On the face of it, the current surplus of wool should provide a greater opportunity to make insulation from British sheep’s wool. However, putting this into practice is more complicated than it first looks. We look at the issue and tackle some of the challenges we face.
Global demand for British wool has fallen sharply this year but supply of British wool has remained constant. The price of most wools has plummeted, and the market has ground to a near halt. Naturally, farmers are looking at new end-uses for their wool. As well as seeking to stimulate traditional end-uses such as carpets, fabrics, and knitwear.
All wool isn’t the same
Natural crops vary widely in their type, form, and application. Wool is no exception. Wool types range from very fine to very coarse, short to long and light to dark. These properties affect the grade, price of the wool and end-use. It’s the same as timber varying from softwoods such as pine to fine hardwoods such as walnut. Each has their own properties and uses, some functional and some aesthetic.
Established more than 20 years ago, Thermafleece is a very effective use for coarse dark wool that is unsuitable for familiar applications. Coarse dark wool is suited for wool insulation because it doesn’t need to feel very soft against the skin and it doesn’t need to be dyed. For wool insulation, the dark colour and coarseness aren’t a problem. It’s also the lowest cost of all wools making the final insulation competitive.
Will wool insulation save the day?
Farmers are now considering insulation as an alternative way to get a higher price for their surplus wool. Thanks to the success of Thermafleece and the government’s recent focus on energy efficiency. But is this viable?
A lot of the surplus of wool is higher grade than typical coarse dark insulation wool. The higher grade wool is usually destined for higher value items such as carpets, fabrics, and knitwear. Using higher-grade wool in insulation is like using walnut or rosewood to build your garden fence according to many. Others believe the wool is sitting doing nothing so what better use than insulation.
The higher grade wools can be used in wool insulation but because they cost more, the insulation will be significantly more expensive compared to coarse dark wool insulation. What’s more, there are no added benefits using higher grade wool when it comes to insulation. There’s a conundrum. How can you make competitive insulation from higher grade wools and give the farmer a fair price for the wool? In short, you can’t without subsidising the cost of the insulation or the cost of the wool.
Luckily, the Green Homes Grant Scheme will substantially subsidise the cost of having sheep’s wool insulation installed in your home. But why would you use wool insulation made from higher grade wool when coarse dark wool insulation does the same job at a lower cost? Our conundrum resurfaces. How do we make competitive insulation from higher grade wool and give the farmer a fair price for the wool?
We should promote the benefits of British wool as a fantastic high-quality raw material worthy of many high value end-uses. Insulation is a great end-use for coarse dark wool and other low grades of which there is plenty. But we should focus on higher value end-uses for higher quality wool rather than insulation. British wool is one of the best materials in the world. It produces high quality durable, functional and beautiful products compared to man-made fibres or wools of other origins. And that’s where the wool industry’s efforts need to be.
~ Mark Lynn , MD of Thermafleece and Vice Chair of the ASBP
Blog originally published 04/09/2020 on www.naturalinsulations.co.uk