For years, fiberglass has been used as the industry standard for insulation in heating and cooling systems, despite being a possible detriment to the environment and known to have potential for adverse health effects. Over time fiberglass insulation can deteriorate and migrate through supply diffusers, which are used to evenly distribute and deliver air throughout a house or building. In turn this can lead to the deteriorated fiberglass liner getting deposited throughout your home or building.
According to the study Changes Induced by Exposure of the Human Lung to Glass Fiber-Reinforced Plastics, "fiberglass—independent of the environmental concentration—causes an alteration of the cellular and enzymatic components of the deep lung." As classified by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fiberglass can cause physical irritation to the skin, eyes, and upper respiratory tract, resulting in difficulty in breathing. It is for these reasons and the uncertainty of long-term effects from exposure to the material that manufacturers are researching alternatives for insulation.
Not only does this material pose concern of potential harm for homeowners and building tenants, there is also concern to those who have to install and inspect these HVAC systems on a regular basis. Due to the hazards of fiberglass, it’s recommended that gloves, pants, long sleeves, goggles, and a respirator be worn when dealing with it, as when disturbed, fiberglass releases tiny particles into the air that lodge into skin upon contact, and lungs if inhaled.
The publication "Growth of Mold on Fiberglass Insulation Building Materials" states that "fiberglass can serve as a support matrix for the collection of debris which, when moist, have the capability of supporting the growth of mold." HVAC systems contaminated with microbial growths can not only cause a horrible odor throughout the home or building, but can have serious long-term health effects as well.
Fiberglass is a popular choice for insulation because it can be a daunting task to replicate or replace the level at which it insulates, and the purchase price is relatively inexpensive. The fact that insulation materials are held to certain standards and regulations can make finding or manufacturing an alternative seem a fool’s errand; however, there are alternatives available.
What to look for in an Alternative Insulation Material
In order to find a fiberglass insulation alternative, you need a material that possesses performance traits similar to fiberglass. Fiberglass is used mainly because:
- It is fire resistant
- It has a good R-value
R-value is the ability for a material to resist heat traveling through it, which in the case of insulation, is allowing heat to distribute throughout a building. The better R-Value an insulation material has, the more efficiently it works. Some materials are more resistant to heat flow than others, so when looking into alternatives to fiberglass, it’s good to know the minimum R-Value needed for your alternative insulating material.
Fiberglass can not only be harsh on the environment and health, but it’s difficult to install due to the skin, eye, and respiratory irritation potential. Even with all of the issues associated with it, fiberglass is still the industry standard when it comes to insulation materials. However, there are alternatives options available.
Polymer was contacted by an industry leading company that was developing a new, high-end, residential HVAC system. They were seeking a cutting edge alternative to fiberglass for the insulating material in their HVAC system, and Polymer was able to provide the client with an insulating material that not only met their specific requirements, but made the installation process easier.