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Green Insulation: Specifying a Smarter Solution

Selecting the best insulation choice from a growing number of more sustainable products and systems

April 2013
Sponsored by Bonded Logic Inc.

By Peter J. Arsenault, FAIA, NCARB, LEED-AP

Continuing Education

Use the following learning objectives to focus your study while reading this month’s Continuing Education article.

Learning Objectives - After reading this article, you will be able to:

  1. Differentiate between traditional and emerging insulation materials, trends, and uses.
  2. Examine and recognize the different ways that insulation addresses energy losses in a building envelope.
  3. Analyze and assess multiple other qualities of insulation that can contribute to green and sustainable building design.
  4. Identify manufacturing qualities that make the installation of thermal insulation more efficient.

Credits: 1.00 HSW


This course was approved by the GBCI for 1 GBCI CE hour(s) for LEED Credential Maintenance.

It has become common knowledge that building construction and operations have extensive direct and indirect impacts on people and the environment. Specifically, buildings consume energy, water and raw materials while giving off waste and potentially harmful emissions. In response, building owners, energy codes, green rating systems and our own definition of good design now require new and renovated buildings to perform at high levels of reduced energy and water usage, responsible material choices, reduced waste, and positive air quality, both indoors and out. As part of this movement, the building insulation industry has contributed significantly in all of these areas with many new or improved products including some that are now being primarily manufactured from natural, recycled materials such as newspaper and cotton denim. Design professionals and building owners who understand the principles of effective insulation and who can evaluate the properties of different insulation products will then make choices that can meet all of the demands of the higher level of performance needed in order to truly earn the distinction of being green or sustainable.

Building Insulation Background and Overview

Before central heating and cooling were standard fare in American buildings, thermal control of spaces was more an art than a science. Wood burning fireplaces, operable windows and tall ceilings were the norm rather than addressing the thermal characteristics of the walls, roofs and floors. If it was cold, more wood was burned. If it was warm, more windows were opened. Even when central furnaces were installed that burned coal, gas or oil, these fuels were considered cheap and burning more on cold days was still the typical response. Insulation was primarily a material for protecting people or combustible materials from high temperatures. Slowly, however, stick frame and cavity wall construction techniques started using roof and wall insulation to improve some thermal comfort in various parts of the country. Since sound energy and heat energy are found to flow very similarly, insulation has traditionally been, and continues to be, one of the best ways to control the transfer of both heat and sound into or out of buildings.

Photo courtesy of Bonded Logic Inc.

 

Originally published in the September/October 2011 issue of GreenSource
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