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A Look at the Common Problems Associated With Cellulose Insulation

Cellulose Insulation Problems
Cellulose is a popular insulation material that is also environmentally friendly. However, it can cause some problems, including respiratory issues.
Sonia Nair
Last Updated: Jan 19, 2018
A major constituent of cellulose insulation is discarded paper, which is also a common trash material that occupies a significant area of landfills.

When it comes to home insulation materials, there are numerous options. They include cellulose, fiberglass, mineral wool, polyurethane, polyisocyanurate, polystyrene, and polyicynene. Most of them can be used as batts, loose fills, boardstock, sprays, and reflective insulation. Among them, cellulose and fiberglass remain the most popular choices. Cellulose insulation is mostly preferred, as it is nothing other than plant fiber, and is composed of shredded newspaper. Certain types may contain other materials, like denim, cardboard, straw, cotton, hemp, corncob, and sawdust. Nowadays, shredded newspaper forms the major ingredient of cellulose insulation, which contains certain chemicals, like fire retardants and adhesives. Apart from being an effective insulating material, cellulose is also eco-friendly. Through recycling of discarded paper, you can save landfill space, and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from the decomposed paper. Even the cost of recycling is much less than that required for the production of other insulation materials like fiberglass.
Disadvantages of Cellulose Insulation

Before choosing an insulation material, there are certain factors that have to be taken into consideration. They include the R-value (measure of thermal resistance), fire resistance, water resistance, cost, ease of installation, energy efficiency, sound absorption, and possible health concerns. You must also gain a basic understanding about the pros and cons of the material. Though it is very popular, cellulose insulation may also develop some problems. Once you have decided to install cellulose insulation, you must find an expert, who knows the right method of installation. Most of the drawbacks of cellulose insulation can be overcome with proper installation.
Loose Cellulose is Heavier than Fiberglass
The weight of the insulation material may cause problems, especially when it is meant for locations like ceilings. Loose cellulose weighs more than the same amount of rockwool or fiberglass. It is said that the amount of cellulose required to cover a given area weighs three times more than loose fiberglass required for that area. This could be a problem, if you choose cellulose insulation for weak ceilings.

Wet Spray Cellulose Requires Proper Drying Time
If you opt for wet spray cellulose, you must have sufficient time to wait till it dries properly. Some people use large space heaters for drying the insulation. The insulation has to be dry, before you apply a drywall or sheet-rock. A moisture meter can be used to check the moisture levels, before installation. Though it requires some time to dry, wet spray cellulose provides a better seal and may not settle.

Dry-blown Cellulose may Sag and Settle
It has been noticed that dry-blown cellulose insulation settles over time and gets compact, thereby creating air spaces and reducing the R-value. It is also prone to moisture problems, which can lead to mold and mildew. This in turn affects the durability of the insulation. However, the problem of settling can be overcome with dense packing, which has to be done by an experienced person.

Blown-in Cellulose Insulation Releases Dust
Being made of minutely shredded newspaper, cellulose insulation may release dust through small holes. Mostly, this happens in case of inadequate or improper sealing. Dust that stays indoors for longer duration may cause health problems in the inhabitants. It may also carry particles of chemicals like borax. Exposure to dust is a common problem that is encountered during installation of cellulose insulation. Certified breathing masks have to be used in such cases. Another option is to use low-dust cellulose, which contains dampeners.

Cellulose Insulation Health Hazards
While exposure to dust is a cause of concern, the chemicals in cellulose insulation may also cause some health problems. Chemicals in inks and dyes of newspaper and those in additives like fire retardants and adhesives, may cause allergic reactions in sensitive people. If exposed to the dust laced with chemical particles, symptoms like irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat may develop. Some people may experience cough and skin dryness. Long-term exposure to a high concentration of these chemicals may cause severe symptoms.

Though cellulose has a good R-value, there are many other insulation materials with better R-values. The R-value of cellulose may deteriorate as the material gets compact. Apart from absorbing moisture, cellulose insulation requires a vapor barrier too. Apart from that, the installation cost can be higher, when compared to other materials like fiberglass. You may also find it difficult to get experienced installers. It has also been contended that cellulose is not completely fire resistant; and this material can smolder for a long time, thereby leading to fire, when it comes in contact with wood or flammable materials. However, a recent study suggests that this insulation is compact, and there is no space for oxygen that is needed to keep the fire burning.

Like any other insulation material, cellulose too has its own advantages and disadvantages. However, it is considered effective and safe, when compared to many other types of insulation materials. If you plan to install this material for insulation purposes, make sure that it is ideal as per your requirements. Consult an expert and understand the pros and cons, before choosing the right insulation.