New and Improved Cotton Insulation Still Doesn't Work
Bonded Logic's Ultratouch denim insulation continues to show flaws — even in the company’s own promotional videos
What do you do when a green product doesn't live up to expectations? I want to see green building products succeed in the marketplace, and make it easy for professionals to find the best of the best in our GreenSpec guide.
So I'll say it up front: when I see a product being marketed as green that's substandard, I think it's important to point it out. This doesn't mean the product has problems because it's green. It means that I hold it to a higher standard: to win the mainstream over to sustainability, we have to deliver on promises of reduced environmental burdens along with superior performance.
A little while back, I took Bonded Logic to task for flaws its Ultratouch cotton batt design and installation process.
The problems with Ultratouch
The worst flaw I found was that the product is too thin. After being compressed in bags for shipping from Ultratouch's Arizona plant, the post-consumer-denim cotton batts never regain their “loft.” That means that insulation is going into wall and ceiling cavities with air spaces around it. Air that is completely stagnant insulates very well — at R-5, even better than Ultratouch's R-3.7. But air in wall cavities moves around with convection, contributing to heat loss and crippling the nominal R-valueMeasure of resistance to heat flow; the higher the R-value, the lower the heat loss. The inverse of U-factor. of the insulation. (Read more here on How Insulation Works.)
I also found that the batts were too wide for 16-inch-on-center KD 2x4s (standard lumberyard kiln-dried sticks), leading again to air spaces due to poorly fitting batts.
Thirdly, I complained that the batts were really hard to cut. This was especially frustrating because the ill-fitting batts required a lot more cutting than a standard fiberglass batt.
The good news is that Bonded Logic is now perforating its batts at standard widths so that they are easier to cut for proper fitting. They haven't announced what those widths, are, however, and it seems like a tough problem. How standard are the sizes of the off-size stud cavities found in our buildings? Perhaps in new homes with designs optimized for manufactured material use they are standard, but in the retrofits and custom jobs that a lot of builders are doing today, I am not sure how useful these perforations will be.
Another piece of good news, according to a spokesperson I heard from, is that Ultratouch will also soon be available in different widths according to whether you're using wood or steel studs.
Bonded Logic still doesn't get it
However, Bonded Logic still doesn't seem to get it when it comes to installation quality. Whether you're using fiberglass or cotton batts, exact fitting to cavity sizes is key. That means cutting insulation around electrical boxes, wiring, and also cutting it for the occasional cavity of a different dimension. What I've seen of this installation video is pretty good, but there's a flub in the Bonded Logic video publicizing its new perforated batts. As the screen capture shows, the installer is placing a batt in a cavity with complete disregard for the unusual shape of the cavity. The installation will result in a classic poor batt installation — lack of complete contact with all six sides of the cavity. What kind of attention are they putting into other irregular cavities?
I brought up this issue with the same Bonded Logic spokesperson in two successive emails, and did not receive a response. That was a couple months ago. The video is still up, so I'm taking Bonded Logic to task again.
The real installation culprit: fiberglass
To be clear, I like cotton insulation for several reasons, including Bonded Logic's recent move to post-consumer recycled jeans (previously it was pre-consumer denim), and the fact that it's much less unpleasant than fiberglass to work with — although unlike the folks in their videos I would still wear a mask to protect from dust that comes off the product, particularly during cutting. Also, by focusing my ire on cotton I don't intend to give a pass to what I see as the real culprit in batt insulationInsulation, usually of fiberglass or mineral wool and often faced with paper, typically installed between studs in walls and between joists in ceiling cavities. Correct installation is crucial to performance. : fiberglass.
Fiberglass batts have been poorly installed by so many people in so many buildings for so many years — to the extent that GBAGreenBuildingAdvisor.com's own Green Curmudgeon called for it to be banned. It can even be argued that fiberglass is less tolerant of the kinds of questionable installation choices seen in its manufacturers' videos (I'm referring to the questionable approach to ductwork and piping) because it is relatively air-permeable, so air has an easier time forming currents through gaps created during poor installation. See this guide on GBA for signs of a good batt install.
All the more reason, though, that we need to do better in the green products community.
What do you think? Please leave your comments below.
- Bonded Logic
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