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

 

 

Read for a Change

Reading to my kids is a favorite part of the day. I love to overstuff my daughter’s rocking chair with our bodies, snuggled together under a cozy quilt my mom made or a dear friend knitted, their heads still damp from the bath at nose height so I can deeply inhale the sweet smell from their scalps. Each one chooses a book, and the parent reading that night gets to choose another. That way, a new book taps into the rotation to break up the pleasant monotony of Goodnight Moon or Green Eggs and Ham that often plays on repeat.IMG_0056 Continue reading

A Letter from Dianne Feinstein

Slowly but surely, the time is passing and we have nearly 100 days behind us. Sigh.The hubby, in an effort to appease my desperate pleas to write to somebody about something, spent time thoughtfully drafting a letter to one of our representatives. He researched what he wanted to say, and even read up on how to write an effective political letter. His letter made me swoon with pride in him, and I fell even more in love with the intelligent, kind, caring, and upstanding man that I married almost 10 years ago and with whom I chose to make a family. I think there is something to be said about a real snail-mail letter to a representative. There are a multitude of ways to connect these days, especially from behind a screen. Easy, quick, copy and paste, touch-screen clicking, social media and apps for just about anything. I don’t know much about communicating with my representatives, but I figure that since they are human just like me, they wouldn’t appreciate a bunch of semi-mindless clicks as much as a stamped, sealed, and delivered heartfelt letter from a real person with a pulse. Here is the response the letter received. Weather you chose to email, tweet, attend a town hall, or write a letter, please take the time to contact your elected officials about issues that are important to you.

 

Dear Brett and Mellissa:

Thank you for writing to express your concern about our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels and share your support for expanding the use of renewable energy. I appreciate hearing from you and welcome the opportunity to respond.

I agree that in order to prevent potentially catastrophic climate change, protect our environment, and increase our energy independence, the United States must take swift action to invest in the infrastructure and workforce necessary to make a permanent shift toward renewable energy and energy efficient technologies.

I believe that the carbon content of our fuel supply must be decreased by substituting fossil fuels with lower carbon fuels – such as biodiesel, cellulosic ethanol, hydrogen, and electricity – and I have consistently supported efforts to promote such fuels and increase the share of electricity produced from renewable energy sources.

For many years, I have worked to revise the tax code to incentivize renewable energy production.  On numerous occasions, I have voted to extend and expand federal tax incentives for the production of wind, geothermal, and other forms of renewable electricity.  Extending business and residential solar investment tax credits as well as the clean energy production tax credit is critical to the economic viability of renewable energy projects.  I strongly support the renewable electricity production tax credit (Internal Revenue Code Section 45), the solar energy investment tax credit (Internal Revenue Code Section 48), and other efforts to increase the production of renewable energy in the United States.

Please know that I share your support for expanding the use of renewable energy.  I will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind as I continue working with my colleagues in the Senate to advocate for clean energy.

Again, thank you for writing.  If you have any further questions or comments, please contact my office in Washington, D.C., at (202) 224-3841 or visit my website at http://feinstein.senate.gov.  Best regards.

Sincerely yours,

Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator