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April 25, 2014  |  Login
What's Hidden in Your Walls?
By Eric Corey Freed

Hidden within your home, behind the walls and under the floors, lay dozens of materials that you probably don’t even think about. But these materials can have a major impact on your health and the environment. Finding healthier and more sustainable substitutes for these unseen materials is important.


Inside the walls of your home is some sort of insulation. Insulation helps your home hold in temperature to lower your heating and cooling bills, and it’s the best thing you can do in your home to save energy.

For a new house, you should add as much insulation as will fit into the walls. For an existing home, adding insulation to finished walls is much more difficult. In either case, choose the insulation best for the health of you and your family.

Many different types of insulation are available. Generally, formaldehyde is used as a binding agent in most insulation products. Look for formaldehyde-free products instead:

  • Batt insulation: Choose formaldehyde-free and recycled cotton insulation. Bonded Logic ( offers recycled cotton insulation made from old blue jeans, making the insulation batts blue in color.
  • Loose-fill cellulose: Choose natural cellulose made from recycled newsprint. It’s treated with natural chemicals to make it fire resistant.Cellulose is naturally formaldehyde free.
  • Spray-in foams: Choose natural soy-based foams. They’re healthier and offer all the benefits of spray foam.


No matter what type of siding you have on your home, whether it’s stucco or vinyl, underneath it sits a hidden layer of plywood called sheathing. Sheathing adds strength to your walls and serves as a barrier to moisture.

The typical type of sheathing used is plywood, which comes from trees and is glued together with a toxic formaldehyde-based binder. As a green substitute, select plywood that’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and is formaldehyde free.

Oriented-strand board (OSB) is an efficient alternative to plywood. OSB is made of small scraps of low-grade wood. As with any wood product, choosing FSC-certified wood with formaldehyde-free glue is a good idea. Because plywood adds strength to your walls, you should check with your architect or structural engineer to see if OSB will provide enough strength for your project.

Caulks and Adhesives

In order to fill the thousands of cracks and leaks in a typical home, a sealant called caulk is typically used. Sealing these cracks is an important part of saving energy in a building, but these products are typically made from chemicals containing VOCs, and are blown in using ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

Adhesives are also used throughout a building in hundreds of hidden locations. more



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