How to deal with your old home insulation material?

If you have a home from the 1900s, there is a very good chance that you often come across shredded paper if you reopen the sealed pocket doors, especially in the top floor. In the old days, the insulation comprised of routine materials like newspaper, corncobs and wood shavings. You shouldn’t be surprised if you come across seaweed too!

20th century insulation
There are still many houses where the insulation comprises of materials like rock slag bundled into fibres. While these materials may not be of big concern, it is the widespread use of urea-formaldehyde and asbestos in the middle of the 20th century has is of serious concern.

Asbestos was initially introduced as an insulation material during the early part of the 1900s. Earlier it was just a part of the insulation materials, but by the 30s asbestos was found in almost all building insulation.

If there is asbestos in your home’s insulation, it can be a tricky situation. It is a tested carcinogen.

Note: – if you have an old house with asbestos laden insulation, it is recommended to leave it alone. The only exception is if you want to remove the ceilings and walls. If the material is shedding, it must be encapsulated professionally. Asbestos should be of concern when its fibres become airborne. Otherwise, you could leave it as such.

Urea formaldehyde
This is an insulation material used during the 70s and 80s. It was foam like and was made up of some resin, compressed air and hardener.

Its use was discontinued after it was found to be off-gassing. However, it was later found that it produced vapours for a limited period of time. It would stop emitting gas after the curing phase.

If you have old insulation made of urea formaldehyde, it is important to prevent it from coming in contact with moisture or water. Moisture could break it down, forcing it to start emitting vapours. So make sure to seek professional help and testing to check for such vapours.

Current insulation options
Currently, there are many safer options when it comes to insulating your home. The most common ones include:

  • Loose fill – glass fibres, mineral or cellulose
  • Batts – cotton, wools or fibreglass
  • Rigid boards – glass fibres or plastic foams
  • Expanding spray foams

You will be installing batt or rigid insulation in case of major renovations where walls need to be replaced. They are also ideal when insulation is to be installed in unfinished areas like attics.

Loose fill insulation
Loose fill is the most widely used insulation replacement for older houses. The reason is because it can be filled in areas which are not easily accessible. Besides, loose fill doesn’t cause much effect on the existing finishes. Compared to other Home insulation materials which are treated with aluminium/ammonium sulphate, loose fill newspaper is treated with safer fire retardants like borates.

Any sulphate-based insulation is likely to form sulphuric acid when it comes in contact with moisture. The acid is one of the most corrosive compounds and is capable of damaging metals, bricks, stones and wood. On the other hand borates are safer and don’t damage building materials, both chemically and physically.

It is important to keep in mind that of all the kinds of damages, sulphuric acid could even eat into your copper wires. The last thing you want is to have naked electrical wires running through your walls or attic.

If you want to have a safe environment in your home without compromising with your home’s comfort, make sure to choose the right insulation material.