As the popularity of "green" homes increases, many families are looking for ways to boost energy efficiency in both newly-constructed and existing homes. One of the cheapest and most reliable ways to add efficiency is through insulation. But is it worth the risk? Fiberglass insulation has known health hazards, and safety precautions must be used. Here are some things you need to know about using fiberglass insulation in your home.
Types of Fiberglass Insulation
The safety precautions you use for your family will depend on the type of insulation being installed. Fiberglass insulation comes in two basic forms: batts, and loose fill.
In new homes, workers install insulation "blankets," or batts, inside the walls and attic. They unroll the batt, trim it to size, and staple it onto the wall. The batt is backed with paper or foil, and this side always faces the inside of the home. This helps prevent loose fiberglass particles from entering the home.
In existing homes, loose-fill insulation must be blown into poorly-insulated areas. The most common area to receive this type of fiberglass insulation is the attic. Workers use a long tube to blow the insulation from bags onto the attic floor through a door in your ceiling.
Known Risks of Fiberglass Insulation
The tiny glass particles that make up fiberglass insulation can be dangerous. If they reach the skin, they can become lodged inside causing pain, itching, and infection. When inhaled, these particles can lodge themselves in the lungs resulting in coughing and/or bleeding.
Another risk of fiberglass insulation is exposure to harmful chemicals. A resin or oil containing formaldehyde coats the fibers and helps the insulation keep its shape. Formaldehyde has been classified as a probable carcinogen by the EPA.
Protecting Yourself and Your Family
There are many things you can do to protect yourself and your family from the hazards of fiberglass insulation.
- Don't DIY. Fiberglass insulation should only be handled and installed by an experienced team of professionals with the proper protective gear. While it may seem like an easy process, there is actually a lot that goes into the preparation and cleanup to prevent particles from entering the home.
- Leave the home. Whenever possible, you and your family should leave the home while fiberglass insulation is being installed. With both types of insulation, there is a possibility that fibers will be released into the air (this risk is greater with loose-fill insulation).
- Wear safety gear. If you must enter the home during installation, or if you are working on another DIY project that requires you to come in contact with your insulation, be sure to wear safety gear. Cover all exposed skin with thick clothing, including gloves and a hat that covers the ears. You should also wear safety goggles that fit tightly around your eyes. Wear a mask over your mouth that will catch the particles and prevent them from entering your nose and lungs. Children should not be in the home while you are working on this project.
- Use lotion or baby powder. As an added precaution, wear thick lotion or baby powder on your skin underneath your clothing as you work. This will help close off the pores of your skin and prevent particles from entering.
- If exposed, take a cold shower. If you (or a family member) accidentally come in direct contact with fiberglass particles, immediately take a cold shower and thoroughly scrub the skin. The cold water will help close off the pores as you scrub away the fiberglass.
Because fiberglass insulation reduces energy costs by 40%, it is still the best option for building (or upgrading to) a "green" home. It does have risks, but these risks can be avoided in most cases. if you follow the safety precautions discussed here, you and your family can enjoy the benefits of an energy-efficient home without worrying about the dangers associated with fiberglass insulation. You can go to websites of local insulation companies for more information or contact them to schedule an installation appointment.