Update: We have learned that SafeTouch was discontinued by Dow in spring 2011 due to poor sales. More detail in the comments below. We have confirmed that EnGuard polyester insulation, from Vita Nonwovens, remains available. – The Editors
I gotta say, I was pretty surprised to come across this product recently. I make it a habit of keeping up with new products as they come out--especially insulation materials. I had somehow missed this.
in a few select markets in 2007, but expanded availability late last year to 53 market areas, mostly in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states and exclusively through Lowes stores
. You can find stores carrying the product using this locator
SafeTouch is a batt insulation material made from 100% polyester fiber. The material contains no fiberglass, so there are no respirable glass or mineral fibers to cause itchy skin, red eyes or respiratory problems--so there's no need for a dust mask, gloves, or goggles. It has no formaldehyde binder to hold the fibers together; there's not even an acrylic binder. And the product apparently requires no flame retardant, which is added to cotton insulation and virtually all other plastic insulation materials (see more below on fire-resistance properties).
Currently, SafeTouch is made from virgin polyester fiber, the same type of fiber used in clothing and bedding. According to Amy Millslagle of Dow, however, recycled content "will be included in the near future."
Batts are available in R-13 and R-19 thicknesses for standard-width stud walls. The retail cost is $0.72/square foot for the R-11 batt and $1.02/square foot for the R-19 batt, according to Millsagle; this is somewhat higher than fiberglass. The product is available unfaced and with a plastic facing.
A thicker, R-30 product will be offered in the future, according to Brent Salamon, a senior research specialist at Dow.
Dow says that the batts can be cut with a knife or torn after cutting the facing. Working with a sample I received from the company, I found cutting with a knife extremely difficult, but scissors worked relatively well. The material can be torn fairly easily, but the fit will then not be as snug.
I was surprised about the lack of flame retardant in SafeTouch, especially since polyester is a thermoplastic (a type of plastic that melts), but Salamon assured me that the company purchases standard polyester fiber--not polyester that has been treated with flame retardant. "Through selection of the fibers, we're able to pass the test," he told me, referring to the flame spread number of less than 25 and smoke-developed number of less that 450. "It meets the requirements of the building code," said Salamon.
Salamon explained that in a fire, the fibers melt and "tend to pull away from the fire." I confirmed this with some very anecdotal testing I conducted (outside!). Exposed to a match, the fibers quickly melted and pulled away from the flame, but did not burst into flame. I still wonder about the fire-safety of the product, however.
I like the fact that SafeTouch is free of respirable fiberglass particles, formaldehyde, and halogenated flame retardants. Except for cutting it, the insulation would be great to work with--no itchy skin and red eyes after a day of insulating! (And if you feel a nap coming on, you've got a pillow right there!)
I'll feel even better about SafeTouch once it's made using recycled content, and I'd like to see some more exhaustive fire test results. (I'm not a big fan of the ASTM E-84 Tunnel Test, which I suspect was used in testing SafeTouch.) But, I've got to hand it to Dow for broadening its insulation offerings with an emphasis on green.
For more information:
Dow Building Solutions
I invite you to share your comments on this blog. Have you used SafeTouch? Any thoughts on its fire safety?
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