Fiberglass: Is Pink Really Green?

pink is green insulation photo

Certainly that is what Owens Corning would tell you, devoting an entire website to the proposition that Pink is Green. Our own Business Roundtable agreed. Greenstrides asked the question and did not really come to a conclusion, so I will stick my two cents in.

The "Pink is Green" campaign continues the American tradition of ignoring every aspect about "green" except energy savings. Of course, there are a host of other issues involved in being a green building product, including how it is made, what it is made from and its effect on air quality and health. Of course, Owens Corning does not address those considerations.

installing fiberglass photo

Family Handyman says "Fiberglass can irritate your throat and skin, so wear protective gear. Buy a two-strap mask rated for fiberglass insulation (3M No. 8210 is one example) and wear a hat, gloves, a long-sleeve shirt and goggles to keep fibers out of your eyes."
Is Fiberglass Green from a safety point of view?

Anyone who has ever worked with the stuff is used to the itching, and if you didn't wear a mask, the coughing. Fifteen years ago the National Toxicology Program listed fiberglass as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" based on animal data. In 2001, the International Agency for Research on Cancer looked at all the studies and took it off the list of possible carcinogens, and concluded that there was not enough evidence to consider it a cancer risk. The American Lung Association considers it "safe when it is properly installed." However, if you google Fiberglass and cancer, you will find numerous sites that call it "the asbestos of the 21st century." Jill at Inhabitat writes: "This is why anyone who installs fiberglass insulation has to wear heavy duty clothes, gloves and a face mask. My personal feeling is, if you need to take this much precaution when installing a material, do you really want it sitting in your house, leaching into the air you breathe for 20 years?"

From a consumer point of view, it is sealed up on the outside of a vapor barrier, which if properly installed will contain it all, so there is little worry other than any residue that might be left over from installation. Also while some fiberglass insulations are completely formaldehyde free, Owens Corning pink insulation has trace amounts in its binder. Again, the vapor barrier probably provides adequate protection for the end user.

Is Fiberglass Green from a manufacturing point view?
BuildingGreen reports that "All three of the major fiberglass manufacturers are now using some amount of recycled glass in their insulation. Manville, which has been most active in promoting its use of recycled glass, claims a recycled content of approximately 30%, all of which is post-consumer recycled glass beverage containers." The balance is made from virgin material and it takes a lot of energy to make glass.

Other insulations, like denim, sheeps wool or cellulose have a much lower embodied energy.

Is Fiberglass Green from an effectiveness point of view?

Certainly not as effective as others. Like all batt or poured insulations, it can settle, or can be pushed away from electrical outlets and wires, creating thermal leaks. Foams adhere to studs, fill in around wires and boxes, and do a much better job of sealing.

So is Fiberglass green, as Owens Corning advertises? I certainly don't think so; however it is cheap, and properly installed it is safe and inert and fireproof, which are all pretty good things. But calling it green is a stretch of the term as we at TreeHugger know it; there is more to green than just saving energy.

Lots of other insulation choices, covered in

TreeHugger Picks: Green Insulation
UltraTouch Recycled Denim Insulation
Mushroom Spores: The Newest Green Insulation Material
HempFlax Insulation :
Bonded Logic Smart Insulation