Donnachadh McCarthy: The Home Ecologist

Good insulation is vital. But don't rely on synthetics – there are less toxic options

Wednesday 24 October 2007 00:00

How often have we heard the nay-sayer down the pub holding forth that they don't bother recycling because it all ends down the dump anyway? Well, one man who can prove this is a lie is Nigel Bosanko, commercial manager for Excel Industries who manufactures Warmcel.

Warmcel is loft insulation made from waste paper. Bosanko says the paper is collected from the local community around the Welsh factory where it is made and is also bought from local authorities after they collect it from households. The plant processes the waste paper into a fluffy cotton-wool-like substance and impregnates it with organic salts, which makes it inflammable.

It passes all relevant fire and building regulations. A Which? report last year which compared all the various insulating materials, including the commonly used mineral wool, rated Warmcel as the best available.

The synthetic stuff that's usually used in lofts is called artificial mineral wool, with fibres made from minerals or metaloxides. Any time my skin has come into contact with these materials, I've come out in an itchy rash. I dread to think what it must do to installers who regularly ingest it into their lungs.

When I bought my house, there was a layer of this mineral wool in the loft, but it was only about 100mm deep, which was about the usual standard in the Seventies and Eighties. I've topped this up with another 200mm of Warmcel, which, at 300mm, brings me above the Energy Saving Trust's recommended level of 270mm. It cost about £200 from and worked out cheaper than mineral wool. According to the Energy Saving Trust, the more insulation in the loft, the better, but once you go above 300mm, there is a tapering benefit in the heat saved for the amount spent.

The Warmcel arrives packed in plastic bags and has to be fluffed up before use. I found it really easy to do as a bit of weekend DIY. The only drawback is that it tends to fly around, so if you use your loft regularly, you will have to find a way of ensuring it does not find its way into the house. This can be done by installing a timber buffer around the loft hatch, or using what Warmcel calls a "hatchpack", which uses plastic sheeting to prevent the fluff from escaping.

It's also great for insulating dormer rooms with sloping ceilings. For such homes, professional installers ( blow Warmcel into the loft space via a small hole, but it is not really possible to do this yourself.

While 80 per cent of us are now recycling, only one in 10 of us is buying recycled products. With two million tons of paper being dumped in landfill every year, installing Warmcel to top up your roof insulation helps create a market for the paper you are recycling and cuts your heating bill into the bargain.

With winter just around the corner and up to 25 per cent of heat lost through the roof, now is a great time to make your home cosier.

Donnachadh McCarthy is the author of 'Saving The Planet Without Costing The Earth' and works as an eco-auditor.

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