THE DENVER POST (September 11, 2010) – What are thoroughly modern millennium buildings wearing for warmth? Denim.
Blue jeans are the source of the newest, greenest form of building insulation. Denver’s Alliance for Sustainable Colorado used denim insulation in the Alliance Center, its up-to-the-nanosecond environmentally conscious, rehabilitated historic building. So did the new 212,000-square-foot Denver Health Pavilion for Women and Children.
Now Loveland’s Habitat for Humanity is poised to use denim insulation for its future home-building projects.
“I was the guy who used to throw my jeans away and never think twice about it,” said Nathan Enderle, a recent college graduate who works at Loveland’s Workwear store.
He helped lead a drive to collect more than 4,000 pairs of blue jeans and other denim clothing for the Loveland Habitat program. Karen Murray-Boston, volunteer coordinator for the Habitat-affiliated ReStore program, hopes to fill a tractor-trailer with donations by the end of the drive today.
“This is what it will look like,” she said, holding a square of shredded, compressed and converted denim in one hand.
It is the familiar gray-blue of dryer lint, but much denser, almost like the felt liners in winter boots, with a batting-light loft.
Getting to this point is a multistep process. First, longtime recycler Allan Co. receives recycled denim and cuttings from clothing manufacturers, and compresses the denim into 1,000-pound bales.
Next, JBM Fibers reprocesses the bales, reducing the material to its original cotton fiber. Finally, Bonded Logic Inc. converts it to insulation and coats it with a flame retardant before it’s sold as UltraTouch Natural Cotton Fiber Insulation.
The final product holds heat longer and absorbs sound better than conventional spun-glass insulation. It’s also safer to handle — a point made in promotional photographs that show toddlers pressing their cheeks against the material — and easier to install.
Other upsides: Unlike fiberglass, no formaldehyde is used to manufacture denim insulation, and it has not been linked to respiratory problems.
It’s also user-friendly. The do-it-yourself site eHow.com offers a tutorial on installing denim insulation.
Denim insulation is a little less wallet- friendly. It costs 15 to 20 percent more than fiberglass per unit. However, some distributors’ suppliers offer discounts; the site smartlivingdirect.com cuts the listed price by more than 50 percent.
Alliance Center director Phillip Saieg said the higher up-front price would mean savings in the long run.
“Using denim insulation at a slight cost increase is no different than using a higher quality product in any building product application,” he said.
“It gets a better R value per inch of depth than fiberglass. There’s a higher sound transmission class rating. It emits no VOCs or airborne particulate matter that can cause lung damage, and it doesn’t settle like fiberglass insulation does, reducing fiberglass’ R value. It’s a healthier product for our people and our planet because it uses post-industrial recycled material.”
Among the most faithful users of UltraTouch: Habitat For Humanity International, which builds homes for the needy. In the wake of hurricane Katrina, Bonded Logic donated 70,000 square feet of UltraTouch insulation to Habitat for Humanity chapters in the Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast to help build 75 homes.
Loveland’s Habitat chapter is working with Cotton Inc. to convert its 4,000 pairs of jeans into insulation. It takes about 500 pairs of jeans to provide enough insulation for a typical Habitat home, Murray- Boston said.
Since the first “From blue to green” denim drive in 2006, Cotton Inc. has received a total of 270,617 pieces of denim, enough to insulate 540 houses in areas affected by natural disasters, and preventing 200 tons of denim from being sent to landfills.
Now for the next question: “Do these jeans make my basement look big?”