Insulation
BUILDING SCIENCE – THE BUILDING ENVELOPE
 
A building envelope is the physical separator between the conditioned and unconditioned environment of a building including the resistance to air, water, heat, light, and noise transfer.
 
The building envelope is all of the elements of the outer shell that maintain a dry, heated, or cooled indoor environment and facilitate its climate control. Building envelope design is a specialized area of architectural and engineering practice that draws from all areas of building science and indoor climate control.
 
The many functions of the building envelope can be separated into three categories:
  • Support (to resist and transfer mechanical loads)
  • Control (the flow of matter and energy of all types)
  • Finish (to meet human desires on the inside and outside)
  • The control function is at the core of good performance, and in practice focuses, in order of importance, on rain control, air control, heat control, and vapor control.
 
AIR BARRIER SYSTEM - AIR AND VAPOR CONTROL
 
Control of air flow is important to ensure indoor air quality, control energy consumption, avoid condensation (and thus help ensure durability), and to provide comfort. Control of air movement includes flow through the enclosure (the assembly of materials that perform this function is termed the air barrier system) or through components of the building envelope (interstitial) itself, as well as into and out of the interior space, (which can affect building insulation performance greatly). Hence, air control includes the control of windwashing (cold air passing through insulation) and convective loops which are air movements within a wall or ceiling that may result in 10% to 20% of the heat loss alone.
 
The physical components of the envelope include the foundation, roof, walls, doors, windows, ceiling, and their related barriers and insulation. The dimensions, performance and compatibility of materials, fabrication process and details, connections and interactions are the main factors that determine the effectiveness and durability of the building enclosure system.
 
Common measures of the effectiveness of a building envelope include physical protection from weather and climate (comfort), indoor air quality (hygiene and public health), durability and energy efficiency. In order to achieve these objectives, all building enclosure systems must include a solid structure, a drainage plane, an air barrier, a thermal barrier, and may include a vapor barrier. Moisture control (e.g. damp proofing) is essential in all climates, but cold climates and hot-humid climates are especially demanding.
 
THERMAL ENVELOPE
 
The thermal envelope, or heat flow control layer, is part of a building envelope but may be in a different location such as in a ceiling. The difference can be illustrated by understanding that an insulated attic floor is the primary thermal control layer between the inside of the house and the exterior while the entire roof (from the surface of the shingles to the interior paint finish on the ceiling) comprises the building envelope.
 
Building envelope thermography involves using an infrared camera to view temperature anomalies on the interior and exterior surfaces of the structure. Analysis of infrared images can be useful in identifying moisture issues from water intrusion, or interstitial condensation.
 
INFRARED THERMOGRAPHY
 
Thermal infrared imaging is a valuable tool to perform non-destructive qualitative tests and to investigate buildings envelope thermal-energy behavior. The assessment of envelope thermal insulation, ventilation, air leakages, and HVAC performance can be implemented through the analysis of each thermogram corresponding to an objects surface temperature. Thermography also allows the identification of thermal bridges in buildings’ envelope that, together with windows and doors, constitute one of the weakest component increasing thermal losses. Infrared thermography and the proposed quantitative methodology were applied to assess the energy losses due to thermal bridges. The main results show that the procedure confirms to be a reliable tool to quantify the incidence of thermal bridges in the envelope thermal losses.
 
HOME ENERGY AUDIT
 
Home energy audit is often the first step in making your home more efficient. An audit can help you assess how much energy your home uses and evaluate what measures you can take to improve efficiency. But remember, audits alone don't save energy. You need to implement the recommended improvements. ENERGY STAR provides extensive information about home improvement projects to enhance energy efficiency, lower utility bills, and increase comfort.
 
INSULATION TYPES:
  • FIBERGLASS BATT AND ROLL INSULATION - the most common and widely available type of insulation comes in the form of batts or rolls. It consists of flexible fibers, most commonly fiberglass. You also can find batts and rolls made from mineral (rock and slag) wool, plastic fibers, and natural fibers, such as cotton and sheep's wool. Standard fiberglass blankets and batts have a thermal resistance or R-value between R-2.9 and R-3.8 per inch of thickness. High-performance (medium-density and high-density) fiberglass blankets and batts have R-values between R-3.7 and R-4.3 per inch of thickness. See the table below for an overview of these characteristics.
  • CONCRETE BLOCK INSULATION - Concrete blocks are used to build home foundations and walls, and there are several ways to insulate them. If the cores aren’t filled with steel and concrete for structural reasons, they can be filled with insulation, which raises the average wall R-value. Field studies and computer simulations have shown, however, that core filling of any type offers little fuel savings, because heat is readily conducted through the solid parts of the walls such as block webs and mortar joints.  It is more effective to install insulation over the surface of the blocks either on the exterior or interior of the foundation walls. Placing insulation on the exterior has the added advantage of containing the thermal mass of the blocks within the conditioned space, which can moderate indoor temperatures.
  • FOAM BOARD OR RIGID FOAM - rigid panels of insulation can be used to insulate almost any part of your home, from the roof down to the foundation. They provide good thermal resistance, and reduce heat conduction through structural elements, like wood and steel studs. The most common types of materials used in making foam board include polystyrene, polyisocyanurate (polyiso), and polyurethane. 
  • INSULATING CONCRETE FORMS - Insulating concrete forms (ICFs) are basically forms for poured concrete walls, which remain as part of the wall assembly. This system creates walls with a high thermal resistance, typically about R-20. Even though ICF homes are constructed using concrete, they look like traditional stick-built homes.  ICF systems consist of interconnected foam boards or interlocking, hollow-core foam insulation blocks. Foam boards are fastened together using plastic ties. Along with the foam boards, steel rods (rebar) can be added for reinforcement before the concrete is poured. When using foam blocks, steel rods are often used inside the hollow cores to strengthen the walls.
  • LOOSE-FILL AND BLOWN-IN INSULATION - Loose-fill insulation consists of small particles of fiber, foam, or other materials. These small particles form an insulation material that can conform to any space without disturbing structures or finishes. This ability to conform makes loose-fill insulation well suited for retrofits and locations where it would be difficult to install other types of insulation.  The most common types of materials used for loose-fill insulation include cellulose, fiberglass, and mineral (rock or slag) wool. All of these materials are produced using recycled waste materials. Cellulose is primarily made from recycled newsprint. Most fiberglass contains 20% to 30% recycled glass. Mineral wool is usually produced from 75% post-industrial recycled content. The table below compares these three materials.
  • RADIANT BARRIERS AND REFLECTIVE INSULATION SYSTEMS - Unlike most common insulation systems, which resist conductive and sometimes convective heat flow, radiant barriers and reflective insulation work by reflecting radiant heat away from the living space. Radiant barriers are installed in homes, usually in attics, primarily to reduce summer heat gain, which helps lower cooling costs. Reflective insulation incorporates radiant barriers, typically highly reflective aluminum foils, into insulation systems that can include a variety of backings, such as kraft paper, plastic film, polyethylene bubbles, or cardboard, as well as thermal insulation materials.
  • RIGID FIBER BOARD INSULATION - Rigid fiber or fibrous board insulation consists of either fiberglass or mineral wool material and is primarily used for insulating air ducts in homes. It is also used when there's a need for insulation that can withstand high temperatures. These products come in a range of thicknesses from 1 inch to 2.5 inches, and provide an R-value of about R-4 per inch of thickness.
  • SPRAYED-FOAM AND FOAMED-IN-PLACE INSULATION - Liquid foam insulation materials can be sprayed, foamed-in-place, injected, or poured. Some installations can have twice the R-value per inch of traditional batt insulation, and can fill even the smallest cavities, creating an effective air barrier.  Available liquid foam insulation materials include: Cementitious, Phenolic, Polyisocyanurate (polyiso), Polyurethane.  Some less common types include Icynene foam and Tripolymer foam. Icynene foam can be either sprayed or injected, which makes it the most versatile. It also has good resistance to both air and water intrusion. Tripolymer foam—a water-soluble foam—is injected into wall cavities. It has excellent resistance to fire and air intrusion.
  • STRUCTURAL INSULATED PANELS - Structural insulated panels (SIPs) are prefabricated insulated structural elements for use in building walls, ceilings, floors, and roofs. They provide superior and uniform insulation compared to more traditional construction methods (stud or "stick frame"), offering energy savings of 12% to 14%. When installed properly, SIPs also result in a more airtight dwelling, which makes a house quieter and more comfortable.  SIPs not only have high R-values but also high strength-to-weight ratios. A SIP typically consists of 4- to 8-inch-thick foam board insulation sandwiched between two sheets of oriented strand board (OSB) or other structural facing materials. Manufacturers can usually customize the exterior and interior sheathing materials to meet customer requirements. The facing is glued to the foam core, and the panel is then either pressed or placed in a vacuum to bond the sheathing and core together.  Because it is so airtight, a well-built SIP structure requires controlled fresh-air ventilation for safety, health, and performance, and to meet many building codes. A well-designed, installed, and properly operated mechanical ventilation system can also help prevent indoor moisture problems, which is important for achieving the energy-saving benefits of an SIP structure.

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