Q. Isn’t Today’s Vermiculite Okay to Use for Insulation?

Hey Mark,
I am told that the vermiculite currently mined has no asbestos.
Here is the website: http://www.vermiculite.com/

The reason I am interested in using vermiculite as an attic insulation is that it is one of the few materials that is non toxic and non flammable. Fiberglass is flammable and in addition, I hate working with the stuff.

Does anyone know of any other materials other than vermucilite that is both non toxic and non flammable? My problem is that I own a Victorian and there are no firebreaks in the walls and no sheet rock.

Hey David,
It is also my understanding that the vermiculite that is currently being mined is tested for asbestos.  And because of that, today’s sources are free from asbestos.  However, in spite of the fact that vermiculite does have many practical uses, and would potentially make a great home insulation, it is not being used that way today.  And, I think you are asking for trouble if you do.

If you eventually try to sell the home, your buyers will have a home inspection performed.  That inspector will more than likely identify your insulation as vermiculite.  Since it is not currently being used as an insulation material, there will be cause to question if it is contaminated with asbestos or not.  Since the EPA recommends that home owners and buyers assume all vermiculite insulation contains asbestos, you will likely be fighting an uphill battle in proving that it was installed recently, and that the source was confirmed to be free from contamination.  It would also be difficult to prove that there wasn’t contaminated vermiculate already there, and you just simply added to it.  Even if you convinced your buyers of that, they still might shy away from the home because they would have to fight the same battle when they sold it.

Fiberglass insulation is not flammable.  The paper backer on some of it is, but there is no more risk with that, than with the paper on drywall.  So that is a relatively safe product to use.  That is why it is so popular.  I understand your dislike for using it (it is pretty itchy), however if you use proper clothing (including long sleeves, gloves, and respirator) you should have pretty good luck with it, especially since your walls are currently open.  Also, there are many other alternative insulation products on the market that you may wish to consider.  Perhaps a blown-in fiberglass or cellulose option would work for your situation.  There are also a number of “green” foam spray insulations that work well and don’t give off harmful vapors.  The bottom line is…. I’d suggest that you keep researching your options.

As to the firebreak… older homes built with “balloon framing” are a fire concern.  You stated there is no sheet rock, which implies that the walls are currently open.  I would highly recommend that you install a fire break between each stud, at each floor level.  This will involve a bit of effort and cost.  However the peace of mind it will bring is well worth the effort.  It will also make insulating the cavities somewhat easier.

Mark Nahrgang is the owner of Kingdom Inspection Network Group – St. Louis and is a professional NACHI certified building inspector in the St. Louis metro area. Mark performs home inspections as well as commercial inspections throughout St. Louis and St. Charles County.


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