welcome to emmas housethought

death by rockwool

Houses built: 0.20

Injuries: Alteration to my DNA. Any child of mine would come out looking all prickly now. Some profound emotional scarring. Possible PTSD.

Alcohol consumed: Now let me see. Already a couple of bags of bottles have gone to the recyclers, but I can still see two bottles of Blackhead, one vinho verde and one big superbock. Nothing really, considering. No accounting for the diazepam though. :/


The CIA should give up on waterboarding and sleep deprivation and just submit the bad guys/mistaken-identity-innocent-citizen to a day of installing rockwool.

Pardon me while my pure idealistic environmental consciousness passes in the wind. (Mmm smells like a good compost).


OK the story starts like this. I have been researching TO DEATH the best, kindest and cheapest insulating solution since the dawn of this terrible House In Portugal idea. ROCK WOOL was the answer, and lots of it too. It insulates, it’s cheap, it’s made from recycled stuff. That’s all still true. What they don’t tell you is that rock wool and humans should not mix. Oh yeah apparently there’s no harm in breathing this stuff in… oh so how come when it gets in your eyes you feel like giving up all your friends and family to the Gestapo?

Not just the eyes – it gets in everywhere. And no we weren’t installing the stuff in the nude – we were wearing, like, deep sea diving suits circa 1910. Nonetheless, rock wool will infiltrate your shirt, goggles, mask, trousers and underpants, and it’s excruciatingly uncomfortable. Try washing your face. I voluntarily succumb to a rather harsh facial exfoliant BUT GETTING ROCK WOOL OFF YOUR FACE MAKES MICRODERMABRASION FEEL LIKE A SMOOCHING A CASHMERE BUNNY.


If you still can’t imagine it then go smash a wine glass on the kitchen floor and then get the rolling pin and ground it up some some and then get a big handful and rub it all over – in your eyes, ears, forearms especially, and then swallow some. That’s approximately what it feels like.

Furthermore the product itself was rubbish. Thermo-something was the brand and as we tried to handle it delicately it simply fell to pieces in our hands. It actually fell off the ceiling even after being tied in – oh and this was the paper backed “quality”. Are you getting the impression I bought the wrong stuff? Yeah me too. These rolls of thermoblahblah might, at a scratch, be suitable for laying on a flat ceiling or loft floor or for advanced torture techniques but it is obviously not appropriate for erecting under a cathedral ceiling. We got there in the end, with 2 fat layers of 6cm gumf (and 3 in some places) but I implore you not to try to do the same. If you really want rockwool pay the extra and buy the batts. Going by their solid appearance they are probably a better insulator too.


Nor do I suggest to do what I did next. I sold my soul to the devil and bought Dow wallmate. YES, I AM A HYPOCRITE. I have been harping on about this, in my opinion, EVIL company and its products to anyone who will listen (and others who will not) for the last 4 years. I dunno about Dow’s presence elsewhere in the construction world but they seem to be the first stop for every builder in Portugal. I was horrified when I first saw their branding everywhere and I am still sickened by it.

My Reasons Not To Use Dow.

1. In 2001 Dow purchased the Union Carbide Company who were responsible for the 1984 Bhopal Disaster, at the time the world’s worst industrial accident ever. You can read all the horrific details here on wikipedia. Dow’s denial of responsibility, delay in settlement and inadequacy of compensation leads to my conclusion that this is a corporation that does not care about human lives.

The only light moment in this very disturbing story was when The Yes Men got on the BBC and demonstrated to Dow what ethics are.

2. In 1989 all European countries signed the Montreal Protocol which banned the use of CFCs which, since the 1970’s, were known to be causing the depletion of the ozone layer and exposing certain countries, like Australia, to extremely harmful levels of UV radiation. So we all got cancer, and I am the only member of my family not to have had large chunks of my skin cut out or burnt off. Inevitably I will. Dow contined to use CFCs in their Portuguese market products until 2010, using a loophole that permitted DEVELOPING NATIONS a delay in the implementation of the ban. Dow considers Portugal to be a developing nation. Feeling insulted? And what has Dow substituted as a blowing agent in their blue boards? CO2. Yes, that’s the carbon dioxide that makes the news every day because it is responsible for climate change. Dow is a company that does not care about the planet, about Portugal or about you.


So, back to me being a hypocrite. There is an alternative product, does the same thing as the blue boards and is called Iberfibran. It is more expensive and less easily available in remote areas. Please use it if you can. If you can’t, then at least be comforted that any insulation will reduce your heating requirements, thus less electricity used, less transport to bring your gas, pellets or wood, and less trees to be cut down.

Thank you to Simon Sharp for saying the above to me.

Thank you to The One for doing the work and putting up with me on one of the Top 10 Worst Days Ever. And then laughing afterwards. You are tough.



  1. Lauren July 19, 2011 4:00 am Reply

    This is without a doubt, the scariest blog post to date. It made me think back to my days working with powdered silica and how despite wearing a respirator, there were times when I left the studio with a sore throat. I can only guess at the damage I’ve done, but it’s not something I want to dwell on.

    I noticed in the photo you were working with dust masks – if you’re still installing the rockwool, would you like a respirator? I have an old one lying around I could ship out to you – it might help with the vicious rockwool infiltration.

    Best of luck with your awesome home and thanks for the info about Dow (I can now add them to my growing list of evil corporations to boycott).

    [Reply to comment]


  2. António July 19, 2011 5:18 am Reply

    Emma, I didn’t read all the article but tdid you think about cork?
    There are several and cheap ways to insulate a house; steep rooftops like the one you have, walls, you name it.
    It’s a good alternative to rockwooll, Wallmate and Roofmate.
    I’ve been to The United States and Canada two years ago and they still use rockwool in their Houses…well I found it odd cuz there are a wide variety of materials nowadays for insulation purposes…problem is that you are in the middle of our country and the retail options are very little.
    Try the website of the Portuguese firm Jerónimo Martins for the cork…

    [Reply to comment]

    Francisco   Reply: May 10th, 2012 at 1:23 am

    I just found this blog today, and I laughed like crazy !!

    Regarding insulation it is a pity cork was not used… For some future cork ideas: http://www.bcork.amorim.com/en

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: May 11th, 2012 at 1:00 am

    quite right and cork looks so good you dont need a ceiling.

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  3. Helder July 19, 2011 5:37 am Reply

    Oh dear, I have been there too. Once burned by Rockwoll/glaswoll scratch, You plan and choose very carefully before working with that venom again!
    It is very scaring seeing the photo of our face full off this stuff for us who have endured the same.
    I use a heavy-duty gas mask with particle filter and full biodefensive clothing before going into such an environment again.
    I am able to laugh at it now but remeber well the disconfort!
    In Sweden they say the best way to get rid of this from your skin is to rinse well under an icecold shower.
    Theory is that the contraction of your skin in the cold water presses the fibrous nails out of your pores and away with the water.
    I myself prefer an abundant & temperate shower with lots of lubricant soap to smother Your skin and a careful change of all clothes + stringent evironment control (same as for asbestos) for the next occasion- LOL.

    [Reply to comment]

  4. l July 19, 2011 7:09 am Reply

    Dear Emma
    I can imagine how bad it was. When I go in my attic I always careful not to touch the stuff…

    I saw a sheep in one of your house pictures. Did you think of using woool for insulation? If treated wool for insulation doesnt existe in Portugal maybe is a good idea for a business….

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: July 29th, 2011 at 8:03 am

    I did indeed consider wool, very common in australia, hard to find here although I think Raiz Verde stocks it.

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  5. rick July 19, 2011 7:22 am Reply

    welcome to my world. why was it that the loft conversion jobs and the firewall installation jobs only ever came up in the middle of summer? imagine if you will crawling thru decomposing fibreglass (pre rockwall) to build a firewall all the way into the eves of the roof, stud work, insulation, and double layers of plaster board. no better if you used block work. i’ve crawled thru it in only a pair of shorts in unbareable heat. two showers later and you’re still wearing it. a sort of hell. anyway, the product you didn’t find, but the one you wanted is called Actis triso super 10. http://www.insulation-online.co.uk/foil-insulation-multi-bubble-breather.html everything else is crap by comparison, to put not too fine a point on it. just try getting it in portugal thou.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: July 29th, 2011 at 8:02 am

    hey hi… do you mean that Boltherm stuff? I’ve got some foil bubble wrap for the annexe bathroom – will be interesting to see how well it works compared with…. will certainly be lower on the pain factor I imagine :/

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  6. Vern July 19, 2011 12:22 pm Reply

    Emma you should have watched Grand Designs this week, all about a brilliant couple building a house in the UK.
    The couple created and designed all the inventions. They purchased an old barn which was a heritage building and could not be demolished, this was out in the countryside of Evesham.
    They used steel girders to lift the barn up in the air so that the walls would not crumble, then they built their house of special light weight material I had never heard of and mixed with cement.
    In order to do this they excavated the whole site and built their house underground, on one side of the house they used triple glazing with special pipes laid underneath, this was to provide free heating and hot water. On top of the new house, the roof, all the rubble removed was replaced and turned into a garden, then they replaced the barn in its same position as before so that the view was not disturbed.
    However, they had magnificent views of the original countryside and saved all the trees so as to not disturb the surroundings.
    From a distance you could not see the house protruding.
    This was the first house built in Great Britain without heating and they will build other houses like this for interested parties.
    These pioneers are wonderful and we need more of them.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: July 29th, 2011 at 7:59 am

    unreal. I love it too.

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  7. IsabelPS July 20, 2011 8:26 pm Reply

    Yep, I was going to tell you that there is a Portuguese (or is it Iberian?) alternative to Dow. Bill also looked horrifiedly at those blue boards that someone was showing us when we were discussing how to insulate our house, and then spelt to me all the evilness of the company, with even more details than the ones you mention.

    My Portuguese genes (and my wallet) chose cork. It’s great. But cheap it ain’t.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: July 29th, 2011 at 7:58 am

    I love your cork… and since you mentioned it I have now been seeing other blue boards everywhere 🙁 why do you not see these things when you need them???

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    IsabelPS   Reply: July 30th, 2011 at 2:15 am

    @Emma, You should read Forum da Casa every morning before starting your building work, of course. But then again, it would soon end up being “instead”, not “before”.

    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: July 30th, 2011 at 7:22 pm

    I should, and yes… I’d have to get up at 4am…

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  8. Dee Hawa July 23, 2011 10:56 pm Reply

    Hi Emma,
    On a lighter note it is said that every picture tells a story!
    The face at the end spoke volumes….!
    Don’t ya just love him!


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  9. Pedro Bingre July 28, 2011 5:56 am Reply

    Hey, Emma! You’ve been mentioned in this week’s edition of the german magazine “Der Spiegel”:

    “At the End of Europe
    Seeking a Path out of the Crisis in Portugal
    By Alexander Jung
    The economists have also identified additional potential in tourism. In Portugal, the tourism sector is only half as productive as it is in France, for example, with too many budget options and weak capacity utilization. A few years ago the chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, Olivier Blanchard, came up with the idea of establishing Portugal as a retirement destination — the so-called Florida model.

    Jorge Domingues, a city council member in the former textile manufacturing center of Figueiró, envisions a similar strategy. He hopes to attract tourists to the region, which is blessed with pine forests and waterfalls, preferably for the long term. Domingues, who estimates that about 100 foreigners already have vacation homes nearby, says: “Even an Australian has settled here.””

    Have a look, here: http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,776710,00.html



    [Reply to comment]

    Emma   Reply: July 29th, 2011 at 7:55 am

    That just made my day! And it’s a great article. The One doesn’t recognise it as and offical claim to fame however… but I know it’s me! There are no other Australians in Figueiró!
    Thanks Pedro xx

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  10. catherine August 6, 2011 7:58 am Reply

    Hi Emma,

    re; fleeces….just returned from our house in Alvaiazere….our neighbour deals in fleeces and stores them in a shed opposite our house…apparently he buys them very cheap and sells them on cheap too…only downside is they are riddled with ticks and fleas:( another neighbour of ours helps him with the transportation and has to go home pretty sharpish after the doins to shower all the beasties off…..suddenly your rockwool looks appealing! Catherine x

    [Reply to comment]

  11. Laura August 7, 2011 11:39 am Reply

    That horrible ground glass got on my dad and other family members a work. It’s so bad!

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  12. Barbara October 26, 2011 5:39 am Reply

    I have just read the ICCR report on rockwool. It is very short and, contrary to claims by the industry, it does not find that rockwool is not carcinogenic. It fails to find any evidence that it is carcinogenic, but notes that the studies that it bases its findings upon may have been inadequate.

    Here in France, the eco-brigade seem to be promoting hemp (no, not the smokable sort), and that would be my insulation material of choice. In England, I had heard of insulation made with recycled newspaper, which might be worth investigating.

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  13. Helen February 3, 2013 9:55 pm Reply

    Dear Emma,
    I’ve been reading your blog ever since you were profiled in a Sydney Sunday magazine back in 2009. I love your style and bravado. I must also say yours is the only blog I ever read. Never too long, never boring and never silly or arrogant. Just perfect! Keep up the great work and best of luck with your health, wealth & happiness.

    [Reply to comment]

  14. rockwool May 1, 2018 5:08 pm Reply

    Well well. thanks for creating this content.

    [Reply to comment]


  15. Faye May 17, 2020 11:40 am Reply

    I hope I can comment on this, my father worked with Rockwoll for 30+ years since the 70’s, he died of lung cancer. The union was supposed to help but after one year they denied all knowledge.

    [Reply to comment]

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