A Mother’s Quest for Healthy Living
When Havelock Wool was just a concept we spent countless hours in due diligence. Aside from modeling throughput and making best guesses towards feasibility relative to various analogues, conversations with industry practitioners and would-be partners were extensive. We were encouraged to bring a high-performance, healthy alternative to the market. Eventually we did just that.
To our surprise and simultaneous chagrin, we then returned to those same cheerleaders only to find that introducing a new product was a difficult task that would take time, loads of it!
The challenge seemed overwhelming. We were up for it then and still are today. Fortunately, life has become a bit easier, but the trials certainly persist.
From the perspective of checking business school boxes our endeavor in wool as insulation conjured a repeated sense most aptly described as ‘no-brainer’. Other products have at least one thing wrong with them: toxic, under-performing, laden with chemicals, conducive to mold, minimal sound abatement, contributor to land-fill, outsized net embodied energy all the way to down right not enjoyable to be around. Sheep wool insulation beats the competition in every way.
Product integrity that outperforms the competition? Check. First mover advantage? We’re not the first but we are committed to scaling to meet demand and have the wherewithal to do so. Barriers to entry? Others may enter but there are fairly nuanced arguments as to why they may not. A conversation in and of itself.
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Wool Insulation: The Next Step Nobody is Talking About
So, in October 2013 we were established in sheep wool insulation and set about marching straight back into the offices of those potential trade partners; there began the slow boat to nowhere. In short, architects can’t be bothered to discuss materials or don’t care what is used; builders and installers unfortunately compete on cost as opposed to quality and the almighty consumer is either happily or selectively unaware, or both.
What we find today is somewhat of a shit sandwich. The bread is edible. Architects on the top and consumers on the bottom. The former silo is catching on in general and specifically through groups like The Global Wellness Institute, International Living Future Institute, Embodied Carbon Network, The WELL standard and LEED. Just as important, consumers are increasingly asking the obvious question of what am I putting in my living space and is it safe? Some installers are catching on and builders, that are not high-performance ones, still have a long way to go.
The Healthiest Alternative is Wool
Our message here attempts to highlight one of the challenges faced by consumers who are seeking an alternative. We want consumers to know about sheep wool insulation. Unfortunately, the trade at large is either mis-informed or unwilling to engage in positive change. The transcript below will make this disturbingly clear.
This is a mother seeking to find a healthy insulation option. We know that sheep wool insulation is the obvious choice for her, but is she getting what she is actually needs? There are two conversations that occurred with installers in N. California. One is a local business that dominates the market, the other is regional player in the west. The conversations are initially entertaining before becoming sad and even scary.
TRANSCRIPT CALL WITH INSTALLER A – REGIONAL PLAYER:
A: What happens is I get all your information and then give it to an estimator. I know a lot about insulation though, what exactly do you need done?
Me: Well we have just bought a home that it is a total renovation project from the roof down, so need to remove whatever existing old insulation there is and then install new insulation. So I want to see what my options are and get a firm grasp on what options are out there for us.
A: Right now we use Owens Corning fiberglass material. We go in and we use basically like a vacuum and we suck out all of the old insulation and we also sanitize it so we kill like all the rodents and everything like that and then we reinstall the new insulation into your house.
Me: And the installation that you offer, are there choices or is it only one type that you install?
A: No, there are different types
Me: One of my main concerns is that we have a 4-year-old child so we want to make the house as healthy and as green as possible. So can you tell me what more green options you have versus the other ones?
A: Got it. It is called Cellulose, it’s a green fiber. If you go onto Owens Corning it tells you all about that insulation, what is in the insulation and how it is healthy for children and everything like that.
Me: So Cellulose is your most green product, what is it actually made of?
A: Um, let me see, I have to google it. (Few seconds later) So it is an organic compound with a formula consisting of a linear chain of several hundred to many thousands of D-glucose units
Me: And so is that the most healthy option out there?
A: It is, yeh.
Me: Because when I’ve been researching insulation, and looking at some of the more regular options, like fiberglass and spray foam, I was a little concerned about some of the things I read about off-gassing and I think it’s called particulate, with those options…with this Cellulose product do I have to be worried about any of that? Would it be a concern?
A: It wouldn’t. It would just cost more money as it is so green.
Me: I mean you know more than I do obviously, is fiberglass or spray foam in your experience healthy? I mean should I be worried about using those products?
A: Honestly that is what I have in my house and I have two small children, my son is five and my daughter is two and I have had no problems.
Me: Ok, that is good to know. The other thing I read about, was that I hear some insulation products are made out of wool, that seem to be super super green, do you offer those? Do you have any products made out of wool?
A: Um, just one second, I need to go and check with my manager. (Goes off to ask)
Yeh, we actually do. It is a thermal fiber that carries wool.
Me: Do you know the name of it?
A: If you google Thermafiber everything pops up about it. It is a mineral wool insulation
Me: Awesome, ok. Then as far as moving this process along, you said you are going to give my details to your local guy…then what happens?
A: So what I do is collect all the information about the project and he will set up a time and a date to come out and take a look at the project and then you would go from there with plans any everything.
TRANSCRIPT WITH INSTALLER B – LOCAL PLAYER:
Me: Hi there. My name is G. and I am trying to get some help with some insulation. We have just bought a new home and I wanted to touch base with you to see what my options might be for putting new insulation in.
B: Do you live there or is it a new construction?
Me: It is an old house and a complete renovation project. We are pretty much taking everything out and putting everything new in. What insulation do you offer?
B: We do regular fiber glass and then there is spray foam. We use spray foam mainly in ceilings and floors.
Me: The style of the house is a Gambrel, kind of like an A-frame, so is there any benefit to using one of those two products that you mentioned?
B: Fiberglass is much more affordable. It has been around for a long long time and is pretty much the main source of insulation. And then with the spray foam, the benefits of the spray foam is a higher R value per inch and it is an air barrier, so it completely seals all the walls and ceilings.
Me: In terms of me wanting to make the house as green as possible, are either of those options on the greener side of things?
B: I would definitely say the fiberglass, as it is what it says it is, glass. I want to say it is made of 80% recyclable material. With the spray foam…I wouldn’t say it is…it’s still chemicals. Any kind of foam is going to be a 2-part system. You have an A and a B, you mix it together and it makes foam. It is in pretty much everything, like mattresses, this one just has a different texture to it.
Me: we have a 4-year-old so we want to make everything as safe as possible in the house and when I’ve been researching insulation I’ve been reading some alarming things about off-gassing and things like that in relation to those products. So do you offer anything that is greener than those two options?
B: Not really. A greener product than those two would be, what’s it called…we call it blue jean material, it’s made out of blue jeans.
Me: What literally blue jeans?
B: Yes. They tell me it mainly comes from prisons and prisoners. They take them and shred them up and make insulation out of that.
Me: Ok, well I have never heard of that. Is that really eco-friendly and something you could offer?
B: If it’s a small project I can definitely bid it, but if it’s to large then it’s too much to handle. We just don’t do enough to get better pricing. The other insulation comes at a much better price.
Me: Another thing that keeps cropping up when I tap things like green insulation into Google, I keep seeing some really cool stuff about wool products. That they really manage moisture, sound, they have higher R values and they absorb these harmful chemicals that I am worried about. Do you offer any wool products?
B: What like mineral wool?
Me: The main one I saw was a really cool place in I think in Sparks, called Havelock Wool, that have this wool product. Have you heard of that?
B: You know there is mineral wool, which is used quite often for sound purposes. It’s made out of lava rock. We do carry that and we do get requests for it, it is really good for sound. But I have been hearing that there is actually wool, like the animal.
Me: Yes, that is exactly what I am talking about. This stuff I have been reading about is really awesome and made out of sheep wool. Apparently it is incredibly green, it absorbs more moisture, sound and it doesn’t burn…is that anything you have ever dealt with?
B: No, we have not dealt with it. I have had a few requests and I did have someone come by and give us an example, but it is something we have not done.
Me: Would you be open to installing it if I could get hold of it?
B: Yeh, if you can get hold of it, I could get some guys to install it, sure.
We have massively upped our marketing game and see a direct effect. It will take time for those efforts to trickle down to sales folks at the installer level. For your own well-being, be vigilant, ask questions and make informed decisions. If we can help, by all means give us a ring any time.
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It is our goal to produce a truly superior building product with unrivaled integrity. We work exclusively with those who appreciate alternative building products and a healthier, more sustainable ecosystem. We are actively building consumer awareness concerning conventional toxic building materials.