The History of Cellulose Insulation

To understand new trends in cellulose insulation and energy efficient building, it’s useful to look at how it all started. In its simplest form, insulation began when the first cavemen shielded themselves from the elements. But it took thousands of years before the idea of adding material to buildings caught on. In the United States, the first architect who used insulation was Thomas Jefferson in his design of Monticello. And the insulation he used was cellulose. In Australia, sawdust and paper were used in ceilings as insulation over 100 years ago. There are still examples today houses with sawdust and paper insulation from the 1900’s.

The term “cellulose” refers to the base fibre for all plant life. Wood, paper and other plant-based products all are cellulosic materials. Today’s cellulose insulation is made from recycled paper products and treated with borates to make it fire and vermin retardant. But in Jefferson’s day and throughout history, choices about materials were driven by the ready availability of raw materials were driven by the ready availability of raw materials and their by products. At the turn of century, the available material was wood, so insulation was balsa wool or balsa batt – saw dust encapsulated in a paper package. To this day, balsa wool insulation can be found in old, historic houses in the Northeast of the United States.

As the paper industry grew, it was only natural to look to paper by products for insulation. Originally manufactured as a sound deadener, pape-based cellulose soon caught as an effective, dense insulation material. But early cellulose insulation didn’t benefit from today’s fibre technology and application equipment, so it remained a small portion of the market.

With increasing energy costs, demand for insulation increased and today cellulose insulation is one of the major products being installed.

Today’s cellulose insulation is a far cry from the original sawdust, raw paper and wood fibre and is a safe, fibre and vermin resistant product with important performance advantages over other products.


Courtesy of ACIMA (Australian Cellulose Insulation Manufacturers Assosiation)

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