Homegrown Trailers, a Washington-based manufacturer of eco-friendly campers, has partnered with Andrew Legge, owner of natural insulation company Havelock Wool.
Both Havelock and Homegrown are rather new to the RV industry. Homegrown Trailers custom builds three to six teardrop campers a month, consisting of all-natural building materials from the wood paneling to the energy-efficient lights.
To see a Homegrown Trailer, check out the photo at the bottom of the story.
In fact, about 85 percent of the entire trailer is recyclable. But there remained an issue, literally within the construction material that the Homegrown team wanted to address: insulation.
It was important that the insulation meet the company’s needs as a technology while sharing its eco-friendly philosophy. After an initial meeting with Havelock’s Legge two years ago in Portland, Ore., it turned out that sheep were something worth counting.
“What we’re really about is this move toward healthier material,” said Legge. “It’s not dissimilar from people spending more money on healthy foods. We’ve really raced to the bottom in a lot of ways that we do things. Design obsolescence is part of that.”
Legge cited the health risks involving the assigned FEMA trailer housing after Hurricane Katrina in 2008. The building materials were unsafe. About 42 percent of them, according to a federal report, contained toxic levels of formaldehyde. After being a leader in the finance industry, Legge saw an opportunity in New Zealand to make a switch to tangible goods that might have prevented some of the issues experienced with the FEMA trailers.
New Zealand accounts for about 11 percent of the world’s global annual yield of wool. (The U.S., once a leader in the wool industry, falls under less than 1 percent.) “I met some guys who wanted to do something with wool in the U.S.,” said Legge about his trips to that part of the southern hemisphere. “I just so happened to have the right accent.”
He launched Havelock Wool in October 2013, offering both batt form and loose-fill insulation.
Things were slow-moving at first. But wool, a product used by humans for millennia, held an unorthodox promise that Legge and a couple other businesses could see. In fact, a University of Texas at Austin student showed how effective wool was as a medium. The study published in 2014 involved a forced-air system in which formaldehyde was fed through. Compared to other materials, she found that the most effective medium to “scrub” the air was wool. The folks at Havelock already new that. “But it’s really nice to have some updated views on the power of wool given its high integrity.”
Air tightness is a huge thing in the RV industry primarily due to vapor drive.
Condensation, amassed both internally and externally, can be tricky given how RVs are constructed. Wool, Legge learned, can manage moisture against 65 percent relative humidity. It desorbs and reabsorbs against the ambient air. It’s important. Dry rot is a looming concern when it comes to quality insulation. However, while there is moisture, wool is a keratin and will therefore not support mold growth, Legge said.
Amino acids in wool create a polar bond, chemical bonds that are only reversible at extreme temperatures, said Legge.
“Wool made sense for everything,” said Corey Weathers, co-founder and CEO of Homegrown Trailers. “It’s lightweight, it’s easy to work with, it’s nontoxic — you don’t have to worry about your employees having reactions to the materials.”
Legge and Weathers collaborated, talking with other people using wool in home applications, and that’s how they came up with the idea for a structural insulated panel like they use for office buildings and prefabricated homes.
“The interesting thing about the Havelock — and I don’t think this is a placebo effect at all— is that it makes it feel cozier and comfortable,” he added, admittedly. “I don’t know if there’s something about the wool. You could go in a trailer in our shop while we’re working, and it is remarkably quieter inside.”
“We’re not trying to unseat anyone,” said Andrew Legge. Even attempting to reach 5 percent of the insulation market would most likely mean having to add a synthetic, which is not something he is prepared to do.
He, along with new partner Homegrown Trailers, want to help change the consumer dynamic. Legge’s goal is longevity. “I own clothes from my father and grandfather,” he concluded, attesting to the vigor of wool. “They look like they came off the rack yesterday.”