Using the right insulation material for our home is of paramount importance. You want a material that is energy efficient, fire resistant, and safe. Until the end of the 1980s, asbestos was among the most commonly used insulation and fire retardant materials used by builders. It was a versatile material that could be blown into vermiculite and used in tiles.  However, that changed when it was found that long-term exposure to the material could cause multiple health ailments. Cellulose insulation, fiber batts, blown-in insulation, and other options have since then replaced asbestos.

In this short read, we’re going to introduce you to the difference between cellulose and asbestos insulation.

Properties of cellulose insulation

cellulose insulation
  1. Cellulose insulation is made using a variety of products, including paper, hemp, straw, cardboard, and many others. 
  2. Cellulose insulation fits well within pipes, in walls, and around electrical wiring.
  3. When builders use paper-based cellulose insulation, boric acid or ammonium sulfate is added to the material in order to make it fire-resistant.
  4. Since 75%-80% of all cellulose insulation is paper-based, it is a non-toxic, safe, and highly efficient insulation choice for your home.
  5. While many forms of cellulose insulation exist, the two most commonly used variants are dry cellulose and wet spray cellulose.
  6. Dry cellulose is also called loose-fill insulation. Builders blow this through holes to insulate walls. It is also used to fill cavities in walls.
  7. Wet spray cellulose is used in newly constructed homes, and not as an insulation replacement. Water is added to the cellulose before being sprayed into wall cavities. This makes it seal better, preventing heat loss.
  8. Cellulose insulation contains the maximum percentage of recycled materials among all insulation products. This not only makes it an eco-friendly option that helps you earn LEED points it also reduces your carbon footprint.

Properties of asbestos insulation

  1. Asbestos is a soft and flexible natural mineral.
  2. This mineral has fire-resistant and insulating properties.
  3. The construction industry widely used asbestos as an insulating and fire-resistant material from the 1950s all the way through till the end of the 1980s.
  4. Asbestos can still be found in the drywall, attics, tiles, and tile grout of a lot of older homes.
  5. The material is considered safe as long as there is no structural damage to the walls that expose asbestos to the living areas of your home.
  6. However, once it is airborne, the material is dangerous, especially when you aren’t aware of the damage and are exposed to asbestos fibers over a long period of time.

What makes asbestos insulation dangerous?

asbestos awareness

What makes asbestos dangerous is that it can break down into microscopic, thin fibers when it is disturbed. These fibers can remain airborne for days, and it is possible that we can breathe them in. These fibers then attach themselves to lung tissue, causing diseases like lung cancer, mesothelioma, which is cancer of the lining of the lung cavity, and scarring of lung tissue.

Telling the difference

Visually, it is almost impossible to tell the difference between these insulation products, even though the way they are made and their composition is vastly different. 

So if you’re interested in knowing what is insulating your attic and your walls, the best thing to do is to call in an insulation professional. They will safely remove a sample and test it to find out what it is. This way, you do not risk exposure even if it is asbestos.

If you do find out that the material is indeed asbestos, you can either choose to change the insulator entirely or place your home under an asbestos management program.

Professional asbestos abatement

Experts advise that removing anything more than 10 square feet of asbestos requires you to hire a professional abatement company to make sure that you do not unduly risk exposure to yourself or to those around you. Here is how asbestos abatement professionals operate.

  1. Trained professionals set up a safety barricade around the work area to make sure you and anyone around you are safe from exposure to asbestos.
  2. Reverse airflow is used to prevent the fibers from spreading.
  3. Professionals also wear safety gear while working with asbestos to keep themselves safe.
  4. They also use HEPA filter vacuums and clean the area thoroughly to make sure there are no traces of asbestos once they are done.

Professional asbestos removal has a national average cost of $1,994, but considering the risks involved with handling the material, we’d say that expense is worth investing in.

The difference between cellulose and asbestos insulation was last modified: December 23rd, 2022 by Narayan Shrouthy
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