Home Improvement History Lessons: Insulation

Posted on November 10, 2017 in Insulation Installation

At our Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland insulation company, we realize that home insulation has come a long way. From mud to asbestos to spray foams, we’ve been able to revolutionize the way we protect our homes and families. Here’s how it all began:

The BC Years

Thousands of years ago in the BC age,  ancient civilizations had their own unique ways of insulating their homes: both Ancient Egpytians and the Vikings took advantage of the cooling properties of mud. Egyptians built their homes out of mud bricks to keep them cool, while Vikings plastered mud and straw in between the logs that made up their homes.

Ancient Greeks were the first to use a type of insulation that’s still popular today – asbestos. This material was thought to have mystical qualities because it was resistant to flames, so the Greeks named it “asbestos,” which means “inextinguishable.”

The Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, homes were made from stone with thatched roofs, so they were cold, damp, and drafty. To absorb the dampness and block the drafts, people hung tapestries on the walls and between doorways.

The Industrial Revolution

Though you don’t really think of insulation when you think of the Industrial Revolution, this period of time made asbestos very popular. Manufacturers used steam to power their technology, and in order for it to travel around the building, the steam was transported through pipes. Because these pipes got very hot, manufacturers decided to use asbestos to wrap the pipes and make them safer for workers to be around.

Asbestos was also used in the automobile industry in the early 1900s.

The 1930s – 1940s

Fiberglass insulation was the next big breakthrough in home insulation. When researcher Dale Kleist attempted to create a vacuum seal between two glass blocks, an accidental stream of high-pressured air turned some of the glass into thin fibers. These fibers became the base of fiberglass insulation, which became popular in the 1940s.

The 1950s – 1970s

Another form of insulation that became popular is cellulose. Made of newspaper, cardboard, straw, sawdust, or cotton, cellulose was actually one of the earliest types of insulation. It didn’t become popular until later, however, because it was considered very flammable. In the 1950s, insulation manufacturers were able to add a fire retardant to cellulose material, and the insulation was used by many in the 1970s.

The 1980s

Polyurethane spray foam insulation was considered one of the greatest advancements in home insulation. Though it was developed by the military in the 1940s, it didn’t become popular in homes until the late 1970s and early 1980s. Spray foam insulation was much easier to incorporate in home construction because it expanded and could fill in divots and corners (as opposed to blankets of fiberglass or asbestos that only covered level areas).


Today, many forms of insulation are used to protect a home. At P.J. Fitzpatrick, we highly recommend our Radiant Barrier reflective insulation for homes in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. Insulation that’s protective and cost-efficient is the best way to lower your heating and cooling bills and help you reduce your carbon emissions.

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