Are Insulation Batts Dangerous: Yes and No

It’s common for insulation to be installed in batts, or pre-cut sections of material. The type of batt-style insulation often used today is fiberglass. You are probably familiar with the classic pink batts of fiberglass insulation frequently installed and used in homes and businesses. In fact, it’s estimated that about 90 percent of buildings in the United States contain fiberglass insulation.

While insulation batts are common and certainly not as dangerous as asbestos, you may have concerns about the safety of fiberglass insulation products. It should be noted that fiberglass insulation batts are considered perfectly safe once in place. Even so, it’s still a type of insulation that can irritate your skin, and it may even do harm to your respiratory system under certain circumstances.

Let’s take a moment to learn more about insulation batts and the potential dangers associated with fiberglass insulation products of this nature. We’ll also discuss some steps you can take to reduce your risk of experiencing issues related to insulation batts if you’ll need to work with or be around this type of insulation.

What Are Fiberglass Insulation Batts

Created as an insulation material by Russell Games Slayter for Owens-Corning and first commercially produced in 1936, fiberglass consists primarily of small glass particles. Fiberglass is produced from thin strands of material. The batts are reinforced with polymer products to boost insulating capabilities. Specifically, fiberglass insulation is typically made of raw materials that include:

  • Silica sand
  • Limestone
  • Soda ash

Borax, calcinated alumina, and magnesite are some of the other materials that may be included in fiberglass insulation as it’s manufactured. Batts are made with discontinuous glass fibers in a way that allows for resistance to heat flow and better absorption of sound. The fiberglass materials used for the batts are heated to very high temperatures so they can melt and combine. The resulting material is then separated into short strands and put together as batts during the final stages of the manufacturing process.

Why Fiberglass Insulation Batts Dangerous:

Again, when properly installed, fiberglass insulation isn’t generally considered dangerous, especially if it’s left where it was placed or handled properly. However, fiberglass batts can be dangerous if they are handled incorrectly or if you are directly exposed to the materials that make up fiberglass insulation.

Skin Irritation

For example, the various raw materials that make up fiberglass batts can irritate the skin. The tiny glass particles in fiberglass could also cause a rash if the batts are handled bare-handed, especially if you have existing skin issues or a sensitivity to the materials normally used to create fiberglass insulation batts.

Respiratory Irritation

If materials from fiberglass batts are inhaled, you may find yourself coughing or experiencing similar discomfort. Fiberglass can also aggravate existing respiratory conditions or ailments if it’s breathed in.

Avoiding Fiberglass Exposure

The most effective way to avoid getting the tiny particles in fiberglass insulation in the air so you don’t breathe it in is to have it professionally installed. It can also be helpful to:

  • Have it professionally removed if it needs to be replaced
  • Avoid directly touching it with bare hands
  • Make sure the batts aren’t placed in a location where fiberglass can get directly get into ductwork, especially if it’s used in an attic
  • Conceal the batts behind walls, flooring materials, or ceiling materials whenever possible so the fiberglass material isn’t directly exposed

Proper Insulation Installation Techniques

The key to successfully handling fiberglass insulation while minimizing health risks is to take the necessary precautions when it’s being installed. First of all, pay attention to ventilation when installing this type of insulation. A simple way to do this is to open windows in the area where fiberglass batts are being installed. If insulation is being installed in an attic, it can be helpful to block air ducts so fiberglass materials don’t get into the rest of the living or working spaces.

It’s also important to use proper safety gear. The recommended safety gear for fiberglass insulation installation includes:

  • Safety goggles to avoid eye irritation
  • Gloves to minimize or avoid direct skin contact
  • A dust mask to protect your respiratory tract

Also, it’s a good idea to wear sturdy shoes, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants to further minimize the possibility of direct skin contact. If fiberglass fibers do get on your skin, use adhesive tape to remove them to avoid spreading them around. If you accidentally get glass fibers in your eye, flush the affected eye out with water or an eye-wash solution, but don’t rub your eye. Once you are done handling fiberglass insulation, wash the clothes you wore separately as well.

Another precautionary step to take is to leave fiberglass batt insulation in its original packaging until it’s ready to be used. Additionally, it’s advised to use hand tools if there is a need to cut batts during placement. If powered tools need to be used, use ones with specially attached dust collection devices. Lastly, put any scrap insulation in a covered container until it can be properly disposed of to further reduce the risk of direct exposure to fibers.