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Old 12-11-11, 03:44 AM   #1
AC_Hacker
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Default Global Warming Impact of Insulation


I found this very interesting web page that deals with the idea that houses without insulation cause more CO2 to be generated for heat, while at the same time, some very highly effective forms of insulation cause the generation of large amounts of CO2 and other global warming gasses in their manufacture. And while an inch of such insulation may cut CO2 emissions by a large amount, compared to the CO2 generated in manufacturing... More foam may not offer the advantage at the same rate.

It is to determine the best insulation, and the amount, with regards to global warming that this spreadsheet was created.

Interesting stuff.

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Old 01-04-12, 01:56 AM   #2
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Can insulation materials, which we use to save energy and help prevent climate change, cause greenhouse gas emissions? Yes, in two ways.

First, it takes energy to produce and ship these materials--which we refer to as "embodied energy"--and using fossil fuels for these energy needs releases carbon dioxide (our most significant greenhouse gas). So in a sense, all insulation materials have embodied global warming potential (GWP).

Second, two of our common insulation materials are made with hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) blowing agents that are very potent greenhouse gases. Extruded polystyrene (XPS), best known by the brands Dow Styrofoam ("blueboard") and Owens Corning Foamular ("pinkboard"), insulates to R-5 per inch and is made with HFC-134a, which has a GWP of 1,430--meaning that it's 1,430 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.

(I have to note here that I'm not 100% sure that XPS is made with HFC-134a; manufacturers are unwilling to divulge the exact blowing agents they use, saying the information is proprietary, and material safety data sheets have not been updated yet to reflect the new blowing agents that were required as of January 1, 2010. But various hints in technical literature have led me to believe that this is the blowing agent being used.)

The other insulation material made with a high-GWP blowing agent is closed-cell spray polyurethane foam (SPF). This insulation material is sprayed into building cavities, onto a foundation walls, or onto roofs, and it insulates to about R-6 per inch. Most, but not all, closed-cell SPF is made with HFC-245fa, which has a GWP of 1,030. Some closed-cell SPF is water-blown, thus avoiding this concern, though the vast majority is HFC-blown. Open-cell (low-density) SPF, such as Icynene, is all water-blown, so has a very low GWP.
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Old 01-04-12, 06:35 AM   #3
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You are probably correct -- and don't you know I am planning on using XPS to build CarBEN EV5...

So, the balance of bad vs good depends on the length of time you use it?
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Old 01-04-12, 12:59 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nanie29 View Post
Can insulation materials, which we use to save energy and help prevent climate change, cause greenhouse gas emissions?
Nanie,

All of your points are well taken, but I do believe that the page that is linked to in my post and the graph, addressed these issues.

As for myself, I have used EPS and am now using XPS because I am renovating a house that has some historic appeal (120 years old is nothing for UK, but a big deal for Oregon). By using the synthetic foams, I am able to achieve a very favorable level of insulation, and still preserve the architectural features of the house.

If I were doing new construction in my climate, I would use cellulose in thicker walls.

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Old 01-04-12, 07:19 PM   #5
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The greenhouse gas is probably produced when XPS foam is made, and/or when the materials used to make it are processed. In other words, making a car (refining the steel and making the plastic, etc.) all produce carbon dioxide, and finding and producing the oil to make the gasoline puts carbon dioxide into the air -- as well as burning the gasoline in our cars producing carbon dioxide.

While all insulation materials help us save energy, they each take some energy to make from raw materials into insulation. Some like XPS produce more during manufacture than others.
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Old 01-06-12, 01:39 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NeilBlanchard View Post
...While all insulation materials help us save energy, they each take some energy to make from raw materials into insulation. Some like XPS produce more during manufacture than others.
I was visiting with some very interesting energy conservers a few years back, and found that they had made a serious study of 'embodied energy' to the point that it became a working part of their everyday conscious perception.

Like, when someone is showing off a new shirt, along with the colors they also saw the BTU content, same goes for a new car and a trip to Italy...

I think that kind of consciousness could use a boost here on ER.

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Old 01-07-12, 07:07 PM   #7
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I found out today that the company in Framingham MA that recycles Styrofoam (called ReFoamIt) *cannot* take either the pink or blue XPS foam; as it is apparently too dense for their process. Major bummer.

I am looking for a material with a similar density and strength to XPS, that has a minimal carbon footprint. I will probably still use XPS on the first prototype of my CarBEN EV5, but I am not happy about it.

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