Building insulation is one of the most overlooked factors in optimizing energy efficiency. Insulation technology is continually evolving. The industry still uses proven products such as fiberglass and rock and slag wool, but there are new technologies as well with rigid board insulation, cellulose, and foam insulation. Bio-based insulation products are emerging, including recycled sheep’s wool and cotton. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) continues to evaluate and encourage the use of recycled content in insulation products.
Plants belonging to the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association have been diverting about 33 billion pounds of recycled materials from wastes to be used for the manufacture of insulation materials with glass cullet. Fiberglass manufacturers have produced unbounded blown-in fiberglass, while other manufacturers have used alternative binders to make batt insulation.
Researchers have also been exploring the use of nanomaterials in insulation. A developmental study is underway to use chicken feathers in building materials such as acoustic ceiling tiles and moisture-resistant insulation and drywall.
Other countries have started using industrial hemp, a type of low-narcotic hemp, for insulation materials. Industrial hemp is renewable, breathable, and biodegradable. It has a high sound-absorption rate as well as properties to deter mold and bugs. Hemp insulation is not prone to slumping after installation.
Fiberglass has also seen major improvements. High-performance fiberglass batts have proven more effective than the standard fiberglass alternatives. They have greater density and insulating ability and are ideal for sidewalls that require high levels of insulation at more than R-21.
Insulation products like fiberglass and rock and slag wool provide superior fire protection in addition to high thermal protection performance. They also contribute to acoustic noise control when installed in wall cavities, floors, ceilings, and ductwork.
In addition to improving the insulation itself, researchers are working to advance insulation accessories and installation machines.