The Best Insulation Types for Your Home

New insulation options are less toxic and more energy-efficient.

| November/December 2006

  • Icynene foam insulation is blown in using water and contains no CFCs or formaldehyde once cured.
  • Air Krete cementitious foam is a nontoxic insulation that’s sprayed into wall cavities.
  • Formaldehyde-free Johns Manville MR-Faced Batts (fiberglass) are treated with a food-grade preservative to protect against mold growth.
  • Johns Manville Spider is a formaldehyde-free, spray-in fiberglass insulation that contains some recycled-glass content. (For use in open walls only.)
  • UltraTouch insulation, made from recycled natural cotton/denim fibers, doesn’t itch and can be installed without protective clothing.
  • UltraTouch insulation, made from recycled natural cotton/denim fibers, doesn’t itch and can be installed without protective clothing.

Installing insulation is one of the most environmentally friendly things a homeowner can do. About 65 percent of U.S. houses are poorly insulated, a 2005 Harvard study estimates. Fortunately, you can cut heating and cooling bills by about 30 percent with proper insulation.

These days, insulation is made with everything from newspaper and sheep's wool to cotton and chemical foams. Many are far more "green" than their predecessors-including formaldehyde-free and recycled-content insulation. Even fiberglass, that old standard, has improved environmentally.

When choosing insulation, most homeowners contemplate R-value, which measures resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the better the insulation material is at reducing energy consumption. Another important consideration should be where the insulation will go. The attic is the easiest place to insulate and the most important in terms of saving money and energy. Sealing large air leaks is next, followed by insulating the basement.

A federal energy tax credit can help homeowners recoup their insulation investment if they complete the improvements by the end of 2007. A tax credit is actually a dollar-for-dollar reduction in taxes equal to 10 percent of the cost of insulation (up to $500). For more information see

Fiberglass insulation: The pink stuff

The most common type of insulation, fiberglass is made with glass fibers that can break off and be inhaled, causing lung damage, especially to professional installers. Most of it contains phenol-formaldehyde, a substance the Environmental Protection Agency has pegged as a probable human carcinogen. Fortunately, manufacturers have developed ways to eliminate formaldehyde-used as a binder-and to create fiberglass insulation from 30 to 40 percent post-consumer recycled-glass content.

3/5/2015 9:08:45 AM

I had no idea that there was a vegetable based foam insulation. This seems like a powerful insulation material. As you said, foam insulation is great and can be used where others can't. If it's primary drawback is the materials, then a more natural version of the same thing seems like a great solution.

2/11/2015 2:34:27 PM

My wife and I have been wondering what kind of insulation would be the best to get for our home we are building. My parents used the fiberglass insulation in their home and I have worked with that before. I am really interested in trying this foam insulation. I want to talk to a contractor to see what they think is the better choice to go with.

4/24/2014 9:38:02 AM

Having good insulation in the home is important for a variety of reasons, mainly staying warm in the winter and cold nights alongside reducing and keeping your annual heating bill as low as possible. Using a radiant heating system such as as appose to a conventional central heating system not only helps in reducing your annual bills, but also this form of radiant heat is insulated a lot easier in the home.

mother earth news fair 2018 schedule


Next: October 13-14 2018
Topeka, KS

Sit in on dozens of practical workshops from the leading authorities on natural health, organic gardening, real food and more!