Wool Insulation: How to Knit your House a Sweater

We are remodeling our house. What started from a pinprick leak in the ice maker tube to our freezer morphed into a kitchen remodel, and now a major overhaul to the infrastructure of our home. Not only are we talking new floors that warped from the leak, but we are replacing our incandescent lighting with LED fixtures and bulbs, replacing our original crumbling galvanized plumbing, and upgrading the hot mess our electrical panel turned out to be behind some fancy garage sheetrock. Its been a challenge, but I also know that our home will be much safer once its all said and done.

What a whole manner of sins sheetrock can cover up. My hidden shoddy wiring and fancy taping of illegal wires would be enough to give Smokey the Bear hemorrhoids. We uncovered what was luckily a ghost town of rodent condos. And whatever sort of crazy toxic insulation that had been sprayed on most of the walls along the back side of my house had “failed,” according to my contractor. They found insulation the texture of sand that had settled to the bottom half to one third of my wall space, where it was even used at all! Not only was it not insulating my house from temperature changes and energy waste, chunks floated around my exterior that my kids quickly thought was sooooo much fun to play with since it crumbled into a fine powder that was oh-so-enthralling. Gross! Why would I want my home lined with something I know is toxic, not healthy, and not at all something okay for my kids to be playing with?

My contractor was already pleased as punch with me because I had his guys remove all of the recycling from the waste bin. I’m sure he braced himself when it came time to ask me what kind of insulation I wanted to use. He was wise to know I wouldn’t stand for any of that pink cotton candy fiberglass crap.

I had heard of cotton insulation, with 80% recycled denim, and its actually pretty readily available and reasonably priced, quite comparable to fiberglass in fact. In fact if you aren’t about sheering sheep or are on a tight budget, denim is a great eco-friendly option! But when I sat down to do a little research of insulation types, and it was like love at first sight when I discovered there was such a thing as wool insulation!

I love wool. Its amazing stuff. I’ve talked about it on Lovelaughandmakelemonade before. I love wool socks, I knit my kids wool pants, and plugged wool underwear. It turns out to be a great insulation for your home as well.

Here’s a quick list to tell you why:

  1. Its renewable: sheep grow more wool after every shearing
  2. It takes 90% less energy to produce than traditional insulation
  3. Its biodegradable: compost it when you are done with it
  4. It lasts a long time, for the life of your building
  5. Its naturally fire resistant
  6. Its naturally rodent resistant
  7. Its naturally mold and fungus resistant, even if it does get wet
  8. It maintains its insulation properties even if it does get wet
  9. It absorbs formaldehyde, improving air quality
  10. Its safe to handle and install and requires no special protective equipment
  11. It expands in your walls rather than settling, increasing the overall seal an efficiency of your insulation
  12. Great acoustic properties

So I brought home a few ewes and got out my husband’s hair clippers and went work insulating my kitchen. Hehe. I didn’t. But that would work too!

Rest assured it comes in batts or as loose “blow in” insulation. I first tried to purchase wool locally, but I was disappointed that I couldn’t find anyone locally who carried it. I let everyone know when I called and visited that I was looking for wool insulation, “No not ‘wall’ insulation– well, its for your walls– but WOOL insulation. As in Bahhhh, like the sheep!” – so they could remember that there are customers out there looking for this stuff and will hopefully carry it soon.IMG_0096

It shipped from Oregon from a small company who was terrible about taking my order, answering my questions or returning my calls. Alas, I had it shipped and I ordered it from a green building supply company eco-buildingproducts.com, from a guy named Greg who took the time to answer all of my questions. One of my questions was, “Why are these guys so bad about returning a call or replying to an email and answering my questions?” The sales person’s satisfying reply was that he had experienced that with them before, but that they are actually a small company of a few folks who actually go out and tend to the sheep themselves, leaving the marketing and questions to people like him. Best excuse ever!

I found I could get a slightly higher R-value for less money by using the loose insulation, although it did take longer to install. It came stuffed tightly in a cardboard box with fabric to staple into place and hold the loose insulation. Guess what? It didn’t come wrapped in plastic either! Jazz hands! It was more expensive, but not prohibitive. As Lily pointed out, healthcare is expensive too! IMG_0104IMG_0106IMG_0107

While I noticed the dramatic acoustic benefits immediately, I’m curiously awaiting the colder season to really see how this stuff performs. Honestly though, it has little to go to improve upon what junk was posing as insulation in my walls. I relished the opportunity to learn something completely new while making my home safer, less toxic, and more energy efficient.

 

Three Things You Can Do Today- Go Solar

Here are three simple ways to lasso the sun just like Maui in Moana without strapping solar panels to your rooftop. Its free, saves you money, and reduces energy consumption-and thus greenhouse gas emissions.

  1. Hang your clothes to dry: if you have a rope, you have a clothesline. I have a simple collapsible rack I purchased for pennies a long time ago that is good for small spaces. I would LOVE a pulley system in my backyard, but I have a lot of other ‘I-wants’ right now that I’m content with my little metal rack. Skip the dryer and pocket the energy savings as well by letting your clothes dry in the sun. I also find that folding clothes “right off the line” makes quick work of folding a load. Bonus points- its a boost for your whites too, as the sun will naturally bleach them whiter.

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    Dry those Hanky Pankys and Sexy Wooly Underoos al fresco.
  2. Open the curtains; turn off the lights: As long as the sun in out, reach to open the shade instead of flipping that switch. Test yourself and your marriage by putting a little masking tape over your switches. I promise you reach for your lights more than you realize. Bonus points: make the switch to LED and save more money on bulb replacement and a massive percentage on overall electricity consumption vs incandescent bulbs. Bonus bonus points: flex your purchasing power by contacting your energy provider and purchase only sustainable energy.

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    Replacing each bulb with an LED equivalent can save you upwards of 80% of your energy consumption per bulb. What a brilliant idea!
  3. Plant some veggies: You know who does solar best? PLANTS! They are the ultimate converters of solar energy. Eat them! Grow them, eat them, save gas guzzling trips to the store, and all of the other energy that goes into our industrialized food system to grow, transport, refrigerate, package, market, store, and dispose of food that is not nearly as tasty or nutritious as something grown by you. Bonus points- plants munch carbon dioxide. 

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    Sun Gold tomatoes pair nicely with barefoot baby toes

 

 

Thoughts on Sustainable Design

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Today I had a long long long meeting at the design center with a little time for sourcing afterwards. I popped into one of my favorite showrooms Holland & Sherry and stumbled upon these gorgeous green chairs. Thinking they would be perfect for client I asked for the details only to be pleasantly surprised to find they were vintage and upholstered with the company’s line of responsible wool fabrics. I swooned, took a bunch of pics, and then went on my way. As I walked from showroom to showroom I really got lost in the idea of sustainable and responsible design. What does it truly mean? Why does it seem so sterile? Is it really unattainable? There seems almost to be a negative view of “green design”. They (meaning the companies pushing it) seem to push a very modern, simple, aesthetic that can read somewhat granola-esque. The problem is that this aesthetic is not for everyone, in fact it includes very few people. Most people want a warm inviting home and that definition looks very different to everyone. From ornate to minimalist sustainable design should reach us all and there is no reason it can’t.  Continue reading

How to Wash Dishes Palm Oil Free

FullSizeRender 2How to wash dishes you say? Get real, who doesn’t have their own method? Well my friends if you try your old method with dish soap sans palm-oil you may be unpleasantly surprised and give up. I know, this has almost happened in our kitchen several times this year. In fact how to do dishes correctly has been a hot topic of debate in our house lately, especially since I am not the dish fairy, but I suddenly need to tell the fairy how to do his job….yikes. He is the dish guy, he’s been doing them for so long, and he is not too keen on change, but the new method really works. It provides sudsy goodness, cleans, and uses less water, win win win! We’ve saved about $100 on our water bill so far! Reason enough. Continue reading

How to Make Zero Waste Pudding Cups

For Marilyn’s 4th birthday she was adamant about having a camping birthday before she was even 3 1/2. As the time got closer she did not waiver on her choice so we planned a wonderful weekend of camping with friends including a big fireside party. While we were flipping through some of my old Martha Stewart magazines for summer inspiration she came across an ad with pudding cups and asked if she could have those, she’s a huge chocolate fan. I fondly remember pudding cups as a kid. Pulling back the plastic-y foil tops and using my spoon to attack every nook for the chocolatey goodness. Looking back the pudding was really not that great, and I hang my head in shame thinking of all the waste they created. So it got me thinking, how could I recreate that childhood favorite for my own child without leaving a huge footprint?

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Where to Start….

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Paper straw on a kid friendly cup at Sotola

We just returned home from a 10 day vacation in my old stomping grounds. It was great to be “home” amongst friends and family and to drag along some “new” friends for the ride. How I just love the weather, the ocean, and being surrounded by the familiar. It is my fantasy to get back there, but the logistics are a bit challenging right now. During a park playdate with one of my nearest and dearest we got on the subject of this new lifestyle I have been exploring. I try not to be too excited or overbearing when the topic approaches so I often take the quiet road in hopes not to scare people off. She had wonderful words of praise to say, and warmed my heart when she said “I think about you all the time”, like “how do buy toilet paper?” I love it, one of the first things my mom said was “I am not visiting if you give up toilet paper”. Later I got a text saying she would like to get started but wasn’t sure how and requested this post. Its true that my list of goals can seem intimidating, and with a new baby like she has, the thought of turning your routine upside down can be more than overwhelming. So here is my go T, I know you can do it! Continue reading

Pregnant & Conscience

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It seems that if you look through Instagram or do a Google search you will find that most Zero Wasters are either in their early 20s or older adults with kids that are almost grown. You rarely find families with babies and toddlers lugging jars to the store or refusing unidentifiable goo from a squeeze tube. We started this challenge hoping to be pregnant but not there yet. We’ve finally been blessed and now I’m reflecting on how this bump has influenced and enhanced our New Year’s resolution.  Continue reading

Looking Forward

I’ve been quiet. Not absent just quiet.

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Our trash can the night before garbage day last week.

Our garbage is empty. My bag is loaded with jars. Our medicine cabinet is becoming lighter. I’ve finished both seasons of Years of Living Dangerously. We’re voting with our dollars. We’re certainly not perfect, but we have progressed. But I am struggling. What more can we do? How do I spread the word without passing judgement? How do I argue respectfully with the people who claim that it is too late to make change? How can I gently notate an opportunity for improvement without offending? How will we look our babies in the eyes when they realize what is being left to them is not what we enjoyed? Is it the pregnancy hormones that cause me to feel anxiety every time I see someone drink out of a straw? Those crazy dreams that most expectant mothers experience are full of floods, melting ice caps, and fleeing neighbors. I am worried. But how do I use that fear to motivate others to make the same changes that we have? Changes that have enriched our lives and filled our hearts and tummies with life.  On my desk I carry the quote by Fabienne Fredrickson ‘The things you are passionate about are not random, they are your calling”. I used to think that was related to interior design and my obsession with making everything beautiful. In reality my passions are moral; do the right thing. My calling is stemmed in being sustainable, responsible, which inevitably makes everything more beautiful. Now how do I bottle that calling and share it? Because what is the point of having something that cannot be shared? Especially at a time like this? I have changed my home, but how do I help you change yours?