June 2010

Volume 19, Number 6

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Green Topics

CertainTeed Introduces a Formaldehyde-Free Batt Insulation

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Free of dyes or pigments, Sustainable Insulation’s mottled tan color is the result of the manufacturing process.

Photo: CertainTeed Corporation

CertainTeed has introduced Sustainable Insulation, a fiberglass batt insulation that uses a formaldehyde-free, bio-based binder to hold the fibers together. CertainTeed’s Sustainable Insulation joins Johns Manville’s batt insulation (acrylic binder) and Knauf’s EcoBatt (bio-based binder) in the formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation market.

Most fiberglass batt insulation is made with phenol formaldehyde or urea-extended phenol formaldehyde to bind the glass fibers together. And though formaldehyde exists naturally at low levels in the atmosphere, it is labeled a known carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

Formaldehyde emissions from fiberglass are often low enough to pass California 01350 emissions standards (all of CertainTeed’s fiberglass batts are certified through GreenGuard Children & Schools and CA 01350), but in high enough concentrations formaldehyde can negatively impact indoor air quality, as shown by the FEMA trailers contaminated by particleboard held together with formaldehyde-based adhesives (see EBN Apr. 2008). Tom Lent of the Healthy Building Network advocates formaldehyde-free insulation materials, claiming the levels of formaldehyde emitted from some building assemblies that use fiberglass insulation are higher than CA 01350 testing indicates. Although the insulation industry may disagree with Lent’s assertions, minimizing the use of formaldehyde-based products in today’s airtight buildings is a reasonable precaution.

CertainTeed would not divulge the plant source or chemical composition of its bio-based binder, so assessing Sustainable Insulation’s overall environmental impact is difficult. But Robert Brockman, the company’s marketing manager for residential and commercial insulation products, told EBN that the binder’s initial chemical composition is similar to that of sugar. A chemical reaction transforms the binder into the final product, which is no longer a food source and should be as durable as phenolic binders.

Sustainable Insulation has the same R-value as CertainTeed’s standard insulation, around R-3.2 per inch, and contains the same amount of recycled content at around 35%, with approximately 4% from post-consumer sources such as glass bottles. The Canadian version uses a different glass source and contains 65%–70% recycled content, all of it post-consumer. According to Brockman, the Canadian product contains more post-consumer recycled content because there is more high-quality recycled glass available for use in the Alberta, Canada, plant than for the facility in California.

CertainTeed, an Energy Star Partner of the Year, should be commended for improving the environmental performance of its fiberglass, but the company is marketing Sustainable Insulation as having 50% rapidly renewable content, counting both the sand and the binder in that calculation. The company claims that erosion and geological forces are always producing sand, similar to statements found in a report by the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA) entitled “Using Recycled Materials is Just the First Step Toward Safeguarding the Environment.” While sand, the primary ingredient of most fiberglass, is plentiful, it is not considered a rapidly renewable resource in most circles. LEED limits the term—and the points it awards—to materials that come from either animals or plants and those that “have a harvest cycle of ten years or less.” Sustainable Insulation’s plant-based binder is considered rapidly renewable, but the small amount in the product would likely not be enough to garner an MRc6 LEED point.

Sustainable Insulation is available unfaced or kraft-faced in the same thicknesses (2½–10¼ inches or 6.4–26.0 cm) and widths (11–48 inches or 28–122 cm) as CertainTeed’s standard fiberglass batts. Because Sustainable Insulation contains no dyes or pigments, it is a mottled tan color, similar to Knauff’s EcoBatt, setting it apart from CertainTeed’s standard yellow fiberglass or Owens Corning’s ubiquitous pink fiberglass.

CertainTeed is manufacturing Sustainable Insulation in its Chowchilla, California, and Redcliff, Alberta, plants and is currently distributing it in California and western Canada. In those areas, the cost should be comparable to that of the company’s standard fiberglass insulation. EBN checked with California’s Pacific Supply, which supplies building products to the construction industry, and was told that Sustainable Insulation was actually priced slightly lower than the standard product. Brockman said shipping costs would rise as one gets further from the manufacturing centers. CertainTeed plans to roll out the product from west to east as more factories begin producing it, but the company is not committing to replacing its standard formaldehyde-based products with its new bio-based binder at this time.

– Brent Ehrlich

For more information:

CertainTeed Corporation

Valley Forge, Pennsylvania



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June 1, 2010