As the heart of winter draws near, that tiny cabin or micro-house that seemed so toasty warm in the summer can be a little chilly – and on the coldest days the wood stove can’t keep up. The state-of-the-art for home insulation has advanced quickly over the last few years and can quickly pay for itself with energy savings.
That itchy pink or yellow fiberglass batting most of us think of when we think about insulation has a lot going for it: it’s fireproof, can be installed with only basic safety gear and is universally (and inexpensively) available. But its R-Value (the metric for insulative quality is relatively low: even modern high-density batts that fit in a standard 2 by 4 stick frame construction have an R-Value of R-15. Fiberglass insulation also emits low levels of formaldehyde, which many are sensitive to and may be linked to a higher risk of cancer.
At the other end of the spectrum is spray foam insulation: it fills every nook and cranny in your walls and ceilings with thick, airtight foam – providing an R-Value twice that of fiberglass while blocking any sort of draughts. The downside is the high cost – installation is two to three times that of fiberglass. A good compromise is solid foam panels sealed with expanding foam insulation – for a hunting cabin or campsite, this is a dynamite option since it can be installed without special tools or training.
Other alternative insulations include cellulose from recycled newspapers, mineral wool (made from recycled blast furnace slag), denim cotton waste, sheep wool and hemp. While it might be tempting to save on the commercial versions with do-it-yourself materials, these may be false savings – commercially-sold cellulose, cotton and wool insulation is treated with a borate mixture to repel vermin and minimize flammability. Don’t put your building at risk just to save a few bucks.