Builders in the Northeast who have missed the friendly voice of Bill Hulstrunk and cellulose from National Fiber, the Massachusetts-based firm he worked for, can look forward to the launch of a new company and a fresh source of cellulose by next year.
Hulstrunk, the technical director at the now-shuttered National Fiber plant in Belchertown, Massachusetts, has joined a new company called UltraCell, which is building a pilot plant in Buffalo, New York, and hopes to open a larger plant and begin selling the insulation in 2018.
Hulstrunk met and trained many New England cellulose installers in the 11 years he worked for National Fiber. “If you talked to anyone about cellulose insulation or the companies that were producing the best quality material it was always, ‘That’s National Fiber,’” Hulstrunk said by telephone. “Or you talk to someone about who has the best technical support in New England, and that was National Fiber as well.”
But National Fiber is no more. The company was purchased by U.S. GreenFiber, a Charlotte, North Carolina, company, in May 2014, and by the early summer of 2015 it was closed. The people who had been working at National Fiber, in a town Hulstrunk says doesn’t have many job opportunities, were suddenly out of work.
Looking for quality insulation
National Fiber insulation had a good reputation, and its training programs were well received, said David Milliken, the owner of Portland-based Horizon Residential Energy Services Maine.
“We were pretty saddened,” he said. “It seemed like a well-run business. We liked all the people there. It seemed like it was an important part of the manufacturing economy in that area. It was definitely a bummer. And then not having access to a high quality alternative product was problematic, and we ended up cycling through four, five different competitors before landing back at GreenFiber.
“They’ve worked out a lot of the kinks that we were having,” he continued. “I think we’re back to a place where we have a good product to work with.”
Michael Maines, a residential designer who met Hulstrunk while working at Ecocor in Searsmont, Maine, said the closure of National Fiber made it harder to find high-quality cellulose.
“Depending on the installer, some say it doesn’t matter, that cellulose is cellulose,” he said. “But the higher-end installers who really care about quality said it’s not the same.”
Hulstrunk says the use of recycled corrugated cardboard as the feedstock for UltraCell’s cellulose should make for very clean insulation, free of plastic and other contaminants that increasingly shows up in cellulose insulation made with recycled newspaper. The company also has changed the way fire retardants are added. Instead of grinding boric acid (or ammonium sulfate) into a powder and mixing it with cellulose fibers, UltraCell is impregnating the fibers with the retardant, which reduces the amount of dust installers have to contend with.
UltraCell will cover the same market area as National Fiber — New England, eastern New York, and parts of Pennsylvania and Virginia — and expand it to the west, Hulstrunk said.
The website is still up and running
National Fiber may be dead and gone, but its website lives on. Everything looks normal at first: there’s an interactive “find an installer” function, a tab to get a Federal Income Tax Credit form, and a technical library with articles and links about cellulose (some inviting questions be sent to Bill Hulstrunk).
But try dialing the contact number, and things get weird. Instead of being connected to an operator, or having the chance to leave a message, callers are automatically taken to a recorded pitch offering the chance to win a Caribbean vacation in return for answering a few questions.
That’s potentially confusing for callers, as it was for some GBA readers recently.
Laura Woodford, GreenFiber’s senior marketing manager, said former National Fiber customers could contact GreenFiber by calling 1-800-228-0024 or by visiting its website.
When asked why the National Fiber website was still running, Woodford said: “We appreciate you bringing the issue with the National Fiber website to our attention and we apologize for any inconvenience to site visitors. Our first priority is to ensure that we are providing our customers with the best service and support. GreenFiber is acting immediately to update the contact information on the National Fiber site so that visitors are directed to a dedicated GreenFiber service representatives that can assist them with their needs. Look for those updates within the next week.”
Hulstrunk says he finds the website useful. “I still send folks to the website because it still has all the technical documents I created on it,” he said. “If you’re looking for technical information and videos, I think the National Fiber site still has some of the best information on the internet.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article said GreenFiber purchased National Fiber in 2015 and closed it in 2016. GreenFiber says it purchased the company 2014, and closed the plant in 2015.