David White Releases Global Warming Potential Calculator for Insulation.
The issue of Global Warming Potential (GWP) of insulation, first brought to the forefront of the building performance industry last year when Alex Wilson wrote an influential article about it in Environmental Building News, has been a major bump in the road for the home performance industry.
Soon after the publication of “Avoiding the Global Warming Impact of Insulation,” Michael Anschel wrote a similarly controversial post on Remodeling Magazine Online suggesting that, until we can figure out how to do it right, we should just stop trying to fix our houses, because we may be doing more harm than good. This is a spookily tempting suggestion: even I, needing an air sealing and R-value solution to the uninsulated rim joists at my house, got hung up by the Global Warming Potential of the closed cell foam that is often the go-to solution for fixing this very typical problem. I fretted and procrastinated, harassed my auditor and contractor endlessly, and, frankly, still haven’t tackled this particular measure.
My personal situation illustrates how dangerous the GWP issue can be, in that it threatens to inject paralysis into the fledgling industry seeking to drive energy efficiency retrofits of our energy-wasting buildings. (I rebutted Michael’s point in a guest blog post on Remodeling with this argument.) After all, the benefits of improving the energy efficiency of our building stock are many: comfort, financial savings, geopolitical considerations and energy efficiency all going hand in hand with climate change mitigation efforts. But the early adopters of energy efficiency include many people motivated primarily by climate change, and scaring off the true green segment, well, would be bad. We needed a tool to weigh the concerns about material GWP against their benefits in a scientific, data-driven, empirical way.
The tool essentially determines two important things, based on a number of variables:
1) Whether a building would benefit from additional insulation enough to justify the GWP of the added insulation, and,
2) If there are better alternatives to the insulation you were planning on using.
Variables that the tool takes into consideration include the climate in which the building is located (heating degree days), R-value of insulation materials, embodied energy of insulation materials, projected life of the building, fuel type, and more.
As David indicates in his notes, the tool should be used in combination with other variables – health, comfort, cost, to name a few – to make informed decisions regarding insulation material choice. But, while admittedly limited in its scope, it just may remove the sense of paralysis that the issue of Global Warming Potential threatened to incur.
We'd like to commend David White for creating this game-changing tool for green builders, home performance contractors, architects and remodelers as we move forward in creating a healthier, more efficient built environment.
To download the tool (for free), visit Right Environments' Free Downloads page. And next time you see David, buy him a beer.
Here's a screenshot, and a partial explanation: