So you’re renovating, or maybe even building something new, and you’ve finally finished framing out your new walls. Now you’re ready to put up your drywall and maybe some tile, or maybe even wallpaper—but what about the ceiling? Sure, you can just drywall it too (and hopefully you’ve been using recycled-content drywall), but there are several other options to consider as well.

The decision of how to make your ceiling can be influenced by a number of factors beyond your decorative choices. A few things to keep in mind are how much sound transmission in and out of the room you want to allow, whether water and/or humidity will be present, whether the room’s activities require any particular kind of acoustics, and whether you’ll be applying tiles.

Here are a number of green products designed for ceiling use that you may want to consider, and some ideas on how they might best be used in your building project.

1) Recycled Content Drywall
If you’re not already using drywall with recycled content for your walls, your ceiling may offer another opportunity to include it. Typical drywall is made of a core of mined gypsum and two outer layers of non-recycled paper. The mining of gypsum typically launches large amounts of particulate matter into the air, threatening both the respiratory health of the miners and the air quality of the surrounding areas. And like most mining, the extraction process leaves large scars on the landscape at the mining site, and often contributes to soil erosion on the slopes where it is mined.

Instead of mined gypsum, recycled-content drywall is made of synthetic gypsum—a byproduct of the process coal-fired power plants use to limit the amount of acid-rain-causing emissions they release into the air. And not only does the use of synthetic gypsum reduce manufacturing waste, but it’s purer than mined gypsum, making for drywall that’s stronger and easier to work with. As an added benefit, the paper facing used on recycled content drywall is 100% recycled.

2) Tectum Interior Ceiling Panels
A dropped ceiling of rectangular panels, typically made of sound-absorbing (acoustical) materials, is another option. A dropped ceiling consists of a grid of lightweight metal strips that are hung from either exposed beams or a drywall ceiling, which hold the panels in place without screws or adhesive. This allows for easy access to any wiring or ductwork underneath, as well as easy replacement of any panel that needs it. Acoustical panels reduce the amount of noise bouncing around within the room, while also limiting the amount of sound traveling through the ceiling to rooms above.

For a green option, Tectum interior ceiling panels are made of wood fibers that are bound together without chemicals and come from Aspen trees grown in FSC-certified forests. The air-drying, low-energy binding process uses only sand, limestone, salt, magnesium oxide (from seawater), and water that gets recycled after use. The finished panels don’t off-gas at all, and are non-toxic enough to be added to compost piles for soil amendment. So not only do you get a quieter room, for a healthier indoor environment, but you get it without hurting the outdoor environment either! And for even further reduction in the noise coming out of the room , take a look at QuietRock Soundproofing Drywall.

3) Durock Cement Backerboard
If the room you’re building is a bathroom or kitchen, or any other room where high humidity and spilled water are common occurrences, you’ll need to use backerboard –commonly called “blue board,” because a common brand is (you guessed it) blue. Backerboard is typically used underneath tiles even in dry areas, where it acts as a surface stiff enough to keep the surface from flexing and pushing them off—and in wet areas, it provides a layer of water-blocking protection for the framing and surrounding rooms.

Durock cement backerboard is not only resistant to moisture, but mold as well, protecting the room’s air quality. And concrete is so durable that it’ll be a long time before you have to replace it, which saves the waste of valuable resources. And it’s even made of recycled materials—it’s 10-20% recycled fly ash.

Here in the Northeast, the first signs of autumn have arrived: brisk evenings, golden leaves on the trees, the smell of wood smoke.  As days grow shorter and the weather colder, we’ll be turning to our furnaces and stoves to keep us warm.  Of course, we should keep in mind that however we choose to heat our homes – with wood, oil, or gas – there will be an environmental impact.

The more we heat our homes, the more money we spend, the more resources we consume and the more greenhouse gases we emit into the atmosphere.  The EPA estimates that in the United States, approximately 4 metric tons of CO2 equivalent are emitted each year from residences – a major percentage of which is related to home heating.  Since most homes rely on furnaces and boilers that burn fossil fuels, it is essential to ensure that our homes are heated as efficiently as possible, saving the individual both energy and money.  Hence, the importance of insulation!

Using conventional insulation can only go so far in achieving environmental sustainability.  Conventional fiberglass insulation is a suspected carcinogen, and is typically produced using new materials, by melting down glass and spinning it into tiny fibers.  Those fibers are painful – touching fiberglass insulation leaves an itching, burning sensation as those fibers lodge themselves below the skin.  Fiberglass insulation dust becomes airborne during installation and can become embedded in the lungs.  Finally, the chemicals used to bind fiberglass batting together are often petroleum-based and are suspected to “off-gass” toxic phenol, formaldehyde, and VOCs (volatile organic compounds).

It’s fortunate that there are several green products available that can help keep homes well-insulated (indeed, better than conventional insulation), their inhabitants safe, and are more environmentally-sustainable in their use of recycled materials.  They are exceptional products – composed of recycled paper, cellulose fibers, and blue jeans.

Three of these green products are featured below:

1. Bonded Logic Ultratouch Recycled Cotton Insulation is constructed from recycled blue jean material – and is remarkably soft.  While touching fiberglass insulation can result in pain, cotton fiber insulation is soft enough to use as a pillow.  Bonded Logic insulation in particular is chemically-treated by anti-fungals and fire retardants that are EPA-registered and environmentally sound.  The R-Value (that is, a measurement of insulation efficiency.  The higher the R-value, the better the material retains heat) is notably higher than that of fiberglass insulation – 3.5”-thick fiberglass insulation has an R-Value of 10.9, while Ultratouch is rated at 13.

The product is also LEED-certified and can installed easily at home.  Green Depot is also able to quick ship Ultratouch Recycled Cotton Insulation in pallets to specific states.  For more information on where this product can be shipped as well as all technical specifications, please click here.

2. Knauff’s EcoBatt Glasswool is an comfortable option for homeowners wanting to insulate their homes with a more familiar – and significantly safer – fiberglass option.  While conventional fiberglass insulation has any number of problems – it is energy- and material-intensive in its production, it puts out significant amounts of dust during installation, and outgases formaldehyde – EcoBatt is far more kind of people and the environment.  Constructed out of a minimum 30% post-consumer recycled glass bottle content, EcoBatt as contains no formaldehyde and is low-dust.  Conventional fiberglass uses binding materials that are petroleum-based; EcoBatt, on the other hand, uses a binder that is made from renewable organic materials.  All told, EcoBatt’s production practices and materials are more mindful of the environment and the individual – up to 70% less energy-intensive than traditional binders.

EcoBatt is also a bit more versatile than Ultratouch – it comes in a number of widths, R-values, densities, and facings.  For technical specifications, you can either visit Green Depot here, or view the product brochure here.

3. National Fiber Cel-Pak Cellulose Insulation is a third option.  Cellulose insulation is notably different from familiar batten insulation — it is fill insulation, meaning that it is pumped in with vacuums into walls, attics, and ceilings.   Cellulose insulation is made from 100% recycled newspapers and treated with non-toxic borate fire retardant.  A substantial benefit of cellulose insulation is that it fills every nook and cranny.  Batten insulation, and especially fiberglass insulation, leaves large gaps between pipes and beams that can reduce insulating efficiency for the home, costing energy and money.

For installation, material, and safety specifications, you can click here.

(Autumn house photo credit to  ktylerconk)