When it comes to selecting a brand of insulation, energy savings and sound transmission are no longer the only concerns. Builders and homeowners are paying closer attention to air quality, and there is a perception among some home buyers that chemicals in fiberglass insulation, particularly formaldehyde, may contribute to poor indoor-air quality (IAQ). While fiberglass-batt manufacturers maintain that the levels of formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in their products do not contribute to IAQ problems, some have gone to great lengths to prove it through third-party testing.

"The EPA has listed poor indoor air quality as [one of the] top five environmental concerns, with indoor air two to five times more contaminated than the outdoor environment," says Mike Lynam, marketing manager for Knauf Fiberglass.

The use of formaldehyde in fiberglass insulation has caused concern among the general public because of the chemical's suspected carcinogenic effects. However, studies on these effects in the United States have yielded no definitive answers so far, and the EPA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission do not consider fiberglass insulation to be a significant contributor to indoor formaldehyde levels. "Actual formaldehyde emissions from fiberglass insulation are vanishingly minute, diminish to virtually undetectable levels once the product is installed, and have never posed a general public health concern," Lynam says.

"It's pretty clear in the industry that fiberglass insulation is not a contributor to indoor-air quality issues," says Gale Tedhams, manager for Owens Corning residential insulation products.

Fiberglass-batt insulation with the GreenGuard Indoor Air Quality Certified label has passed the test for low-VOC emissions.
Courtesy Knauf Fiberglass-batt insulation with the GreenGuard Indoor Air Quality Certified label has passed the test for low-VOC emissions.

Nevertheless, there is still some concern among homeowners with chemical sensitivities and severe allergies that any VOC content might exacerbate their conditions. Manufacturers Knauf, CertainTeed, Owens Corning, and Guardian Fiberglass have chosen to have their products tested and certified for IAQ performance by the GreenGuard Environmental Institute.

The GreenGuard Environmental Institute is an independent third-party organization dedicated to providing an authoritative guide to low-chemical and low-particle emitting home products and building materials. The organization's testing process evaluates the end product and the raw materials and manufacturing processes that go into creating it.

"GreenGuard-certified products ... are evaluated on a quarterly basis to ensure that they are still low-emitting products," says Henning Bloech, director of communications for GreenGuard.

Knauf's, CertainTeed's, and Owens Corning's fiberglass insulation products have already earned GreenGuard certification, and Guardian is in the testing process.

Johns Manville eliminated formaldehyde from its manufacturing process and end products by switching to an acrylic resin binder. The company felt that no formaldehyde is better than some, according to Bill Blalock, insulation group marketing manager for Johns Manville. The company hasn't applied for GreenGuard certification, though. Johns Manville's fiberglass-batt manufacturing facilities have been exempted from the EPA's Clean Air Act restricting formaldehyde, phenol, and methanol emissions.

Those manufacturers whose products have earned GreenGuard certification haven't raised their prices, because "GreenGuard products don't cost more to make," explains Bloech. Instead, these manufacturers gain value by increasing their customers' peace of mind and by using the certification to differentiate their products from those of their competitors.