the rest of the supplies. Was I the only one ordering this stuff?  I decided to just ask. Apparently, yes… Due to the downturn of the economy, the rep explained, his customers just stopped ordering it a couple years ago. Bonded Logic is several times more expensive than conventional insulation, so I could definitely understand. Going “green and healthy” isn’t always easy or convenient, but the bottom line is, I can’t ask a contractor to work with a material that I wouldn’t want to work with myself. And if I was doing the installation, I’d want to work with the safest product possible.

So, I called Bonded Logic customer service, and they were amazingly helpful. The issue got sorted out and a few days later, the insulation was in!  Maybe having gone through that, the next person who orders will have it that much easier.

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