Growing Your Own Insulation

The latest craze in revolutionary materials science is no longer some carbon nanotube, a new mysterious alloy, or biodegradeable plastic. It seems as though a lot of new developments are coming out of the biology world, specifically from mycologists who study fungi. While the jury’s still out on whether or not it’s possible to use fungi to build a decent Star Trek series, researchers have in fact been able to use certain kinds of it to build high-performing insulation.

The insulation is made of the part of the fungus called the mycelium, rather than its more familiar-looking fruiting body. The mycelium is a strand-like structure of fungus which grows through materials in order to digest them. This could be mulch, fruit, logs, straw, crude oil, or even live insects, and you might have noticed it because it’s often white and fuzzy-looking. The particular type of mycelium used here is extremely resistant to changes in temperature so is ideal for making insulation. As a bonus, it can be grown, not manufactured, and can use biological waste products as a growing medium. Further, it can grow to fit the space it’s given, and it is much less environmentally harmful than existing forms of insulation.

As far as performance is concerned, a reporter from the BBC tested it in an interesting video involving a frozen chocolate bar and a blowtorch, discovering also that the insulation is relatively flame-retardant. Besides insulation, though, there are many more atypical uses of fungi that have been discovered recently including pest control and ethanol creation. They can also be used to create self-healing concrete.

Thanks to [Michael] for the tip!

Photo of fungal mycelium: Tobi Kellner [CC BY-SA 3.0]

44 thoughts on “Growing Your Own Insulation

    1. 1980’s Volvo’s had air soluble insulation on their wiring. A friend had an 80’s 740 sedan and was constantly fixing the wiring where insulation crumbled off. He carried several spools of different colored wire and a cordless soldering iron along with lots of other tools in a toolbox in the trunk.

      1. 90’s British Fords also used the same wiring in their control stalks.

        At the point of intermittent function, most owners would empty a can or two of WD40 into it to dislodge the remaining chunks to intensify the effects.

    2. Stuff that looks just like that picture is busy eating my home from the crawlspace up, after a damp summer – even the treated wood. No way I bring any of that in on purpose. It’s very hard to kill once inside beams…probably another star trek plot, but not one you want to be in.

        1. Borax is awesome, Once you treat timber with it the timber becomes somewhat fire retardant. it also resists most molds and fungi as well as destroys nasty smells. You can create an over saturated solution of Borax and Rubbing Alcohol and spray it on most surfaces.

  1. Mushrooms are actually far more interesting than just concrete or insulation… you can literally hack your body with them, not speaking of magical funghi of course

    Birch polypore, Turkey Tail polypore, Tinder Fungus, Oyster Fungus, Cordyceps and other underlooked species are in combination and circumstances able to stop bleeding, reinforce health, enhance immunity, and even trigger cancerous cell eviction

    I’ve come to stock them and use them as tinctures and teas for fighting fatigue and cold and it works marvels… Still have to test other properties like antibacterial and antiviral effects by making alcoholic extracts or even distillation

      1. An excellent place to start is the reference, “The Fungal Pharmacy, The Complete Guide to Medicinal Mushrooms & Lichens of North America,” by Robert Rogers (ISBN 978-1-55643-953-7).

      1. What happens if you find out that it is a common and safe traditional food in some cultures? Would you say you were sorry and admit you were ignorant?

        Or are you secretly a caterpillar who doesn’t know it is communicating with humans?

        It is like saying that people who eats eggs have a “problem.” I’m sure they do, but I doubt that is it.

  2. The BBC programme referred to covered quite a few other new technologies and is well worth watching.

    The BBC can still produce fantastic programmes occasionally despite their uneducated political views and their atrocious use of the English language. :)

  3. Our scout hut has fungus growing in the crawl space beneath the floor, the insurance company and some builder types say it’s a bad thing, should I show them this and tell them we’re growing our own insulation?

      1. The ones that eat wood are bad for wood…real bad. Especially wood that is now hard to get to in order to treat because there’s a building on top of it now. Foggers are expensive….and you have to keep at it else the stuff inside the wood recovers and keeps eating as soon as any surface treatment weakens or humidity returns.
        The only reason I care that there might be more than one kind that’s eating my home, so as to know how to kill it better. It seems though that as far as that goes – there’s no type-specific fungicide anyway.

        1. try using a very diluted form of HCl(aq) or Na(ClO) (bleach), but DO NOT MIX! you could also dry the fungus out by sticking a ton of de-humidifiers down there. or maybe even putting fungal eating organisms down there. if all else fails, then just replace the wood.

    1. Some fungi emit mycotoxins (a neurotoxin) that is known to cause intellectual development problems in children.

      They can also cause an incurable and debilitating condition in people of any age called CIRS.

      Then there’s other respiratory problems that they can cause like Aspergillosis, ABPA, Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

      It’s not a bad thing, it’s a total catastrophe waiting to happen.

        1. Well that’s the exact problem. Fungi exist everywhere all the time. They all need the same environment to colonize and proliferate. So unless you make this insulation in a controlled sterile environment you will also be colonizing and proliferating toxin producing molds.

          All you need then is a water leak or high humidity and the house they’re installed in becomes dangerously toxic.

          This is already a big problem in the US because of your use of “dry wall”.

          Ther’s a documentary on youtube called “moldy documentary” if you are interested. I wont link it here as it’s too off-topic.

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