Heating and cooling make up about 56% of home energy usage. However, if that home lacks proper insulation, the homeowner is paying for wasted energy. The best types of insulation to protect home utility costs are safe to use, environmentally friendly and contain a high level of thermal resistance, known as the R-value. This R-value of insulation depends on the type of material, its thickness and its density. Furthermore, the amount of insulation required, the accessibility of the insulation location, the space availability and the material cost are all factors to consider before investing in this efficiency boost.

However, besides the fiscal and environmental importance of updating insulation, specific health risks are also associated with some materials, especially in older homes. While not banned when they were installed, older forms of insulation pose increased risks every day because their aging actually leads to the dispersion of the dangerous chemicals that led to their eventual ban. Often hidden, families can be subject to years of dangerous chemical exposure without ever knowing it was coming from behind their walls and in their ceilings.

Utilized in the 1970’s to insulate buildings that were not previously, Urea-formaldehyde foam (UFFI) and panels pose a serious cancer risk. Since the early 1980’s most states have outlawed the use of this insulation because it releases formaldehyde gas, which is toxic and can lead to serious air quality issues. Its popularity was attributable to its inexpensiveness and high R-value. It is also resilient to moisture, regaining effectiveness after drying. Mixed on site and pumped into spaces not previously-insulated, this product was popular at the time but now requires great investment to effectively remove.

Once a popular form of insulation based on its heat, chemical and electrical insulation strength, asbestos has since proven to be toxic after the appearance of cancer in those regularly exposed. Used in a variety of household and industrial applications, this insulator is a threat when broken, jagged or shredded, which allows it to be released into the air and breathed into the lungs, leading to its particular cancer called mesothelioma. Mesothelioma symptoms also do not typically appear until 20 to 50 years after initial exposure, making its diagnosis difficult and limiting treatment options.

Although homeowners might not consider the health risks associated with older forms of insulation, these are concerns that need to be addressed, especially for those living in older houses. Conduction, convection and radiation, the three forms of heat transfer, are being addressed by newer, safer forms of insulation every day. One particularly promising new variety, cellulose insulation, is made of up to 85% recycled material and has a low toxicity and environmental impact level. With so many safer forms of insulation present, there are several important reasons to update this essential part of your home, including the financial, health and environmental rewards.

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