A lot of people support the concept of sustainable and eco-friendly wool insulation but getting them to follow through and buy it is another matter.

Some sheep farmers start conversations about wool insulation but back out when they realise it will be more expensive, Brad Stuart, Terra Lana sales manager says. Missing out on business is frustrating, but equally so is the failure of potential clients to look at the bigger picture of a house building exercise.

“Yes, it could be that they’re spending an extra four or five thousand dollars (than using a fibreglass product) but that’s minimal over what is often a million dollar project.”

He argues the cost benefits over time will outweigh the initial cash outlay.

“I think that the big barrier is that people literally don’t see the value in the stuff that goes into creating a sound and sustainable building structure and that’s the challenge for us with wool insulation.”

Terra Lana will use 300 to 500 tonnes of 35 micron-plus wool in insulation and landscaping products over the next year but Stuart says there’s potential to increase that up to 1000 tonnes.

The Christchurch company produces wool insulation using recycled wool from carpet manufacturers blended with new scoured wool 35 microns and stronger, and polyester. The insulation rolls use the lower quality wool categories such as bellies and pieces

An average-sized house full of wool insulation could use from 250kg of wool insulation, with the largest homes using 1000kg.

“Without a doubt there’s been a growth in demand for sustainable wool solutions. The problem is lack of investment in R & D. We’re happy to invest in our own business but I think we need support from the wider industry and at a government level to grow.”

Terra Lana also produce non-woven wool landscaping mat, 150,000 sq m of which was used in plantings alongside the Christchurch northern motorway corridor.

Stuart says there’s a big opportunity for working with NZTA in landscaping developments and believes the government should be somehow driving and encouraging these collaborations. Local government could also get onboard and a good example was the Christchurch City Council’s endorsement of specifying the use of wool matting products in council-funded landscaping projects.

Green Sheep is another wool insulation manufacturer. It uses about 10 tonnes of wool annually in its floor, ceiling and wool insulation products manufactured and distributed throughout the central North Island.

Inquiry for product has grown since Covid-19 which Green Sheep owner Richard Bennett attributes to increased interest in home-grown and natural products. However, the inquiry hasn’t necessarily transpired into sales.

Green Sheep’s 70% wool 30% polyester insulation rolls are between $5 to $7 per sqm more expensive than fibreglass product, but it’s unashamedly a premium product, Bennett says.

He believes value-added marketing strategies for crossbred wool need to be specifically targeted.

“We know from research that females aged 25 to 50-years-old care a lot about sustainable and safe products whereas males generally aren’t as concerned.”

He’s unsure as to who should be coordinating and driving the marketing strategies but is clear on one thing: the word ‘wool’ should be trademarked so it can’t be ripped off and used by manufacturers of imitation wool products.

However, legally it’s a step too far according to an International Property Office NZ (IPONZ) spokeswoman who says that trademarking a generic or general word such as ‘wool’ is not possible.

“It generally has to be a unique or novel word to be eligible for trademarking.”

Walking the talk

Miles Anderson made it his mission to have wool insulation in the new family home at Southburn, southwest of Timaru.

The family’s Oamaru stone, four-bedroom 240sq m home is insulated with Terra Lana 100% wool ceiling and floor insulation.

It cost about 30 to 50% more but Anderson says the potential cost to his family’s health was a big influence in the decision to go with wool.

“I felt that any product that you have to wear PPE to install can’t be good for you.”

The immediate past chair of Federated Farmers Meat and Wool Industry Group was also wanted to support the sector.

“I was keen to use wool because I’m a wool grower.”

The ordering was straightforward although it took a number of weeks for delivery because the product is manufactured on demand.

The Andersons installed the insulation themselves. The walls took a weekend because the insulation had to be cut to fit, whereas the ceiling only took a day.

“I think we’ve ended up with a healthier home. The wool breathes, it doesn’t have microfibers and its biodegradable. We also think the wool insulation will hold its shape and insulation qualities better than the synthetic product.”

Terra Lana have trialed manufacturing insulation product from wool supplied direct by farmers.

“We like the idea of trying to accommodate farmers but it’s challenging logistically. We have to work to minimum sized orders, so we have to assess the viability of each on a case by case basis,” Brad Stuart says.

Farmers tend to assume that supplying their own wool will lead to significant cost savings. However, the major costs are in the actual manufacturing process, so it generally works out as a “cost neutral” exercise.