Save the Planet. Choose Cellulose!

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Written by: Bob Bird Bird Family Insulation

Working in the city of Atlanta, with 6.5 million people in 29 counties gives me quite an education on human behavior.

As a Home Service Provider, I am invited into homes every day of the week.

In our office, we speak to an average of 6 to 10 homeowners each and every day, by phone.

Everyone Doing Their Part

What I’ve noticed in the last 12 years or so is an obvious shift in shopping habits. I’ve seen an obvious shift in how people think about energy and the environment.

Of course, I’m only speaking from my experience with my business in the Atlanta region.

Here is what I’ve noticed:

  • People are deeply interested in the environment, and protecting it from pollution.
  • People feel like they have an individual responsibility to do their part in protecting the environment.
  • Communities feel compelled and responsible to protect the environment, such that they require homeowners to separate plastics, glass, and paper from the waste stream.
  • Utility companies & co-ops feel the responsibility to reward drivers of electric vehicles, by giving them free electricity during certain hours of the day or night.
  • Governments award drivers of electric vehicles with financial incentives.
  • Governments award homeowners with financial incentives to add solar power to their homes, to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

I can go on and on. I’ve noticed folks who have changed their shopping habits, to support more sustainable resources – so that they feel better believing that they are contributing to change for the better.

We’ve put low-flow toilets and low-flow showers in our bathrooms. We’re collecting water from our gutters to water our tomato plants.

We’ll only buy free-range eggs, and have stopped eating beef, pork, and chicken.

We won’t use hardwood for our floors, but use bamboo instead. I guess this is because bamboo is actually grass.

I read about the huge movement to move away from natural gas, and have 100% electric homes.

You get what I’m saying, right? For instance, when a dog is bought from a dog pound or rescue facility. I’ll ask a homeowner, “What a sweet dog! What breed is your dog?”

And often the answer I receive is “Oh, he’s a rescue!” The fact that it’s a rescue is more important than the breed, or lack of breed.

On this theme, I’ve been chastised for buying a puppy from a breeder. I really was! As if I’m contributing to the problem of over crowded dog pounds or somehow I am inhumane.

So there is a real militancy in the attitude of a few – that we’re in a battle to save the planet.

It Doesn’t Add Up

Yet could there be a hint of hypocrisy with some of these individuals when they have fiberglass insulation in their attic? Wikipedia defines hypocrisy this way:

“… the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform. In moral psychology, it is the failure to follow one’s own expressed moral rules and principles.”

I’m certain that they aren’t aware of it. The argument is too real for them.

Here is what I mean.

I climb into the attic for a homeowner, and find an attic floor with fiberglass insulation. I will explain to my homeowner what I’ve discovered.

It may go like this:

“You have 5” of low-performing loose-fill fiberglass.”

“I recommend that your attic be cleaned out, prepped and thoroughly air-sealed. We’ll reinsulate using high performance Bora Spray cellulose insulation to R-50”.

If they get another opinion from a 2nd company, it’s virtually always going to be for adding fiberglass insulation or spray foam to the attic.

I know why. Installing cellulose insulation in an attic is hard work. It takes special equipment, and it takes more material, and it takes longer to install, when compared to loose-fill fiberglass insulation.

It’s easier for something to go wrong when installing cellulose, vs installing fiberglass insulation.

So generally, the fiberglass insulation quote will be more affordable than my quote. Not always, but sometimes.

And if I see a hybrid electric vehicle in the garage, plugged into the charger, and a few other hints of saving the planet, I get confused when the homeowner chooses the cheaper fiberglass quote.

Granted, it doesn’t take much to confuse me these days! But think about my logic with me. I could be all wrong in my thinking – but read through to the end.

Who Pollutes More: Fiberglass or Cellulose?

Loose-fill Fiberglass Insulation takes up to 10x more energy to produce than cellulose insulation. Just google that statistic, it’s easy to find.

Not only that, but the huge furnaces used to melt sand into glass, and blast the glass into small strands, are powered by natural gas. I thought we didn’t like natural gas.

Fiberglass attic insulation does not decompose very easily in the landfill. Nor does it contribute to improved air quality in your home. I have to pay a premium to dump a load of old fiberglass insulation. I thought we were recycling our wastes?

On the other hand, cellulose insulation is a 100% recycled material. Applegate buys tractor-trailer loads of post-consumer paper, to recycle into insulation. And paper will always decompose in the landfill.

And as for manufacturing, the recycling plant is extremely simple. It’s a few electric-powered grinders (drums) that shred and grind the newspaper and consumer light-weight cardboard into the tiny pieces of paper insulation.

That insulation is then sprayed with a measured amount of all-natural borate (11% by content) and packaged into bales and wrapped with a wrapper for easy handling.

At the end of the shift, they flip a switch and the plant goes dark. Easy as that. No big energy demand for these cellulose insulation plants. In fact, they are pretty low-tech, in my opinion!

There are NO SMOKE STACKS on a cellulose insulation recycling plant!

There is an Applegate cellulose insulation recycling plant in Toccoa, GA. Call and ask for a tour. You can see just how simplistic this is.

To my knowledge, the fiberglass insulation plants cannot shut off. The huge gas furnaces must remain in operation even when the plant isn’t operating.

If you don’t believe me, there’s a huge fiberglass insulation plant in Fairburn, GA… just south of the Atlanta airport. Go visit the plant, take a tour. I’ve toured it twice. It’s been 10 years since I was there – so technology has very likely changed – hopefully they can now shut the furnaces down when they aren’t running the insulation lines.

So when I have a chance to explain the difference between fiberglass and cellulose attic insulation, most everyone always agrees that cellulose insulation is the better choice for the planet.

Hypocrites aren’t only found in church

I can’t imagine that anyone deliberately wants to be thought of as a hypocrite. This article is meant as a short blog post for those who are researching – to be introduced to the differences between how each of these two popular insulation products are manufactured.

It’s meant for those who sincerely want to do their part for the environment, and look for ways to amend their shopping habits to support that goal.

The difference between how each is manufactured is worlds apart. It’s a HUGE difference!

And, if saving the planet is important to you – this article should help you make an informed and conscientious decision that is more in harmony with your worldview.

Maybe I’ll talk to Aaron Applegate, and convince him to make a bumper sticker that reads, “Save the planet. Choose cellulose attic insulation!

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