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Community and Q&A

All other things being identical, will cellulose or fiberglass dry faster?

Steve El | Posted in Energy Efficiency and Durability on

This question came up on the DIYchatroom website, and it was suggested I post it over here.
http://www.diychatroom.com/f19/rigid-foam-insulation-interior-83781/index2/

We were discussing a home in Pennsylvania, where the exterior appears to be working ok, the uninsulated walls have been laid bare on the inside, and its time to choose an insulating material for the cavities. Blowing foam is out of budget, and the exterior is not to be disturbed.

Some years ago, I read that in ideal conditions fiberglass dries whereas cellulose does not. My more recent reading suggests opinions have now flipped and I am confused. So, hopefully someone can answer this:

Let’s take three identical wall cavities. Each has a different material PERFECTLY installed: dense pack cellulose, roxul, and fiberglass (either matt or loose for the last two). Now add a small amount of bulk liquid to each, to simulate a small imperfection in the buildings exterior weather barrier.

(1) Assume no additional wetting and perfect lab conditions to control extraneous variables, which cavity dries faster, and with less damage?

(2) Same question, but turned loose on the real world. If location matters, the question arose regarding a home in Pennsylvania.

There seems to be a lot of hollering about fiberglass never drying out. I’m speculating that in lab conditions the fiberglass dries out faster than cellulose, but in the real world, where gaps have opened in the fiberglass due to settling and slumping of heavy batts, there may be some repeating evaporation and re-condensation going on due to convective looping. If dense pack cellulose doesn’t slump as much, it would resist that problem so although it might dry slower in the lab, it might actually be faster in the real world. But as I say, I’m just making this all up.

Can anybody do more than guess? If the budget doesn’t allow for detailing the exterior AND insulating empty cavities, where is one’s money better spent, and should “dryability” be a determining factor in selecting cavity insulation?

Thanks for all comments,
Steve El

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Replies

  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    Steve,
    I just looked up several wall drying studies. The ones I looked at compared the drying rates between wall panels with different types of sheathing, different types of cladding, and different types of rainscreen gaps. However, I was unable to locate a study comparing wall drying rates between panels with different insulation types.

    Based on experience, though, I would say that it is most probable that the fiberglass-insulated wall will dry faster than the cellulose-insulated wall.

  2. Roger Lin | | #2

    I don't know about drying rates but I've opened up walls insulated with fiberglass where significant moisture had infiltrated. The entire fiberglass batts just collapsed, which means you have zero insulation at those spots. I don't know and would be interested in finding out at what moisture level this happens and at if and at what level does this happen with cellulose.

  3. Travis T | | #3

    I would think they would be similar, both poor and it seems like the wrong question to be asking.

  4. Riversong | | #4

    I agree that the question is mis-worded.

    Drying time is only one small part of the hygro-thermal performance equation, and is highly dependent on other factors, such as air movement, heat flux, and the hygric properties of adjacent materials.

    The primary differences in hygric performance between fiberglass (or other mineral fiber) and cellulose is that:
    1) cellulose's density prevents air movement far better than mineral fibers
    2) cellulose is hygroscopic - it will quickly redistribute moisture, lowering the localized moisture content and even protecting wood framing from moisture absorption
    3) mineral fiber insulation allows accumulated moisture to drop by gravity to the bottom wall plate where it tends to accumulate and cause mold and decay

    Those are important distinctions between dense-pack cellulose and any form of mineral fiber, but there are other distinctions which should be taken into account as well. These include:
    1) cellulose with borates is highly fire resistant and acts as a firestop because of its density
    2) cellulose with borates is toxic to all common household insects but non-toxic to humans and pets
    3) cellulose with borates inhibits rodent infestation and all the "gifts" they leave in our walls
    4) dense pack cellulose has among the highest STC (sound deadening) ratings
    5) cellulose is almost 100% recycled product with very little embodied energy or global warming contribution
    6) dense pack cellulose completely fills all cavities and does not settle

  5. Steve El | | #5

    Wow, great info. Thank you one and all.

    I'm still curious what people actually SEE when they are called to repair damage from a leaking window, and open up dense pack cavities. I've heard a lot of what folks see when its a fiberglass batt, but no one has shared the dense pack experience. Anybody? What's the stuff doing around that leaking window?

    (Of course the more important question is when will the window and flashing be repaired)

    Thanks everybody again for prior (and future) answers.

  6. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #6

    Steve El,
    My guess is that Michael Chandler will post a comment on this page tonight. In the meantime, I'll quote him. Here's what he posted in a blog on the Fine Homebuilding Web site:

    "On two occasions, homes I have built with cellulose insulation had plumbing leaks. The moisture was absorbed and spread by the cellulose and took days to be noticed by the homeowner. By the time we located and repaired the leaks the water had wicked throughout and saturated the affected insulation and, while the cellulose hadn’t mildewed itself, the studs, exterior sheathing and drywall were covered with mold. We removed the sheetrock and cleaned the wood and set the cellulose aside to dry and it was remarkable how long it stayed wet. ... In homes with cellulose insulation I’m concerned about closing up a bunch of wet newspaper in my attic after an ice storm related leak. I’m much more concerned with cellulose in walls than attics because most attics are both hot and well ventilated and foster better drying but a winter ice storm could really lead to some problems."

    Read more here:
    http://www.finehomebuilding.com/item/8327/why-i-dont-use-cellulose-or-blue-jean-insulation

  7. Riversong | | #7

    Steve,

    One of the reasons that there are lots more reports of moisture problems with fiberglass is that there's a lot more fiberglass than any other insulation material, and particularly cellulose (which still constitutes a small percentage of home use). Fiberglass dominates half the US insulation market and plastic foam takes second place.

    But another reason is likely that there are far fewer serious moisture problems with cellulose, because of its ability to quickly redistribute moisture - thus lowering the RH at any point - and of safely absorbing and releasing up to 30% of its weight in water without degradation.

    Fiberglass will do one of two things (or both). It will capture water on the fiber surfaces (adsorption), raise the RH to 100%, and encourage absorption into adjacent wood materials (typically sheathing but also framing), or with larger amounts of water it will allow gravity bulk drainage to the bottom plate where high moisture contents are often found as well as mold and decay.

  8. J Chesnut | | #8

    I just had my old home insulated with dense pac cellulose by drilling and filling from the outside.
    I'm also in the process of residing the house. On a SE corner that receives little sun and is missing gutters that would prevent splash back onto the wall from a porch hip roof I discover some nice wet framing complete with an ant colony.
    With the siding and WRB removed I set up a mirror to reflect the sun throughout the day on the wall to speed up the drying time. After a couple of days I reached in the newly blown in cellulose and could feel an area where it had soaked up the moisture from the framing and sheathing. I had to pull out the cellulose in order to dry everything out. This all occurred during the summer.

    I have to get back to my siding job quickly. I have sparrows starting to take nest in the north wall. They poked through the foam plugs and now my home is becoming a large bird house.

  9. Steve El | | #9

    Martin, Thanks for sharing Michael's tale. But these anecdotes do not count without a comparison of repairs from similar installations and similar problems when the other material was used. In Michael's plumbing leak repair tale, the story is not complete without a similar problem in a fiberglass insulated house to compare to.

    Robert, thanks for sharing some science to back up your opinions. That's what I'm after, opinions with a fair basis.

    Steve El

  10. Steve El | | #10

    Sounds like you should post some photos here!
    http://www.extremebirdhouse.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=6&Itemid=6

    But back to the question.... would you have faired any better (or worse) if the cavities had fiberglass instead?

  11. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #11

    Lest anyone misunderstand: I would much rather live in a house insulated with dense-packed cellulose than in a house insulated with fiberglass batts.

    I believe that there are more moisture problems in walls insulated with fiberglass batts than in walls insulated with dense-packed cellulose.

  12. Riversong | | #12

    I just responded to Michael Chandler's highly biased and anecdotal blog on the FHB website.

    No insulation is going to protect a home from catastrophic water intrusions, such as from major plumbing leaks, a tree crashing through the roof or a flood - that's not the function of insulation.

    But cellulose will protect the structural envelope from the normal daily and seasonal moisture intrusions and accumulations, unlike mineral fibers and plastic foams which have no hygroscopic properties that benefit the rest of the envelope.

    Cellulose also helps buffer indoor relative humidity, much like thermal mass moderates temperature fluctuations - and no plastic or mineral fiber can do that.

  13. J Chesnut | | #13

    Steve you asked in your later response for experience in the field with dense pac cellulose.
    I included my experience because it illustrates how Robert describes the material acts (although if I have sparrows nesting in it I'm not convinced rodents wouldn't make due in the material also.)

    Dense pac, fiberglass and roxul all allow drying potential in the wall cavity. The difference between them in that regard is not significant. The significant differences in insulation are between foam insulation that significantly restrict drying potential.

    There is no good reason not to use dense pac cellulose.
    Fiberglass insulation is junk. Batts are only beneficial when the 'rate of construction' is a factor and that leads to compromises in quality.
    Roxul is useful for insulating small awkward spaces that a blow install might not be able to do well. You can cut the Roxul with a Japanese style saw into blocks that fit nice and snug around gaps larger than 1.5". Anything smaller can spray foam is useful.

    If you have all the walls opened up you should be able to determine if you have existing moisture problems. I would address moisture problems before insulating. Whether you see evidence of moisture problems or not the choice between the 3 insulation types should not matter much one way or another in regards to drying potential.

  14. Michael Chandler | | #14

    For the record I too would rather live in a house with cellulose than fiberglass batts in the walls. But in North Carolina I would very much prefer Spider Fiberglass blown-in-batts than cellulose. I've been building and plumbing since 1977 and I've seen a lot of water in walls, mostly small leaks due to tree branches poking through roofs, minor plumbing leaks and occaisional flashing and gutter failures.

    The issues I reported on in that article were about very minor leaks, a slight head pin in an upstairs radiant floor that only leaked when the floor was hot an hour or so every morning and a bad tile to tub connection in a guest bath that leaked a little bit when visitors stayed. These would have been noticed and repaired much more quickly had the insulation not absorbed gallons of water but instead allowed it to leak out through the sheetrock and the cellulose really just took forever to dry once the leak was corrected even with the drywall removed and the wall left open with the AC running.

    I have seen similar leaks over the past 33 years in fiberglass as well as open cell foam esp from tree branches through roofs but also plumbing and nail in pipe leaks and those materials both allow the water to flow through to alert the occupant to the problem and dry quickly in comparison to cellulose.

    I no longer use cellulose when it is to be enclosed on six sides and use Spider Fiberglass BIBS instead. I still use foam in my roofs and rim joists but have used cellulose on ceilings where it is ventilated above to promote faster drying when needed. I'm sorry if this choice nettles any sacred cattle.

    Failures happen, resiliency is an important part of durability.

  15. John Klingel | | #15

    Just the opinion of a nimrod, but I don't think choosing your insulation based upon "better recovery" after a potential disaster is the best move. It's a probability game, and I see the expected value for the owner being higher with cellulose; ie, the owner will come out ahead with cellulose. Throwing money out the door 24-365 because some leak may appear some day and the repair bill will be a tad less w/ FG is a losing game, to me.

  16. James Morgan | | #16

    John Kingel is right, this is not an appropriate criterion for making your insulation choices. Consider that an exterior wall which admits bulk water, in any amount, does not have a "small imperfection" but a major fail. Your primary responsibility as a builder is to ensure that your insulation is kept dry, along with all the other vulnerable materials inside the WRB.

    And by the way, use cellulose.

  17. Michael Chandler | | #17

    Amazing how passionate people are about cellulose. Klingel thinks I'm "throwing money out the door 24-365" and Riversong wants me "drummed out of the green building movement."

    JM Spider fiberglass can be sprayed-in similar to damp spray cellulose at a density of 1.8 lbs/cu ft at a moisture content of 10% or less or it can be dense packed behind a scrim typically at 2.2 lbs / cu ft dry.

    Cellulose dense pack at 3.0 lbs/cu ft tests at R-3.6 per inch with a moisture sorption of <15% with an airflow resistance of 13 (lb/s ft)/(cu ft/s)

    Spider tests at R-3.6 / in at 1.8 lbs/ cu ft and R-4.3 / in at 2.2 lbs/cu ft. with a moisture sorption less than 5% and an airflow resistance of 46 (lb/s ft)/(cu ft/s) so it has a higher air flow resistance than cellulose and can easily be installed to a higher R-value than cellulose.

    In my market both of these Spider applications are about the same cost so we generally use the BIBB method and both are equivalent in cost to dense pack cellulose.

    Market prices on these products varies greatly of course from town to town and by the number of competitors and the hunger of the sales staff but in my experience first cost is not a factor in selecting one over the other.

    Spider is formaldehyde-free, is so flame resistant that it is approved for use over open cell foam as an ignition barrier, doesn't support mold growth or hold and wick moisture and has none of the environmentally persistent flame retardants that have been a focus of concern in spray foam. It has more than 20% post-consumer recycled glass content with some production runs achieving up to 40%.

    Like cellulose, Spider doesn't involve bags of foam shavings leaving the job site at the end of the day and the installation process doesn't involve the risk of damage to adjacent materials and low voltage wiring as is an issue with spray foam.

    I don't work for JM and I've never received a cent from them or any of the manufacturers who's products I recommend and I do take primary responsibility for keeping bulk water out of my thermal envelope and also for ensuring that minor leaks will dry quickly with minimal impact on the performance of the building and cost to the homeowner.

    So, same or better performance with better moisture and fire resistance at similar cost. And I'm a nimrod who's wasting money 24/365 and should be drummed out of the green building movement?

  18. Riversong | | #18

    Michael,

    What kind of detailing allows a radiant floor leak or a tub-to-tile leak to communicate with the thermal envelope? The radiant floor leak should have drained through the ceiling below and there should have been a membrane of 6 mil poly or better behind the tub surround if it was on an insulated wall.

    And where did you get that data on R-values and air resistance?

    Dense-pack cellulose at 3 pcf tests at R-3.6 to 3.7/inch, and at 3.5 pcf at R3.8/inch. Reports from the field indicate that blown fiberglass rarely achieves a uniform density.

    And a 3rd party test of air resistance that was on JM Spider's website indicated that cellulose (which they tested at 4 pcf) had 50% - 75% less air flow than Spider at 2.2 pcf. That's probably a reasonable comparison, since both densities are higher than what might be expected in actual installations.

    Spider may qualify as an ignition barrier, but in typical structure fire temperatures it melts, exposing framing or foam to the flames. Spider has a flame spread index of 25 and smoke development index of 50 (both on a scale from 0 for asbestos to 100 for red oak), while cellulose has a flame spread index of 20 and smoke development index of 0. These laboratory tests, however, do not indicate how a material in a 3D space will contribute to actual fire propagation. Dense pack cellulose has been 3rd party approved as a fire stop, equivalent to sold wood blocking.

    The smaller fiber size of Spider, compared to conventional fiberglass (which is a known carcinogen), makes it closer to asbestos in its long-term effects on the lungs.

    The fact that Spider has only 1/3 of the water vapor (not moisture) sorption value of cellulose is not an asset. Water vapor will pass through fiberglass to the next condensing surface, while cellulose arrests much of it before it can reach a condensing surface and then effectively redistributes it so that there is a lower moisture content at any given location. This also allows cellulose to serve as a diurnal moisture buffer, something that no mineral fiber can do.

    To suggest that neither fiberglass nor open-cell foam holds moisture is to deny the common experience of removing soaking wet batts from leaky walls and sponge-like foam from leaky roofs. And, while glass fibers themselves don't support mold growth, any dust or organic contaminant within the fiber matrix will become mold food. Cellulose with borates is an anti-fungal agent as well as an insecticide.

    So, if the cost and labor for installation is roughly similar, other factors should control the decision of which insulation material is more appropriate in a "green" home. Fiberglass has about 20 times the embodied energy (and global warming contribution roughly tracks energy use) per pound, or about 10 times per installed cubic foot if installed at half the density of cellulose.

    JM Spider BIBBS is a proprietary system that only factory-certified installers can use. This makes it a centrally-controlled corporately-dominated system. Any qualified insulation contractor with the right equipment can install dense-pack cellulose and purchase the material from whichever manufacturer is deemed most appropriate, making it a more decentralized and open-market approach.

    I'm heartened that the majority of regular commentators on this forum understand the relative merits and "greenness" of cellulose over any form of fiberglass. As far as a green solution, I don't think there's any contest.

  19. Riversong | | #19

    But I should add that my "drumming out of the green building movement" comment had far more to do with Michael's predilection for spray foam than it did for his preference for fiberglass over cellulose and blue jean batts.

    Petrochemical foam plastics simply do not belong in a green building strategy. Any use of petrochemicals, whether for fuel or insulation or consumer goods (sic) or agricultural fertilizers merely supports the most environmentally and socially destructive industry on earth, and the one responsible for the funding of the climate change denial movement.

    At this point, we don't have many good options for transportation fuels, but we have good options for residential insulation. If we're willing to go out of our way and even spend more money on locally-produced organic (i.e. non-petrochemical) food, then why not use the same criteria in choosing our building materials?

  20. Michael Chandler | | #20

    Robert the cabinetmaker pinned a cleat to a plywood floor that had staple up radiant, Not sure why he needed a cleat there, the vanity was screwed to the wall, just a bit of bad luck, the water ran down the joists onto the top plate and into the wall below.

    The bath tub tile had six mil poly behind the backer board but during the raking of the grout to caulk the tile to the tub the poly somehow got tucked behind the cast iron lip in a way that allowed it to drip onto the support cleat and saturate the wall when a guest visited for an extended stay. Again, just one of those things that happens over 33 years of building homes and not that big a deal to go back and fix except that the cellulose had wicked the moisture all over and created the type of mess that I wouldn't have had if it had been Spider, in which case the water would have run pretty much straight down to the floor and into the closet floor in the next room where the moisture alerted us that we had a problem far sooner than happened with the cellulose.

    The information on the comparison between JM Spider and Cellulose did come from John Brooks Smith of JM forwarded to me by Building Science Corp. in response to a cellulose presentation at last summers Westford Symposuim AKA Building Science Summer Camp.

    If you are wanting to drum me out of the green building movement for my use of spray foam in my roofs and rim joists I guess you'll also need to eject Joe Lstiburek and the staff of Building Science Corp as well as Green Building Adviser for all the exterior foam detailing.

    Bottom line is that we're all doing the best we can to produce an energy efficient home for our customers that fits their needs with the best value and durability within their budget. Yes that does involve compromise. Not everything I build will earn a gold rating in the ANSI 700 National Green Building Standard. I have to build what my customers are able to afford and what the bankers will loan money on. Sometimes this means more square footage or bathrooms and fewer green building strategies than I or my customers want in order to get financing.

    Given the choice of Spider or cellulose in walls in North Carolina where we have hurricanes and ice storms and in light of their similar thermal performance and cost I choose Spider. Its a judgment call but I stand behind it.

  21. Riversong | | #21

    Michael,

    Building Science Corp is a wonderful resource for building science - that's probably why they're called Building Science Corp. But they are not promoting green building anymore than GBA or any of the "green" rating systems.

    All of this is little more than greenwash.

    What you're doing is building marketable energy-efficient homes. That's wonderful, as far as it goes. But calling it "green" is hypocritical and misleading. In the 70's and 80's we called what we did "energy efficiency". There may have been a lot of mistakes made in experimentation, but at least we were honest about our goals.

    The only sector of the building industry today that has any right to the term "green" is what is known as the "natural building movement", and even they often use small quantities of synthetic materials in order to meet current building standards and build houses that are far larger than what anyone legitimately needs.

    Though they don't practice what they promise, physicians must take an oath to "do no harm". If builders take that oath and live by it, then they may have earned the right to call themselves "green".

  22. Steve El | | #22

    Thank goodness I didn't ask something controversial!

    Speaking as a very poltically and "green" idealistic fool (intentional poverty, CSA farming, nonprofit work), I find it very curious how common it is for idealism to walk hand in hand with tremendous anger at others that just don't seem to measure up. Instead of working to strengthen the good parts of what our quasi-allies are doing and together tearing down what our common opponents are doing, the most idealistic so often end up attacking those who are like them somewhat (but not enough).

    Bummer. The glass is half FULL, after all, and there's a LOT of MUCH more important work to do.

    Thank you one and all for a thorough discussion on the merits of the materials.
    Steve El

  23. Steve El | | #23

    PS that little resume was about a prior chapter of my life, not today

  24. Riversong | | #24

    Steve,

    I find it more than curious how anyone can read into a straightforward, objective and dispassionate critique "tremendous anger" and an "attack" against a person - unless they're injecting into the printed words their own emotional state or their own assumptions.

    Since you could see nothing but simple words - no body language, no voice inflection - and there was not a word that expressed either anger or attack, your conclusion is completely misplaced and illogical.

    I offer valid and vitally important critiques of ideas, values, methods and materials - and that includes pointing out hypocrisy, particularly when it comes from people who claim to have a high ethical position or to be involved in a movement toward sustainability.

    The simple truth is that almost nothing we do in today's modern culture even approximates sustainable practice. We will not survive as a species if we don't open our eyes and our minds and hearts to this quite obvious reality. And the world's best scientists, increasingly alarmed at how conservative they've been in predicting global climate change and how much faster the catastrophe is occurring warn us that we simply do not have the time to make small, incremental changes.

    So I can only wonder why you choose to miss the prophetic message of my words and dismiss them as emotional outburst. But perhaps it has something to do with your life trajectory going in the wrong direction ("a prior chapter of my life, not today"), requiring that you maintain a protective shield of denial and projection.

  25. Steve El | | #25

    Have fun poking people. But I doubt you'll deepen anyone's shade of green by doing so. Its a far better approach to make your ideas so seductive that everyone wants to sign up.

    Best,
    Steve El

  26. Riversong | | #26

    Steve,

    You continue to see things inside out and backwards.

    There will never be anything "seductive" about living simply and justly on the earth.

    But there is everything seductive about our current way of life. In fact, it is by psychological seduction and conditioning that our entire consumer culture was created.

    The founder of the modern "public relations" (viz. advertising) industry was Edward Bernays, the nephew of Sigmund Freud. Bernays used his uncle's theories about the unconscious mind and Pavlov's experiments with making dogs salivate to create what he honestly called Propaganda (the title of his 1928 book).

    He sold the American people on WWI and then convinced women that smoking cigarettes was liberating (or really phallic), and from then on advertisers used sexuality and emotional "hooks" to make products seductive.

    Today, we face the inevitable collapse of a culture so seductive that we do not have the will or the imagination to let go of the addiction.

    We do not need to make right living "seductive". We need to point out the falseness of our logic, the hypocrisy of our words and actions , and the utter futility of the way things are - and open our eyes to the way things always were and the way they must be again if we wish to continue as part of the web of life.

    There are unalterable Natural Laws which cannot be violated with impunity. We are now facing a perfect storm of global catastrophes engendered by 5,000 years of living outside of Natural Law, including the collapse of the global economy, the deterioration of the planet's life support systems, and the self-destructiveness of a culture of seduction and greed and limitless consumption.

    In a striking example of the dysfunction or our way of life, the National Institutes of Mental Health just published a study indicating that half of American teenagers suffer from a mental disorder, with nearly a quarter so severe that it interferes with daily life. Anxiety disorders, phobias and panic attacks are occurring in children as young as six.

    No, we don't need more "seduction". We need a dose of sanity. That's what I'm trying to bring to these discussions.

  27. Michael Chandler | | #27

    Thank you Steve, have a great weekend.

  28. Steve El | | #28

    History tells us that society undergoes paradigm shifts when (a) its fun, (b) its profitable, or (c) society got kicked in the a*s, usually several times before the lesson sunk in. History generally has not undergone paradigm shifts when self appointed bible thumpers who think they know the full truth try to impose their version of sanity on the conversation.

    But rats. There I went replying to you so you have a chance to repeat your mantra. I guess I'm outta here. Which is a real shame because someone might actually post some meaningful followup info about insulation materials, something so green even Robert would embrace it, but he has so successfully turned me off to tuning in to these pages that I won't learn about it.

    (Gosh, maybe he's an undercover operative from Throw-Away-America Inc, who has just completed another "kill".....)

  29. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #29

    Steve,
    If you're still tuning in, I urge you not to give up on GBA. There are many voices here. On any Web forum, there will be a range of responses. You don't have to give equal weight to all posts -- focus on the positive and helpful posts, and you'll probably find the exchange of information useful.

  30. Riversong | | #30

    Steve (with ears wide shut) and anyone else who has the courage to be challenged:

    Please offer a single example of a paradigm shift in human culture that was initiated because people thought it would be "fun" or "profitable" in a purely financial way. Hint: you will have trouble because there isn't one.

    And such cultural shifts don't happen because hardship or crisis has made us smarter or wiser. They happen because of existential necessity - when the current paradigm becomes no longer tenable.

    On the individual level, as well, people generally make paradigmatic changes in their lives only when they hit bottom and realize that nothing they've done works anymore. This is the basis for the 12-step program.

    That most successful of all addiction intervention programs requires that we:
    - admit our current way of being in the world is not working
    - surrender our will (ego) to a higher consciousness
    - take a fearless moral inventory of ourselves
    - admit where we've been wrong
    - make amends for the damage we've done
    - share this path with others

    We are all addicted to consumer culture and the relative "luxuries" and comforts and securities that it purports to offer (but rarely does, or does only temporarily). And we are, for the fist time in human history (and that means from the beginning of our speciation), facing a collective global set of complex and interacting crises with each one exacerbating the others which we cannot "cure" or "fix" with the same mindset or toolset that brought us to this place (viz. Einstein).

    But, for the first time in the human story, we have the opportunity to be proactive, humble ourselves to the greater consciousness of an alive universe (Gaia), surrender our hubris and ego and willfulness (which has been our greatest obstacle), acknowledge that we are but cells in a much larger living body of humanity and humanity itself but a node in a much larger living web of life, and return to our proper place within that web - taking only what we truly need and leaving most for the others with whom we share this fragile planet and for the next seven generations.

    This simple and obvious truth - self-evident to humanity for millions of years but lost to modernity - is no dogma, comes from no "bible" nor any human authority - and it certainly is not "my" truth. It is just that I've chosen to open my eyes while most walk around stumbling in the dark to the edge of the abyss.

    All I'm doing is trying to point out the foolishness of such stumbling and shine a light on the abyss. Those who don't have ears to hear or eyes to see will soon fall off the edge. Darwin understood this as a necessary "thinning of the herd". And the Chinese have a saying that "if we don't change direction we're likely to end up where we're heading".

  31. Brett Moyer | | #31

    I'm taking my ball and going home.

    Really Steve? You're walking away from the easily the best green building website because of comments made by one individual?

    Robert gives out a lot of useful FREE advise, but if you don't like it, you don't have to read it.

  32. Riversong | | #32

    The problem here is that people come for free advice, and are unwilling to pay the price of having their perceptions or assumptions challenged.

    Ironically, what should be a great gift to them - the opportunity to see their world with new eyes - is exactly what precious few are willing to accept. So they shoot the messenger and project all their own negative feelings onto the other.

  33. Michael Chandler | | #33

    Brett and Robert
    I’ve been mulling Brett’s recommendation to Steve that “if you don't like it, you don't have to read it.” and questioning my intention to just walk away from this discussion because I feel that Robert’s attacks counterproductive to the dialogue here at Green Building Advisor.

    Robert says to Steve “I find it more than curious how anyone can read into a straightforward, objective and dispassionate critique "tremendous anger" and an "attack" against a person - unless they're injecting into the printed words their own emotional state or their own assumptions. Since you could see nothing but simple words - no body language, no voice inflection - and there was not a word that expressed either anger or attack, your conclusion is completely misplaced and illogical.”

    But I did feel tremendous anger and attack from Robert over the comments I made about cellulose insulation. It really ruined my weekend when I was just trying to contribute to the conversation and he came at me with “To disregard what is probably the most environmentally benign and efficient insulation material on the market, borate-treated dense-pack cellulose because a major plumbing leak or a tree crashing through the roof or an ice dam (which is created by a poorly detailed roof with no ventilation, the standard with foam-insulated roofs), or a Katrina hurricane flood has created a moisture problem - is akin to blaming the victim. Except for straw bales, cellulose is the most green of all insulation options currently on the market. Spray foam is anything but green and anyone who advocates such products should be drummed out of the green building movement.”

    Here I feel that Robert is attacking me and any but natural home builders

    “What kind of detailing allows a radiant floor leak or a tub-to-tile leak to communicate with the thermal envelope? The radiant floor leak should have drained through the ceiling below and there should have been a membrane of 6 mil poly or better behind the tub surround if it was on an insulated wall.” It seems to me that here he has left the cellulose debate and is simply attacking me as an incompetent builder who doesn’t know how to detail a radiant floor or bathtub correctly.

    “Petrochemical foam plastics simply do not belong in a green building strategy. Any use of petrochemicals, whether for fuel or insulation or consumer goods (sic) or agricultural fertilizers merely supports the most environmentally and socially destructive industry on earth, and the one responsible for the funding of the climate change denial movement.” Here again he’s attacking any builder who uses foam insulation, those who disagree are funding the climate change denial movement.

    “To suggest that neither fiberglass nor open-cell foam holds moisture is to deny the common experience of removing soaking wet batts from leaky walls and sponge-like foam from leaky roofs.”

    Here he’s suggesting that it is a common experience to remove sponge-like foam from leaky roofs but my experience has been that spray foam doesn’t absorb water well at all when I have had roof leaks (due to incompetently failing to chop down all the trees within a hundred feet of the homes I build.)

    “Building Science Corp is a wonderful resource for building science - that's probably why they're called Building Science Corp. But they are not promoting green building anymore than GBA or any of the "green" rating systems. All of this is little more than greenwash. What you're doing is building marketable energy-efficient homes. That's wonderful, as far as it goes. But calling it "green" is hypocritical and misleading. In the 70's and 80's we called what we did "energy efficiency". There may have been a lot of mistakes made in experimentation, but at least we were honest about our goals. The only sector of the building industry today that has any right to the term "green" is what is known as the "natural building movement", and even they often use small quantities of synthetic materials in order to meet current building standards and build houses that are far larger than what anyone legitimately needs. Though they don't practice what they promise, physicians must take an oath to "do no harm". If builders take that oath and live by it, then they may have earned the right to call themselves "green".”
    Here he’s saying that Green Building Advisor, BSC and all of the green rating systems are dishonest green wash.

    And after all this he has the balls to say the following “I find it more than curious how anyone can read into a straightforward, objective and dispassionate critique "tremendous anger" and an "attack" against a person - unless they're injecting into the printed words their own emotional state or their own assumptions. Since you could see nothing but simple words - no body language, no voice inflection - and there was not a word that expressed either anger or attack, your conclusion is completely misplaced and illogical.”

    Not a word that expressed either anger or attack?

    I spend a lot of time at little or no pay working to help others move towards a more energy efficient way of building. I been writing constantly to Secretary Chu, the president, the senate energy subcommittee and state and local politicians, I’ve been active for over thirty years in environmental non-profits and promoting and practicing better ways to build homes (being careful not to call it green here) I volunteered weeks on the ANSI-700 consensus-based National Green Building Standard subcommittee (that Robert considers to be green washing), I’ve won awards for green building, an energy value housing award, plus awards for progressive business management, and green building advocacy. I certify all my homes to third party green standards at no cost to my customers. I work very, very hard to contribute to a positive change in the way homes are built and remodeled here in America and yet I have to put up with this type of attack because I had the effrontery to answer a question by explaining why I use JM Spider and some foam rather than cellulose.

    Why would anyone contribute to helping others benefit from our shared experience here at GBA if it’s at the risk of being judged not pure enough by Robert’s standards, which disapprove of all the consensus-based Green Building Standards as well as the website that is hosting the conversation.

    Anything I say is pretty much guaranteed to raise Robert’s ire, and in fact I chose not to contribute to the heat pump water heater conversation today because I was tired of the attacks.

    Robert, you have a lot to share and I have defended your presence on the site in the past when you were rude and offensive. Tone it down. Back off. You are stifling my interest in participating here and obviously (from my e-mail) more than a few others.

  34. Kevin Dickson, MSME | | #34

    Politics and philosophy are flat inappropriate here, so I just skim down to his next post, which could be loaded with common sense and insight. And that has "seduced" me. He has also increased my awareness of the "ideal" choices, which is a good thing, even though I'm a pragmatist, not an idealist.

  35. John Klingel | | #35

    Michael: Either I mis-wrote, or you mis-read. I, as in ME, as in J KLINGEL, is the nimrod! I am not the experienced and educated individual that you are, but am just a nimrod who reads a lot and does a lot in his own little word. I guess Julius Caesar would have said "Mea culpa!" I would never call anyone a nimrod unless he/she deserved it, and you certainly did not deserve anything like that for sharing your experiences. And, thanks for enlightening me on the Spider deal; I spoke out of ignorance and will promptly remove me foot from my mouth, or pull my head out of.... oops. Better not go there on this forum. NOW; does that fancy pants Spider stuff have convection problems, or being more dense than FG batts, does it perform real well? John

  36. Michael Chandler | | #36

    John, thanks, the Spider is blown in through a scrim and completely folls the space and is resistant to air flow as noted so it has none of the convection problems associated with batts. Behaves much like cellulose except for the water issue.

  37. Riversong | | #37

    Michael,

    I can assure you that there was not a hint of "anger" or "ire" in me as I wrote any of the alleged "attacks", and any astute reader can see that there was not a word in any of my statements that could be construed as evincing such non-constructive emotional states.

    So the only explanation for your feeling anger in the air as you read my critical statements is that it is your own emotional state which you are projecting onto me. The simple fact that you would use a phrase like "he has the balls to say..." (which IS an emotion-laden phrase) indicates that you were not responding from a dispassionate place.

    Just as we, in the design and building community, must take personal responsibility for our contributions to the multiple global crises that are driving both humanity and all life on earth toward the very brink of extinction, we must also take personal responsibility for our emotions and not lay them at the feet of others. In fact, that's the very definition of maturity.

    Kevin Dickson says "Politics and philosophy are flat inappropriate here". Perhaps partisan politics has no place here, but philosophy and values are foundational to what we do. If we do not take the time and effort to examine what we mean by "green", and show the courage to have those unspoken assumptions challenged, then the only thing in the details will be the devil.

    I have and will continue to logically, scientifically, and philosophically challenge assumptions and values as well as materials, methods and practices. Those who perceive this as an attack against their cherished (or hardly acknowledged) values, have the responsibility to defend those values in an equally dispassionate, objective, factual, scientific and logically philosophical manner.

    Those who, however, perceive my arguments, statements, and judgements as personal attacks should take a deep breath and put a leash on their egos before jumping back with what almost invariably amounts to a counter-attack and even a thinly-veiled threat to censor this kind of in-depth discussion.

    For Michael to suggest that my comments are "counterproductive to the dialog here" is merely to say that my challenges make people, including himself, uncomfortable. There can be no change for the better, however, without some degree of discomfort in the status quo, including our personal status quo. The easiest response is to shoot the messenger and to blame him for our own discomfort, but that's not either a mature response or a constructive one.

    Those who are truly at peace with their perspectives, values and goals are not threatened by having them challenged. Those who, like Michael, are threatened are not comfortable with themselves and have two options: either calmly listen to the challenge and determine what part (if any) is valid, or shoot the messenger and try to have him silenced.

    Which of those two responses will better serve the cause of building a more sustainable world?

  38. Michael Chandler | | #38

    Robert
    I'm not trying to have you silenced I'm asking that you tone down the rhetoric and be more respectful towards people who you disagree with. If I change to 100% Natural Building I don't serve the goal of reducing global warming as well as i do if I help other builders and re-modelers make incremental improvement on the existing buildings and the new building being built . In addition I have seven employees who rely on me for work and to provide health insurance for their families, and I pay taxes and child support and work within the system rather than outside the system as you prefer.

    There is room for all, just because you choose a different path is not reason that my chosen path is wrong, that I should be drummed out of the green building movement or that only natural builders have the right to call what they do "Green".

    And yes, I am angry with your attacks and that is an uncomfortable feeling but it is because I feel that your attacks are unjust, and unprovoked and that they are causing people who would otherwise contribute to the discussion here to choose to be silent rather than participate.

    I have read your statements and don't find that your challenge is valid, but I don't want you to be silenced, only to exercise a little better selfcontrol and realize how damaging your relentless and inflexible diatribes are to the productive discussion we "incrementalists" are having here.

  39. Riversong | | #39

    I'm asking that you tone down the rhetoric

    I don't accept that there's anything inflammatory or inappropriate about my rhetoric.

    If I change to 100% Natural Building I don't serve the goal of reducing global warming as well as i do if I help other builders and re-modelers make incremental improvement on the existing buildings and the new building being built.

    It's obvious that you believe this, but the statement is self-contradictory on its face. It's based on the assumption that what you do directly in the world has less impact that what you hope you might be able to do to influence the behavior of others. We are not responsible for the behavior of others, but only for our own actions. And the most powerful way to effect the behavior of others is by concrete example.

    Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, your statement is based on a completely unwarranted assumption that incremental changes will be sufficient to avert the greatest convergence of global catastrophes that have ever faced humanity, including irreversible climate change (see quotes below), the six great extinction of species (1 million species are predicted to become extinct in just 50 years), grave cultural malaise (half of US teenagers have clinically-defined mental problems), severe overpopulation, mass starvation, perpetual warfare…

    I…work within the system rather than outside the system as you prefer.

    That's a legitimate choice, but if the system is dysfunctional then you have to acknowledge your role in perpetuating it. Similarly, most battered domestic partners choose to remain in the relationship in the hope that it can be made better, but research demonstrates that's always a vain and misguided hope.

    just because you choose a different path is not reason that my chosen path is wrong

    Once again, you're personalizing and sentimentalizing my arguments. I believe your path can be demonstrated to be misguided by logical arguments which have nothing to do with the path I've chosen. This is not about either you or me, and it's certainly not about who is right and who is wrong. It's about WHAT is right. This is about which paths are most appropriate to get us to the goal of a sustainable world and which paths do little more than perpetuate a slightly improved version of the status quo. It reminds me of the constant advertising refrain "New and Improved", which typically meant the same stuff in a different package.

    that I should be drummed out of the green building movement or that only natural builders have the right to call what they do "Green"

    As I've said many times on these pages, it is vitally important that we clearly define what "green" means and that that meaning is sufficient to create a sustainable world. Otherwise it's little more than an advertising slogan and a tool for increasing market share.

    And yes, I am angry with your attacks and that is an uncomfortable feeling but it is because I feel that your attacks are unjust

    Thank you for finally acknowledging that the anger is yours, not mine. But your continuing to perceive my arguments as "attacks" is what is causing your anger. It is not my arguments that bother you, but your perception of them.

    I have read your statements and don't find that your challenge is valid

    If you find my arguments invalid, then argue against their substance and merits rather than attacking the messenger.

    I …want you… to exercise a little better selfcontrol and realize how damaging your relentless and inflexible diatribes are…

    Self-control? By that you obviously mean to stop stating my arguments, values and judgements as clearly and powerfully as they are so that others who cannot support their own positions with equal veracity might not feel challenged.

    And yet you continue to describe my arguments as "rhetoric" and "diatribes" and "relentless" (even though the overwhelming number of my posts here are directly in response to user's questions) and "inflexible" (by which you mean I won't compromise on essential values and well-reasoned positions).

    Michael, I think it's you who need to exercise some "self-control" and cease this continued misperception of my arguments, my emotional state, and my motives. If you disagree with my arguments, then offer valid counter-arguments, and stop stooping to shooting the messenger.

    Once again, this is not about WHO is right or wrong, but rather WHAT is logically, scientifically, and philosophical valid.

    Among the global scientific community, the consensus is rapidly moving toward statements such as these below, which argue forcefully against any incrementalist approach to change.

    ''The cities, power plants and factories we build in the next seven years will shape our climate in mid-century. We have to act now to price carbon and create incentives to change the way we use energy and spread technology - and thereby avert nothing less than an existential threat to civilization.''

    - the head of the Nobel Prize-winning IPCC, R.K. Pachauri

    "The world may have only seven years to start reducing the annual buildup in greenhouse gas emissions that otherwise threatens global catastrophe within several decades. Urgent and drastic action by the international community is required, and the United States must take the lead."

    - Carlos Pascual and Strobe Yalbott, respectively vice president for foreign policy studies and president of the Brookings Institution. They are involved in a joint project with Stanford University and New York University on global governance, including on the issue of climate change.

    Both the above statements were made in 2008, which leaves us 5 years to make radical changes in the global economy and ecology. Incrementalism is a discredited approach, and a recipe for unmitigated disaster.

  40. John Klingel | | #40

    FWIW...... I never perceive Robert's comments as having any particular emotion to them, except that he is passionate about us saving ourselves and making some radical changes to our philosophies. Pointed, yes. Angry, no. Tact? Not a lot, and a change there may be better received by readers. Just my perception. Rod Nim.

  41. Steve El | | #41

    "I don't accept that there's anything inflammatory or inappropriate about my rhetoric. "

    If you want change, you have to touch people in their hearts. In my experience you don't accomplish that goal by arrogantly presuming you know the extent of their knowledge, or by arrogantly assuming that they'd see an issue exactly the way you do when given identical info.

    Your not typing with hand-tilled home-distilled hemp-oil based plastics in your keyboard I don't think, so with respect to your criticism of how other people function with the need to compromise, well, I'd say something but my daughter is watching me type.

    The funny thing is, you know nothing of my knowledge or education or advocacy of various eco issues. If we ever met, I'd take great pleasure in shoving your presumptions up your nose. You see, I pushed for info on the physical behavior of various materials. What I got was assumptions about who I am what I know and how I live.

    Buddy, if you only knew.

    So I don't particularly care about anything you've said to ME. I've found my place with these issues thank you very much. The problem is you know physics. You know ecology. But you know SQUAT about psychology, sociology, or political organizing. So I have a suggestion. Take a couple years off of building, and go work in the nonprofit sector, in membership, volunteer recruitment, and fundraising. If you could combine your passion with the lessons you would learn about talking to others doing those sorts of things, I really believe you could become formidably persuasive instead of just rhetorically ignorable.

    SteveEl

  42. Riversong | | #42

    Steve (who claimed he wasn't paying attention anymore),

    I suppose your latest response was an example of how to speak to the heart?

    You confuse arrogance (which is assuming knowledge that one does not have) with honest critical thinking based on knowledge and experience that one has legitimately earned.

    Of course I know nothing about you except what you choose to present here on this forum, and what you've offered so far does not speak well for you. But it is your assumptions which are completely unfounded.

    I have spent many years in highly effective community organizing in the anti-war and war-tax resistance movement. I was an organizer and media spokesperson for the global anti-nuclear movement, and a highly effective communicator who helped bring the nuclear power industry to its knees. I've taught non-violent communication and consensus decision-making and helped organize many events and actions in numerous venues for several decades.

    I've studied psychology, sociology and philosophy at the best universities in the nation and am a published author. I've been a lifelong educator as well as a rites-of-passage facilitator - guiding both youth and adults through the difficult and wonderful transitions of life. I also co-led a nine-month Mythic Warrior Training for men, which gave men tools and courage to stand as strong and gentle warriors in a world which distorts men's true nature and power.

    And I've spent nearly six decades speaking truth to power - whether to governmental or corporate power or to people who misuse their personal power. I no longer have any tolerance for adults who behave like adolescents and attack the very people who are trying to help them become responsible adults in a world which is desperately short of that endangered species. And I have no tolerance for those who are afraid of being honestly challenged in their assumptions, values and beliefs. The world can no longer afford such narcissistic behavior.

    I have also been an outdoor experiential educator and guide, a firefighter and EMT, and a technical rescue specialist and instructor. I started my working life as one of the first and youngest fully-certified auto mechanics in the nation. So I've done a lot more than building.

    And, if you had been paying any attention to the broader GBA forum or to your own thread, you would have noticed that I have consistently offered some of the most constructive answers, based on a deep understanding of both the science and the philosophy of green building.

  43. Anonymous | | #43

    Wow....this was a fascinating read! At first, I appreciated it for it's inherent educational info and then it turned into a novel of very likable characters with differing priorities and approaches whom all have a common concern and are trying to reach an admirable goal getting into an unfortunate conflict that I could see myself having internally. In fact, it reminded me of those great musical groups who create an album or two and then disband over a disagreement and depriving society of their future potential contributions that each individual brought to the collective.

    As a result, I would like to stress the importance of each of you individually to the holistic goal. First of all, I see (if I may use your first names) Robert as the voice of indisputable urgency to the "green" movement and the importance of not diluting the term as Corps have done with "Natural" and "Organic". You're a great and obviously highly intelligent writer and you speak the raw hardened truth and like myself, you have an uncompromising morality and idealism that I highly respect. Unfortunately, this world is anything but uncompromisingly moral nor ideal and as a result, Michael is (as I can surmise) a man of practicality and experimentation in trying to bring positive changes to his industry (of which is mostly devoid) that reflect the "green" movement in spirit if not with perfect accuracy. He should be commended for his focus into the proper direction and with some further experimentation and application of theory into practice, I'm sure that he could fully earn a "green" moniker in the future. Therein, lies the importance of guys like Steve. His contribution to the movement is attracting/introducing non-aware and non-green people into the movement. They're the type of people (probably the majority) that don't respond well to Robert's factual "vinegar" (as I do). They (like my wife) only respond to positive reinforcement ("honey") which is what Steve was originally pointing out. As a result, you guys all seem to want to see appropriate change but it's obvious that you disagree on how quickly that change can/should happen as a consequence of Robert (Importance), Michael (Practicality) and Steve (Conversion Factor).

    We can all agree that change is/has been essential but whether it's realistically possible to make a quick enough, big enough and concerted enough change at this point before we do much further irreparable harm to the planet and ourselves given the obstacles is unknown and opinion dependent on whether you're personal outlook is one of "half-empty" or "half-full". One thing for sure though is that you're approaches are all important to the "green" cause and I hope that you each try to appreciate where the others are coming from and not let emotions dismantle the efforts of this band. All your contributions to this post have been valuable, appreciated and surprisingly even a bit entertaining (to me). First visit...and I'll be back. Thanks.

  44. Steve El | | #44

    [Comment deleted by GBA editor]

  45. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #45

    OK, boys. I'm stepping in here.

    The purpose of this forum is to discuss building science and residential green construction, not to attack other visitors to the forum.

    Future posts on this page that consist of personal attacks will be deleted.

  46. Steve El | | #46

    Hooray! And thank you. Is it possible to send up flags when posts include certain keywords? This whole flap would have been avoided if a sniffer had flagged the original "green washing" post for moderator review.

  47. Steve El | | #47

    On 2nd thought, Martin, your edits to post 44 removed all mention of the word "judgmentalism", without which my post 44 is open to multiple interpretations. Please either allow this post to survive to give post 44 context, or else delete 44 completely.

    Thanks for your attention

  48. Riversong | | #48

    [Comment deleted by GBA editor]

  49. Steve El | | #49

    [Comment deleted by GBA editor]

  50. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #50

    A reminder: the topic of this thread concerns cellulose and fiberglass insulation.

  51. Steve El | | #51

    Moderators certainly have a weary task..... thanks for your attention, Martin.

  52. Riversong | | #52

    Martin,

    You have a right to exercise control over outrageous posts and obvious personal attacks that have no substantive value, but you do not have a right to control the natural flow of discussion and limit it to a narrow spectrum.

    You have overstepped your authority.

  53. Qwerty Dvorak | | #53

    Soooo... does fiberglass or cellulose dry out faster? I was going to refer a client to this site directly for some info, but now I'm not.

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