The Bill Principle
Sixteen years later, we are more aware of the full life cycle of materials, what they are made of and how future generations will maintain or dispose of them. So today we would probably choose cellulosic insulation instead of fiberglass. This green insulating material is 80% recycled post-consumer newsprint. It uses about one eighth of the energy to manufacture as needed to produce fiberglass, according to the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, and uses none of the toxic propellants (or petrochemicals) associated with spray foam—better for indoor air quality, and safer for the people who make it and install it. The U.S. Department of Energy rates it at a higher R-value per inch of thickness than fiberglass. When blown in, it also blocks leaks and drafts, which is great for a retrofit but not recommended for DIY.
We have tightened our building envelope enough to heat almost exclusively with one wood stove, reducing our household fossil fuel use so much, our disappointed supplier told us we’ll never be customer of the year. A solar thermal hot water system is next on the wish list.
The Bill Principle gave us permission to do our best with our available resources while continuing to pursue better solutions down the line. Whenever we feel paralyzed trying to decide which materials are the most economical and environmentally responsible, we remember the wisdom of Bill: Don’t get hung up on perfection. Do what you can, then do a little more. Keep learning, and keep working to make better choices.