Natural Wool Insulation Creates Smarter, Healthier Spaces
By Aisha Abdelhamid
Ahead-of-the-trend green builders, architects, and homeowners are excited about using healthy, sustainable sheep’s wool insulation for new construction, and retrofitting existing homes and businesses. An all-natural fiber evolved by Mother Nature to surmount even the most extreme environmental conditions, wool wicks away moisture naturally without rotting or molding, while holding warm air in during winter and keeping it out during summer.
Sheep’s wool has long been recognized by the textile industry as a smart, sustainable material to protect humans from the elements. Now, innovating on the environmental and health advantages of sustainable sheep’s wool, a Nevada startup named Havelock Wool is offering wool insulation building products from regularly shorn, free-roaming sheep in New Zealand (there are 31.1 million by one recent count).
Pioneering Sustainable Sheep’s Wool Insulation for Eco-Friendly Homes & Businesses
As the textile industry transitioned away from wool to synthetic fibers, the need and opportunity to innovate and find a sustainable use for this natural product presented itself to Havelock Wool’s founder, Andrew Legge. Traveling throughout New Zealand, Legge discovered local small-scale builders using sheep’s wool for acoustic and thermal insulation. Foreseeing win-win opportunities for sheep farmers, builders, and consumers, Legge trusted his business instincts and launched Havelock Wool.
And now, three years later, the Reno, Nevada-based startup is pioneering sustainable sheep’s wool in a big way. Offering wool insulation products for both remodels and new construction, Legge and company are successfully ‘horning in’ on the $16 billion/year US residential and commercial insulation markets.
Utilizing an insulation blower, Havelock Wool loose fill insulation can be installed without the need for protective clothing and without the risk of respiratory or other health dangers associated with fiberglass and some other types of insulation. Likewise, the company’s bat insulation carries no associated health risks or special clothing requirements, and can easily be installed by hand – often without professional assistance.
Applying Smart Environmental Advantages With Natural Wool Insulation
Natural wool insulation offers home and businesses many smart environmental advantages. As high-performance buildings are increasingly built with airtight envelopes, condensation and moisture vapor can become trapped in wall systems without proper ventilation.
“Some in the industry suggest putting foam in these spaces,” says Legge, “but, if you put an insulation medium that’s not permeable in a space where moisture is unavoidable, it will eventually find its way into the structure.”
In contrast, fibers in wool insulation can absorb and desorb as much as 35% of their net weight in moisture from air with up to 65% relative humidity – an outstanding factor that is unmatched, for example, by foam insulation.
Additionally, amino acids present in wool naturally bond with airborne chemicals such as formaldehyde, nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2) and other harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs), trapping and removing them. Compare this to other types of insulation that commonly emit dangerous VOCs.
Unlike most synthetic insulation, Legge notes, sheep’s wool insulation won’t settle and is highly durable, maintaining its R-value for up to 50 years. The R-value of Havelock’s loose fill insulation ranges from 11-50, depending on square-foot coverage and thickness of application, while the R-value of its batt insulation ranges between 13-19, depending on size (typically cut at 48 inches).
Raising and harvesting all of its wool naturally, Havelock Wool uses no chemical additions such as synthetic glues or bonding agents in the manufacturing process. Raw sheep’s wool is naturally flame resistant and self-extinguishing, but – for cases requiring increased fire retardant and insect repellent capabilities – a small amount of borax may be used.
Havelock Wool has partnered with 475 High Performance Building Supply to take green wall construction to a whole new level through the “Smart Wall“. The Smart Wall is a smart building enclosure system that incorporates efficient, resilient, and sustainable green products, including Havelock’s high-performance sheep’s wool insulation.
Brilliantly leveraging wool’s natural advantages, these walls create a long-lasting building envelope that offers energy efficiency, clean air comfort, and health improvements – while significantly reducing the potential for rot, mold, and other costly health and maintenance nightmares commonly associated with other types of insulation.
Ahead-of-the-Trend Green Builders Love Natural Wool Insulation
Green builders are increasingly opting to use natural wool insulation in retrofits and new construction. Cost, however, is typically an important factor when selecting green building materials.
The cost of natural wool insulation, while more expensive than fiberglass and cellulose products, is lower than closed-cell foam insulation. Keep in mind, too, that wool insulation comes with overall lower costs because associated health risks are avoided, as well as the costs for protective clothing and other safety measures.
The pay-back in longevity, energy savings, and reduced maintenance also increases the value of your investment in natural wool insulation.
Over the summer of 2016, Havelock Wool and Corbin Reeves Construction partnered to insulate a 17,000-square-foot home in the Corona del Mar neighborhood of Newport Beach, California. Because the home overlooks the ocean, the homeowner wanted insulation with superior moisture protection and, Havelock Wool insulation fit the bill.
“There was a real concern about moisture and mold,” Legge reports. But he continues, “Part of wool’s inherent structure is a keratin that will not support the growth of mold. And, that makes a big difference, especially when installing insulation in more humid areas.”
Appreciating Nature With Healthy, Green Building Materials
Using Havelock wool to insulate your home or business promotes great appreciation for Nature. As Legge likes pointing out, “Wool has been protecting sheep from the elements for thousands of years.”
Legge is also enthusiastic about the growing awareness of wool insulation’s health and environmental benefits among architects, builders, and homeowners.
Supporting this growing awareness, Harvard’s Dr. Joe Allen of the T. H. Chan School of Public Health recently presented findings on green buildings and cognitive function. Allen’s groundbreaking study confirmed measurable improvements among occupants of green, healthy homes and businesses.
Performance was measured for tasks involving information seeking and task orientation after exposing office workers to varying degrees of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other VOCs. On the average, Allen reported, cognitive scores were 61% higher in buildings with low levels of CO2 and other VOCs, and 101% higher when combined with higher ventilation rates.
Taking this information seriously, on-trend builders are designing homes that provide more fresh air and negative ions than traditional homes. Chicago-based Evolutionary Home Builders (EHB) is one such company and, catering to professional athletes, recently sub-branded Evolutionary Pro Homes after learning that doctors likewise reported improved athletic performance in sports pros who live in green, healthy homes.
Along with tackling health issues, Havelock Wool is committed to addressing environmental concerns. These include preserving Earth’s finite resources and helping to mitigate unnecessary waste in the building sector, overstuffed landfills, and exponentially growing ocean pollution. Because sheep are sustainably farmed and wool is naturally self-renewing, Legge’s optimism is clearly justified.
“Wool as a building material, though a small piece of a structure, is a direct solution to each one of these increasingly serious problems.” He adds, tongue in cheek, “Unless sheep decide to stop producing wool, we’ll always have a renewable and sustainable product.” To learn more about wool insulation, visit Havelock Wool.
This post was sponsored by Havelock Wool; images from Havelock Wool