Green alternatives to styrofoam insulation

Styrofoam is basically extruded polystyrene foam. The material was first discovered by researchers at the Dow Chemical Company, in the year 1941. Styrofoam as an insulator is quite common nowadays. The material is resistive to heat and moisture, and also buoyant. The R-value (measure of thermal resistance) of Styrofoam is five per square inch. Besides insulation, Styrofoam is used as a structure material in craftwork and by florist. As a building material, Styrofoam sheets are placed between concrete slabs to prevent moisture absorption, and cylindrical shaped foams are used to insulate water pipes.

Styrofoam Insulation

The worst criticisms Styrofoam has gotten are that it is uneconomical to recycle, highly flammable and toxic. The polymer polystyrene, non-foam form of Styrofoam, being a petrochemical compound can emit harmful toxins in the atmosphere. Discarded materials made of polystyrene, including Styrofoam, are non-biodegradable and resistant to photolysis. Styrofoam is made with hydrofluorocarbons; this is the reason why large amounts of carbon dioxide is produced on incineration. Modern builders are reconsidering the traditional method of using Styrofoam materials; instead they are opting for Eco-friendly alternatives to show their allegiance toward a better future.

1. Greensulate


Greensulate is a good alternative to Styrofoam insulation. The material is biodegradable and renewable in nature. Besides being a good insulator, the material is also resistive to fire. You must have seen mushroom being served at your favorite restaurant, but have you ever thought of the idea of mushrooms inside your walls, protecting it from moisture and other environmental hazards. Mushrooms form the basic element in making Greensulate. A mixture of agricultural bio-waste is used to grow mushrooms into shapes to make insulation. Fungal cells are added, along with hydrogen peroxide, to prevent unwanted fungal growth. Being cheaper than polystyrene and Eco-friendly should serve as enough incentives to try this material.

Greensulate is a reality because of the research done by two mechanical engineers – Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre. They, along with other members, are now corporate under the name Ecovative Designs that provide Eco-friendly Greensulate materials for a myriad of purposes.

2. Aerogel


Aerogel is a translucent gel-like material that has a higher R-value than Styrofoam. The material has low density and thermal conductivity, and porous in nature. The translucent nature of the material has given it odd names like frozen smoke, liquid smoke, etc. The low thermal conductivity is due to the fact that it negates four ways of heat transfer – convection, conduction, and radiation. Besides insulation, NASA has used Aerogel to collect space dust. Through the process of supercritical drying, the liquid component of the gel is extracted to make the material. The nature of the gel depends on the material from which it has been extracted. Most commonly used Aerogel materials are derived from silica, carbon and alumina. Commercially, Aerogel is used in granular form for insulation and absorption of infrared radiation.

The toxicity of the gel depends on the material from which it has been derived. Silica-based Aerogel is not known to be toxic and can be safely used in homes.

3. Durisol’s green insulated concrete


Durisol, a Canada based company, is the leading manufacturer of cement-bonded wood fiber products. Since 1945, they have been making Durisol products in their 14 manufacturing units located throughout the world. Durisol is the name given to the concrete made from a mixture of wood fiber and Portland cement.100% recycled wood is used in the manufacturing process. The origin of the material goes back to Switzerland, where it was invented to provide a cheap building material to rebuild post world war Europe. Currently, the company has a host of Durisol products that include Flat Durisol Sheets, Concrete Wall Accessories, ICF Wall forms and many more.

Durisol concrete forms are cheap, good insulators, Eco-friendly and strong as conventional concrete blocks.

4. Cellulose insulation

Cellulose Insulation

People had been using Cellulose insulation in the ancient world, long before the discovery of petroleum. We have now rediscovered the use of such insulation in the wake of environmental crisis. The traditional Cellulose material is purely organic and made from plant fibers, but the modern variant uses recycled newspaper, saw dust, cotton, corncob, hemp and cardboard. Commercially, Cellulose is available in dry loose fill, wet-spray Cellulose, stabilized Cellulose and low-dust Cellulose. The R-value of the material is 3.8 per square inch, little lower than Styrofoam. It is a good insulator for walls, electrical wiring and pipes. A wall filled with Cellulose insulation may have little or no air pockets, thus increasing the efficiency of the insulation. The material is resistive to vapors and molds, and is non-combustible.

The major disadvantage of Cellulose insulation is that it can increase the inflow of dust inside the house.

5. Denim insulation

Denim Insulation


When talking about Denim, the first thing that comes in our mind is Jeans. Denim insulation is nothing but recycled industrial cotton. Makers of such materials are not going after throw away jeans; rather they are taking the scraps that the textile industry is producing. 85% of the raw material comes from scraps.

The insulation is cheap, 100% recycled, treated with fire-resistant chemicals, and free from VOC and formaldehyde. Installation does not require specialist to meddle in the process or heavy machines.

6. Icynene


Icynene is a liquid insulation material that is mixed with water and sprayed through a blower on to the wall. It is made from castor oil. The liquid turns into foam when it hits the wall. The R-value of the material is 3.6 per square inch. It forms an effective air tight layer on the wall, and traps air in bubbles moment it settles down. The air tight feature makes it compulsory to built effective ventilation to assist air flow. It allows water vapor to escape hence prevents accumulation of water.

Icynene may not be a viable option for people who are looking for a cost-effective solution to insulation as Icynene is expensive.

7. Straw bale insulation


Straw-bale as an insulator has long been known to us. Straw being an agricultural byproduct is clean and green. The material is fire-resistant and retards sound. It is believed that bale insulation can reduce 75% of heating cost. Commonly used bales of straw in construction are derived from rice, wheat, oat and rye. The R-value of the material varies from 0.94 to 2.38 per square inch. Besides being clean, it is also cost-effective.

Straw-bale insulation may not be suitable in extreme cold climates, because of the low R-value.

8. Sheep wool insulation

Sheep Wool Insulation

As the name suggests, the material is made from sheep’s wool. The material is Eco-friendly and comes from a renewable source. It is energy efficient and has an R-value between 3.5 and 3.8 per square inch. The material is also safe for allergy patients. The material will make your home green and green homes are more economic, and will also add value to your property. The material is safe and non-combustible. It is easy to install and does not require specialized equipments or safety clothing. It can be fit anywhere in the house as it comes in various shapes and sizes.

  1. The following comment is incorrect and somewhat puzzling..
    “Straw-bale insulation may not be suitable in extreme cold climates, because of the low R-value.”
    If you only used a one inch thick later as infill then (according to your site) it would still compete favourably with all the other aerials listed. As it is used as bales – it has an R value upwards of 30. It is in fact the IDEAL material to use in cold climates as the tens of thousands of homes build with it can attest.
    Where are you getting your information?

    1. what green product would be recommendable and cost effective to insulate the roof plywood on the inside?
      Is there any thing that can effectively substitute Styrofoam Sheets?
      Looking forward to hear from you

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