Is Fibreglass Insulation Dangerous? Implications, Risks and Alternatives

Fiberglass Insulation

Over 14.8 million households in Great Britain are thought to have cavity wall insulation. Of those millions, a percentage will have used fibreglass insulation. While the material offers several benefits, including cost-effectiveness, and high durability, experts are now questioning the safety of using fibreglass insulation. 

Since it’s made of small, sharp glass particles that can travel through your home, the material can pose some health risks. Stick around to learn more about the dangers of using fibreglass insulation and how you can limit the risks when using it.

Fibreglass Insulation: Overview

Before understanding whether fibreglass insulation is dangerous to home occupants, you’ll want to know more about the material. In essence, fibreglass comprises glass fibre particles interwoven together by a binding agent, usually consisting of plastic.

Games Slayter originally invented the material. Fibreglass was then later commercialised as an insulator by Slayter and other inventors, namely, Dale Kleist and Jack Thomas.

Interestingly, Kleist accidentally advanced the glass technology by attempting to seal two blocks of glass by spraying and melting the material. Instead, the resin and molten glass formed the small glass fibres we know today as fibreglass.

When it comes to the material’s use for insulation, manufacturers typically use the more tightly woven variety. You can use it for soundproofing, building or electrical insulation, heat resistance, and plastic or cement reinforcement.

Is Fibreglass Insulation Safe?

The safety of fibreglass insulation has been widely debated among homeowners and stakeholders. Since the material is primarily made of tiny, jagged glass particles, it can pose a potential risk to residents. Nonetheless, how dangerous is this risk?

Short-Term Implications

If you come into contact with fibreglass, you may experience short-term symptoms, like coughing, irritation, wheezing, and itching. Exposure could also exacerbate asthma and bronchitis-related conditions. 

Skin Irritation

As the tiny fibreglass shards breeze their way through your home, they might land on your skin and create small cuts. These cuts won’t make you bleed, but will cause lots of itching and scratching, further irritating your skin.

Eye Irritation

Airborne fibreglass particles can touch your eyes. They’ll likely redden and become swollen. For this reason, you need to wear proper eye protection when near the material.

Long-Term Implications

Aside from the short-term effects of fibreglass insulation exposure, you’ll also want to consider the long-term implications. Those can include severe respiratory and health risks.

Respiratory Risks

Inhaling fibreglass poses a significant risk to your breathing passageways. As the minuscule material goes through your body, it creates tiny cuts around your body’s organs and tissues. 

You’ll likely experience:

  • Irritated lungs
  • Sore throat
  • Irritated nasal passage
  • Difficulty breathing

Cancer Risks

According to studies regarding fibreglass from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine: “There is insufficient data to draw a conclusion either way about any cancer-causing potential.” 

Nonetheless, other experts have targeted fibreglass as the culprit of mesothelioma and ovarian cancer in factories producing the material.

Epidemiologist and Senior Researcher, Dr Avima Ruder, concluded that: “Unanticipated excess mesothelioma and ovarian cancer mortality…could be due to fibreglass exposure or employment elsewhere, or could be chance findings.”

In other findings, the International Agency for Research on Cancer affirms that fibreglass isn’t classified as a human carcinogen in 2001.

Overall, further research into the carcinogenic effects of fibreglass is needed to support this health risk’s legitimacy.

How Can You Be Exposed to Fibreglass

You might be wondering: If it’s used for insulation and covered, then it shouldn’t come in contact with me, so why worry about exposure risks?

Well, that particularly depends on the type of building the insulation is built in. It could be an office, school, or loft. Each place’s ventilation system and airflow varies, affecting the movement of the fibreglass particles.

Besides that, you could get exposed to the material from home maintenance work. As renovators move the insulation around, you’ll likely get a whiff of the hazardous material. Consequently, you can limit fibreglass exposure by leaving the insulation alone.

We also suggest wearing protective gear, like glasses, gloves, and long sleeves, if you need to move the insulation or renovate your walls.

How to Limit Risks When Installing Fibreglass Insulation

Despite its many associated health risks, you might still want to install fibreglass insulation to reap its benefits. Luckily, there are some ways you can limit the dangers of it during installation.

Wear Proper Protective Gear

Make sure your skin isn’t exposed when installing fibreglass. That means wearing long sleeves, gloves, protective glasses, and pants. We also recommend wearing a respirator mask to avoid inhaling the fine glass particles.

Research Fibreglass Installation

If you’re installing the fibreglass, be sure to thoroughly research the process. Do your homework by watching installation videos and reading guides on how to correctly cut the fibreglass. That way, you’ll avoid any long-term risks.

Keep Pets and Children Away

During installation, make sure your pets and children aren’t around you. You can keep them in a separate room or outdoors. Alternatively, ask your extended family to babysit until you finish installing the fibreglass.

Maintain a Well-Ventilated Space

Your doors and windows should be wide open to maintain a well-ventilated space. You can turn on a fan as well, but make sure it’s not facing you so the particles don’t fly in the wrong direction.

Benefits of Fibreglass Insulation

Even though fibreglass insulation has garnered a bad rep for its health dangers, you’ll want to consider why people are still using it. 

  • Budget-Friendly: In contrast with other insulation materials like cellulose and spray foam, fibreglass is considerably cheaper.
  • Durable: Fibreglass can last years without maintenance requirements.
  • Fire-Resistant: The material is non-combustible. It’ll reduce the speed of a fire spreading across your house. 
  • Easy-to-Install: As long as you proceed with caution, fibreglass mainly involves unrolling the insulators and stapling them.
  • Moisture-Resistant: It doesn’t retain water, making it fast-drying. Plus, you won’t have to worry about mould growth.

Alternatives to Fibreglass Insulation

If you deem the dangers of fibreglass too high, you can always choose between multiple other alternatives, like spray foam and cellulose insulation.

Spray Foam Insulation

Spray foam insulation is an exceptional alternative to fibreglass because it’s more durable against humid conditions.

Additionally, it doesn’t contain any harmful or toxic substances. Spray foam is also a cleaner option because it doesn’t gather dust.

Cellulose Insulation

Cellulose insulation is made of plant fibre, recycled newspaper, and, in some cases, denim. It’s a sustainable choice and provides you with a densely packed barrier that’s more effective than fibreglass insulation.

The cellulose material is also more resistant to heat conduction and isn’t made of potentially harmful particles.

Wool Insulation

Sheep’s wool is an excellent eco-friendly choice for your insulation project. Every wool fibre is made of protein molecules called keratin.

The fibres are composed of five follicles each. Not only are these follicles perfect for soundproofing and thermal insulation, but they also maintain cleaner air in your household. Aside from that, sheep’s wool is also non-toxic, fire-resistant, and moisture-resistant.

You can choose from other organic insulation materials like Rockwool and cotton.

Should You Use Fibreglass Insulation? 

In short, the insulator can be hazardous in short-term and long-term exposure. The material is made of tiny glass shards that can penetrate your skin and enter your breathing passage, causing respiratory harm.

You can resort to other, safer, insulation materials, like wool and spray foam, that are just as effective but come at a slightly higher price. If you’re not sure which to pick, use our insulation guide and quote finder to help you make a suitable decision for your household.

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