• Tue. Mar 28th, 2023

From wool to hemp, sustainable constructing supplies are a rising enterprise within the Mountain West


Mar 18, 2023

On a current Wednesday afternoon inside a 67,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Reno, Nevada, a big machine was shifting a fluffy, off-white materials by means of a collection of drum rollers. The substance was being layered into thick panels of insulation constructed from a cloth not usually discovered inside partitions in houses: wool.

“Scorching, chilly, heat, dry – wool does all of it,” mentioned Andrew Legge, founder and managing companion of Havelock Wool.

Havelock Wool insulation made of sheep wool lines the walls of a house located on Gray’s Crossing Golf Course in Truckee, Calif.

Ryan Salm


Ryan Salm Pictures

Havelock Wool insulation fabricated from sheep wool strains the partitions of a home situated on Grey’s Crossing Golf Course in Truckee, Calif.

The corporate makes insulation merchandise solely out of sheep wool. Legge began the corporate in response to the dearth of wholesome and sustainable selections within the insulation trade.

“As an insulator, we’d prefer to say that evolution has occurred in nature’s R&D division – not in some lab creating an artificial fiber that’s from the onset simply not going to carry out as nicely,” mentioned Legge.

Based on the Environmental Working Group, an environmental well being advocacy nonprofit, generally used supplies like fiberglass and spray foam might comprise poisonous chemical substances that may pose well being dangers to installers. Legge mentioned that’s pushing extra owners to say, “Wait, I don’t need that.”

“And if we’re doing our job,” he continued, “then once they go trying to find an alternate, they discover us.”

And lots of people did throughout the pandemic. Havelock Wool’s gross sales quadrupled throughout the first 12 months of COVID-19 and grew one other 25% in 2021. Legge mentioned gross sales had been flat final 12 months as a result of manufacturing couldn’t sustain with demand.

One other firm making an attempt to seize these customers is Hempitecture. Based mostly in Ketchum, Idaho, Hempitecture makes insulation out of hemp sourced from farmers in neighboring Montana. Mattie Mead, founder and CEO, mentioned gross sales have doubled year-over-year since he launched the enterprise in 2018.

“Shopper sentiment in direction of sustainability is a big issue,” mentioned Mead. “The pandemic heightened the attention of how a lot time we spend indoors.”

Mattie Mead, founder and CEO of Hempitecture, installs an insulation panel made out of hemp into the ceiling of a home being built.

Courtesy of Hempitecture


Mattie Mead, founder and CEO of Hempitecture, installs an insulation panel made out of hemp into the ceiling of a house being constructed.

Havelock Wool and Hempitecture are simply two of the businesses making an attempt to get a chunk of the sustainable constructing supplies market estimated to be price practically $81 billion. One other one catering to eco-conscious customers is Denver-based RavenWindow. It makes “good home windows” that mechanically tint when it’s sizzling to scale back warmth and glare and permit most gentle and heat when it’s chilly, serving to owners devour much less power.

Nonetheless, companies with eco-friendly options making an attempt to realize a foothold within the constructing sector face loads of challenges, mentioned John Freer, director of the Sustainable Development Expertise program on the College of Montana’s Missoula School.

One of many greatest hurdles? Many contractors are resistant to vary and could be scared off by a brand new materials or approach.

“They know the fabric they’re working with, they understand how a lot it prices, they understand how lengthy it takes them to put in it, they know the longevity of it, they usually know the guarantee of it,” mentioned Freer.

In the meantime, many shoppers are deterred by the costs of merchandise like sustainable insulation, which might value twice as a lot as different varieties. Fiberglass panels, for instance, vary between 30 cents and $1.50 per sq. foot, in accordance with HomeAdvisor. Havelock Wool’s web site lists its wool panels for between $1.50 and $2.25 per sq. foot.

Insulation is usually lower than 2% of a house’s complete building value, with the typical quantity for a typical single-family house is simply over $5,000, in accordance with a 2019 report by the Nationwide Affiliation of Residence Builders.

Nonetheless, that may add hundreds of {dollars} to a venture, mentioned Daniel Fraiman, who builds multimillion-dollar houses round Lake Tahoe and Truckee, Calif.

“The associated fee turns into an inhibitor for doing a few of these merchandise,” Fraiman mentioned. “They love the thought, they usually get hooked up to it early on, after which as soon as we get into what it prices, it doesn’t make the minimize.”

Fraiman mentioned shoppers that resolve to go along with sustainable insulation have researched the advantages and studied the well being dangers of different kinds, particularly for the installers.

Andrew Legge, founder and managing partner of Havelock Wool, stands beside boxes of insulation products inside the company's facility in Reno, Nev.

Kaleb Roedel


Mountain West Information Bureau

Andrew Legge, founder and managing companion of Havelock Wool, stands beside bins of insulation merchandise inside the corporate’s facility in Reno, Nev.

“Spray foam insulation is among the gnarliest merchandise there may be,” mentioned Fraiman. “These guys are sporting spacesuits. I imply, they’re in full hazmat fits as a result of that stuff is gnarly.”

Again at Havelock Wool, flurries of wool may very well be seen floating by means of the air as staff in typical face masks bagged and boxed merchandise. The corporate doesn’t add any artificial mixes or bonding brokers to the fabric however does add a small quantity of non-toxic boric acid to repel bugs.

Standing within the middle of the manufacturing facility flooring, Legge mentioned the corporate will improve output later this 12 months. He invested in new equipment to allow them to triple their processing capability to greater than 16,000 kilos of wool a day.

“We’re nicely aligned with what long-run demand appears like and this shift in client demand for higher, more healthy, extra sustainable merchandise,” mentioned Legge.

This story was produced by the Mountain West Information Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Middle for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with assist from affiliate stations throughout the area. Funding for the Mountain West Information Bureau is offered partly by the Company for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2023 KUNR Public Radio. To see extra, go to KUNR Public Radio.

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