How To Tell The Difference Between Cellulose & Asbestos Insulation

the difference between cellulose and asbestos insulation

For decades, asbestos was a popular insulating material in the United Kingdom. Because of its solid insulating and fire-proofing properties, asbestos was widely used in homes and commercial structures.

Scientists however discovered that asbestos is extremely hazardous to human health, and as a result builders have employed cellulose insulation instead. But unfortunately, asbestos is still present in numerous structures around the United Kingdom.

Asbestos is a carcinogenic and deadly substance widely used for insulating purposes. However, as the risks of asbestos grew evermore apparent, its use was phased out in favour of cellulose. Nevertheless, many older homes still have asbestos insulation present.

This is why it is vital you know what asbestos looks like in order to establish whether you have asbestos or cellulose insulation present in your building.

The Hazards of Asbestos

Because asbestos is most dangerous through inhalation, you mustn’t disturb it if you suspect you have discovered asbestos insulation.

Insulation is a high-risk form of asbestos and is commonly present in UK homes. Commonly, some may have asbestos attic insulation while others may have asbestos pipe insulation. While asbestos is found in various states, asbestos insulation is the simplest to disturb, increasing the likelihood of asbestos exposure.

The Health and Safety Executive in England and Wales classifies asbestos as a “hazardous waste.” That means transporting asbestos without a Waste Carriers License is a criminal offence, and there are restrictions about how you must handle, package, and dispose of it when it is removed from the home.

How Can You Tell if The Insulation in Your Home is Asbestos?

It’s difficult to tell the contrast between cellulose and asbestos. However, asbestos insulation is often described as “pebble-like” and silver-gold or greyish-brown in colour, whereas cellulose insulation resembles shredded paper and is greyish in colour.

Furthermore, because the proportions of asbestos employed in various insulations vary, so do their appearances. Therefore, if you suspect your home has asbestos insulation, you should seek an expert to analyse the issue.

How Can You Tell if The Insulation in Your Home is Asbestos?

What Are the Main Differences Between The Two?

Before we go into the differences between cellulose and asbestos, it’s important to understand their properties.

Asbestos Insulation

For over forty years, beginning in the early 1950s, the construction industry used asbestos as an insulating material and a fire retardant. Asbestos can still be found in drywall tiles and the attics of older structures and residences. However, when asbestos particles become airborne and enter the places you live or work, it poses a significant health risk.

Cellulose Insulation

As an alternative to asbestos, cellulose insulation is made from various materials such as hemp, cardboard, straw newspaper, etc. When construction workers employ a cellulose-paper blend, they treat it with boric acid to provide fire-resistance properties.

The two most common types of cellulose insulation are wet cellulose and dry cellulose (known also as loose-fill insulation) on occasions.

Builders might use holes to blow the cellulose into the wall with a blower. Cellulose can also be used to fill in wall voids. A wet spray is an option that builders might use on newly built walls. It forms a tighter seal, preventing heat loss.

Cellulose, like asbestos, operates well inside walls, pipelines, and wiring. As a result, it aids in the prevention of fires as well as the creation of insulation for your home. Cellulose is also a recyclable material, a huge bonus for building owners who want to be more eco-conscious.

The Differences

When you analyse the different elements you now know, they appear identical. While it is distinct, there are many similarities in difficulties with vermiculite insulation, as determining if asbestos is present is tricky. The most effective approach is to avoid handling it and instead seek the advice of a specialist who will take specific samples and establish whether it contains asbestos. If asbestos is present, it is suggested that an asbestos management system be implemented or removed.

Concerning the other distinctions, there is little doubt that asbestos and asbestos insulation products are hazardous and should be avoided at all costs. However, suppose you are unsure whether your building may contain asbestos. In that case, it is strongly recommended that you contact specialist contractors to inspect your structure and make the required changes to reduce or eliminate the possibility of contamination and exposure.

Advantages Of Cellulose

  • Eco-friendly. One of the primary reasons cellulose is becoming a popular and commonly utilised insulation material is that it is environmentally benign. It is manufactured, as previously stated, using recycled and reused materials that would otherwise end up in landfills.
  • Low VOC Levels.  According to a Healthy Building Science study, blown-in-cellulose has extremely low VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) levels, a pollutant that can harm the environment and human health. In practice, this insulation type’s total VOC (TVOC) content is significantly lower than that permitted in GREENGUARD-certified goods.
  • Soundproofing. Cellulose insulation is an excellent choice for your home if you live near railroad or highway lines or want a calmer atmosphere. In addition, because it is denser than most insulation materials, it has excellent soundproofing capabilities.

Disadvantages of Cellulose

  • It is not waterproof. By definition, cellulose is not waterproof. It can be treated with various compounds during construction to make it water-resistant to some level. However, if it is exposed to moisture for an extended period, it can cause significant issues such as mould.
  • Not Fire Retardant. Because the main component of cellulose is recycled paper, it is flammable if not covered with fire repellants when it comes to insulation.

The Benefits of Asbestos

  • Asbestos is a highly heat-resistant material, so it will not burn readily.
  • Because of its excellent thermal insulation ability, asbestos can be used to create an energy-efficient building.
  • Asbestos is also resistant to weather.
  • Because it is exceedingly durable, asbestos insulation can still be found in older structures.
  • The material is less expensive.
  • It is also simple to maintain and clean.

Disadvantages of Asbestos

As most people are aware, all types of asbestos insulation are hazardous to human and environmental health. The fibrous microparticles included in the material may induce a variety of ailments and long-term issues if breathed in.

Asbestos has been used in insulation in many forms including loose-fill asbestos insulation, asbestos block insulation, asbestos wool insulation and even asbestos insulation spray. This can make identifying asbestos insulation difficult for the layman, thus increasing the potential risk.

Asbestos Risks

Asbestos produces tiny fibres that can be ingested or breathed in, causing a slew of health issues. Because it is complicated for the body to break down the poisonous fibres of asbestos over time, it can cause genetic cell damage,  lung inflammation, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, mesothelioma, and various other ailments.

Because of the risks linked with asbestos, all governments worldwide have banned its use as an insulating material. Certain asbestos-containing insulating materials, such as vermiculite, must be identified and replaced.

What Should You Do If You Find Suspicious Insulation?

If your insulation is loose and corresponds to the visual signs of vermiculite, you should make sure that the material is not disturbed. Asbestos fibres and asbestos dust pose the most significant risk when they become airborne and inhaled. Conversely, when asbestos contaminated vermiculite insulation is left undisturbed, the risk is reduced markedly.

You can use an asbestos-testing kit or have samples analysed by a specialist service. If you find that your insulation contains asbestos, you can either leave it where it is or have it removed by a registered asbestos removal company.

Final Thoughts

Asbestos and cellulose insulation are frequently confused, not only because they are similar in colour and texture but also because cellulose was introduced shortly after the health risks of asbestos were discovered.

We cannot emphasise the importance of exercising utmost caution when dealing with suspected asbestos insulation. If you have any doubts, you should consult with an asbestos expert.

Cellulose insulation is no longer widely used, with different materials being utilised for renovations. Spray insulation is commonly used within roof spaces by builders, and cavity wall insulation is a cost-effective technique to cut energy expenses and make your home warmer.

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