Geo Answers: Sustainability – Part 4: Installation Impact
When installing any important, durable system in your home, such as a heating solution, it is important to consider that there are environmental impacts associated with this as well. The largest concern is, usually, the resulting waste products that have to be dealt with such as product packaging and construction waste. No matter what, whether you install a new or upgraded system for an entire home, or just need to get extra heat into those problematic ‘cold’ spot’ areas, some waste products will result. This may not be much from smaller projects – maybe some small bits of sheetrock and pieces of wire. Or it could involve larger quantities of old sheetrock, wiring, insulation, etc.
First, it is important to note that sheetrock is recyclable. In some respect, the resulting recycled product is superior to brand-new. So, if you recycle the old sheetrock and use recycled sheetrock to replace it, you will likely save money and reduce the impact of this exchange. Old copper wiring that may no longer be safe and needs to be replaced can readily be recycled as well as it is in high demand. Fiberglass insulation is tougher in this respect. There aren’t a lot of options for recycling fiberglass and there is a good discussion of this you can find at Recycle Nation. Still, while there is likely at least some recycled glass in the fiberglass insulation in your home, recycling it when you are replacing it is, currently, not easy. Even disposing of it is more difficult than ordinary construction waste.
This leads to another consideration when doing any project that may require replacing or adding insulation. When it comes time to recycle, at the end of its useful life, what you are installing, how hard will it be? Staying away from fiberglass would be good, although recycling this should become easier in time. However, while it is relatively inexpensive and effective, spray foam insulation should be avoided whenever possible – which is usually always. Why? Because not only is spray foam not recyclable, it basically encases everything in the walls with a toxic, unrecyclable mess, making the sheetrock, the framing, and even, in some cases, the wiring impracticable to separate – so it will all go into the landfill.
As is becoming clear from this series of articles, every stage of getting products from raw or recycled material, through its lifespan, and either disposed of or recycled, there are environmental costs involved. And to increase sustainability means decreasing the impact as well as moving to a circular economy where most materials are not disposed of at the end of their life, but made into useful materials for new products.
(see also: Part 1: Definition of Terms | Part 2: Environmental Impacts | Part 3: Embodied Carbon