Over the past few years, you may have heard about vermiculite insulation through some negative headlines. The material has been in the news because of concerns about the material and its possible role in causing potential health issues.
But, what exactly is vermiculite, and is it really a risk when used for insulation purposes? Here we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about vermiculite insulation and its origins. We’ll also cover the material’s benefits, drawbacks, and applications.
Vermiculite Insulation Overview
Before we jump into why the material can be a health risk, you should understand what vermiculite insulation is. While the name vermiculite may sound like a substance straight out of a sci-fi movie, it’s actually a naturally occurring material.
It’s a mica-like mineral that we can mine out of the ground and has many uses. That’s because vermiculite has quite a few unique properties.
For starters, the mineral expands dramatically when heated. This creates a porous material that can offer both thermal and acoustic insulation.
Besides that, we can mould and shape vermiculite easily which makes it exceptionally versatile. After the mineral expands due to high heat, it becomes lightweight and fire-resistant.
Uses and Applications of Vermiculite Insulation
Generally, the primary application of the mineral is in attic or loft insulation. The material comes in loose fill or granular form, which means you can distribute it in confined spaces and tiny nooks and crannies.
Aside from insulation, vermiculite has several other uses. For instance, it can be used as a material in fire retardants such as steel boxing and coatings. Plus, the mineral is excellent for plant growth and can be used as a fertiliser.
Here are some of the additional uses of vermiculite:
- Concrete screeds
- Swimming pool liners
- Soundproofing sound stages
- Fireproof insulation boards
Vermiculite Insulation and Health Concerns
Now, for the question on everyone’s mind – is vermiculite dangerous? The simple answer to this question is no.
On its own, vermiculite should be completely harmless. So, why are people reporting health issues associated with the material?
Well, to explain that, we have to take a look at how the mineral is extracted. As we mentioned, vermiculite is a natural substance that we find underground. For many years, the chief source of the material was a mine in Libby, Montana.
At its height, this site provided about 80% of the world’s supply. Sadly, the vermiculite that came from this mine wasn’t pure. It contained significant traces of asbestos crystals.
This is another natural mineral that can lead to a whole host of serious medical issues. These include:
- Lung cancer
- Colon cancer
- Digestion issues
However, unless the vermiculite came directly from the Libby mine, it should be perfectly safe. Luckily, very little Libby mineral was exported to Europe, so this means there’s almost no impure vermiculite in the UK.
Benefits of Vermiculite Insulation
With the properties and uses out of the way, we can dive into the benefits of vermiculite insulation and why people rely on the material.
- Exceptional insulation properties: Can reduce heat transfer across surfaces
- Lightweight: This makes it easy to handle and install in tight spaces
- Fire resistance: Can protect your home from open flames
- Water retention: It can hold a significant amount of water, which makes it an excellent fertiliser
- Non-toxic: In its pure form, the material should be inert and harmless
Aside from that, vermiculite is odourless. That makes it an excellent choice if you’re sensitive to pungent aromas.
Drawbacks of Vermiculite Insulation
While vermiculite insulation has many advantages, the material still comes with a few drawbacks. In this section, we’ll cover the main disadvantages of using the mineral.
- Potential health risks: If you don’t know the origin of the insulation, it may be too risky to use
- Lower insulation strength: Vermiculite is less effective at reducing heat transfer than other insulators like glass or wool fibres
- Limited temperature range: The mineral can’t handle extremely high temperatures
- Space restrictions: Isn’t suitable for insulating large areas
Besides that, vermiculite can erode rapidly when it comes into contact with water. This means if you live in a particularly humid area, this type of insulation may not be for you. Plus, vermiculite is one of the more expensive options when it comes to insulators.
Testing for Vermiculite Insulation
If you’re not sure what type of insulation you have installed, there’s a simple way to figure out if it’s vermiculite. The mineral is typically light-brown, gold, or grey.
Plus, it may contain tiny shiny flakes and accordion-like pieces. While you inspect your insulation, it’s crucial that you wear protective gear like face masks. This will ensure you keep your lungs safe from any potential contaminants.
After you identify the vermiculite insulation, it’s best to leave it alone, undisturbed. Even though most of the minerals in the UK should be safe, there’s a small risk that the insulation contains asbestos.
So, it’s best practice to call in a professional to test the material. Thankfully, you can contact us at Insulation Advisor and we’ll help you ensure your insulation is asbestos-free.
Vermiculite Insulation Conclusions
Vermiculite insulation consists of a natural mineral that expands when heated. This creates a lightweight, porous material that can reduce heat and sound transfer across surfaces. Because of that, the material makes for an excellent insulator.
However, since some vermiculite insulation contains traces of asbestos, it can lead to several health problems. So, if you’re worried that your home may be contaminated, it’s best to contact a professional to help you resolve the issue.