This is a question we get asked A LOT. Over the past decade we've been asked to make wool insulation by builders, homeowners, architects, and sound engineers. Everyone who hears about wool insulation thinks it's a bit of a no brainer. It solves two problems with one elegant solution. One problem is how to make building more environmentally friendly, the other is how to use the wool from meat sheep that no-one wants. Wool insulation is the perfect solution. So, why hasn't it happened?
There are a few hurdles that need to be tackled before Canadian wool insulation is a reality. Here is the list:
- Building codes
- Manufacturing Capacity
Fabrics & Paper magazine in the U.K. listed some of the benefits of using wool in homes and in the building trade include:
Wool is considered by the medical profession to be hypoallergenic. It is resistant to bacteria, mould and mildew that can trigger allergic reactions in people.
Its high nitrogen and water content makes wool a naturally fire retardant fibre which is hard to ignite. As well as this, wool does not melt, drip or emit fumes. This means that fixed or domestic upholstery does not need to be FR treated if it is 100% wool. This saves both time and money.
3. Energy Efficient
Wool has good insulation properties and helps to reduce heat transfer through floors, walls, and windows. This makes it an ideal choice for curtains, rugs, and carpets.
Wool is well-known for being strong and resilient. Wool fibre can be bent 20,000 times without breaking and still have the power to recover. The durability of 100% wool fabric makes it a popular choice for upholstery, especially in commercial properties.
There's significantly less energy used during wool processing compared with manufacturing man-made fibres. Wool production produces lower carbon dioxide emissions and therefore has a low carbon impact on the earth and helps to restore a much healthier environment.
Below is a more detailed look at the issues we have seen. Over the past 10 years we've been quietly planning to open a woolen mill specific to coarse, unwanted wool. It's just going to happen in stages, that's all....
An in-depth look at the issues.
1. Building codes: Tim has spent quite a bit of time looking into it as he works in the world of manufacturing standards, but it gets very dry quickly. I'll keep it brief and simple.
Each province has it's own building code that is tailored to each provincial environment and there is a national building code. British Columbia is considered very humid, Saskatchewan, much dryer. Different materials are approved in different provinces. The testing procedures to have a material approved in the building codes is rightfully very intensive and extensive. Environmental, personal, and building safety is of the utmost importance. These tests cost a lot of money.
Canada's low population and vast distances, means for sheep wool insulation to be a viable business,it really needs to be approved across the country.
To my knowledge, sheep wool insulation isn't currently approved by the Ontario building code. One needs an engineer's approval to use it legally. Placing a non-approved material that may impact any future insurance claims is no small matter.
2. Manufacturing Capacity: We already have local mills, why cant we use them? Imagine using your personal hairbrush on your neighbours dog that has dried mud in it's coat because it went swimming in the local pond. Would you do that and then use it on your hair? Probably not. Your hairbrush is yours, and you probably don't want it contaminated by dog hair and mud. If you don't mind, and do use it on your neighbours dog, you'd definitely want to wash it before using it on your head. But, that takes time, and time is our most valuable resource. IN business, time is money. A mill that specializes in making fine and quality yarn for knitters probably isn't going to want to use their machines after processing wool that is full of vegetation, short fibres, and dirt. Even after a long, costly, thorough cleaning, the chances of there still being leftover material from those dirty fleeces is high, and it could contaminate the fine yarns that is their main business. It's more savvy to just say no to fleeces that are too dirty as it saves a lot of time and money.
Essentially, specialized machinery needs to be able to pay for itself. A machines costs money every hour of the day. The more hours it runs, the more it pays for itself. The larger the machine the more it needs to run. Running more, needs more raw materials, more people, more electricity, more of everything including more people selling the product to others.
3. Vermin: Moths, other insects, and rodents are another challenge. To deter these unwanted visitors, wool is treated. This is another area full of rules and regulations. A material that is going to be contributing to the air one breathes in their home should have lots of safety standards.
4. Investment: Setting up a manufacturing plant is costly. Where money is made is in scale of efficiency. It's a balancing act between cost of production against market potential. Getting the efficiency of scale often means a lot of upfront investment in labour saving machinery and processes before seeing any kind of revenue generated. The time frame to set up a manufacturing plant can take from months to years, depending on it's scale and purpose. This needs planning and investment form a number of different places, often through federal and provincial job creation and investment programs.
As of yet there is no company in Canada that makes any kind of insulation that I know of. One can use regular bats or picked wool, but it will invite moths without being treated.
Havelock Wool, out of the US is the only manufacturer of wool insulation in North America.They get their wool from New Zealand currently. Custom Woolen Mills makes large bats and stuffing, but once again, they aren't treated.
What is needed is investment into this area as the demand for wool insulation is growing! Above is a video I made for Concordia University to showcase how wool is processed on a small scale machinery.
There are a few different options for insulation right now as I see it:
1. Make it yourself. Wash, pick, and treat wool to make a material similar to blown in insulation. Low cost/high labour
2. Buy washed and picked wool or carded batts from a local mill. Treat it at home. High cost, medium labour.
3.Order it from current manufacturer - Havelock Wool. Highest cost,low labour.