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2 Thermal insulation B2 Exterior closure

Thermal insulation
Summary: Thermal insulation helps improve comfort,
conserves energy, and protects structures from thermal
and freezing damage. Reviewed here are principles of heat

flow through the building envelope and design guidelines
for placement of insulation.

UniFormat: B2010
Key words: condensation, heat gain, heat loss, thermal in- MasterFormat: 07200
sulation, thermal resistance, U value.

Insulation may be defined as materials or features of construction pro- - Air temperature
vided to minimize the flow of heat between the spaces separated. By - Ambient radiant temperature
reducing heat flow, insulation will:
- Humidity
- conserve energy used for heating and cooling.
- Dress (a 1940’s business suit is given the thermal insulation value
- reduce temperature fluctuations and increase comfort within the of 1 “clo”.)
enclosed space.
- Air velocity
- protect buildings and other structures from thermal damage, freez-
ing damage, frost heaving, and damage from condensation of water - Metabolic rate, or activity level.
vapor. Variables which do not appear to vary in reporting the parameters of
human thermal comfort (in which experimental subjects report that

In addition to reducing heat flow between spaces, insulation may be
they feel comfortable) include sex, age, place of origin and residence,
used to:
skin color, and body form and weight. The perceived “discomfort”
- control surface temperatures of building components (such as pip- and physiological ability to tolerate discomfort and thermal stress may
ing, ductwork, and equipment) for economy in operation, com- vary according to these and other variables. In other words, the hu-
fort of occupants, or safety. man “comfort” zone is relatively universal independent of age, health,
- prevent water vapor condensation on cold surfaces. sex. (However, reports of “discomfort” and actual stress appear to
vary as a function of many variables, such as acculturation.)
- reduce water vapor transmission, properly seen as the separate
but related topic of moisture control. Of the variables listed, architects and engineers have some control of
A significant contribution of most types of insulation is also in reduc- air temperature, ambient radiant temperature, humidity, and air ve-
ing levels of airborne sound transmitted through walls, partitions, locity. Thermal insulation affects mainly air temperature and ambient
floors, and ceilings. radiant temperature, and those variables are very important to ther-
mal comfort inside most buildings.
In this article, the theoretical principles of heat flow are presented in
Part 1. Insulation types and applications are discussed in Part 2. In Body comfort in an enclosed space largely depends on the balance
the concluding section, Part 3, summary comments are offered for between heat produced internally in the body and the temperature and
designing insulation as one factor in optimized building envelope and humidity of the surrounding air and the surface (radiant) tempera-
HVAC system design. tures of the surrounding envelope. Any changes in the ambient or
surrounding surface temperature, when the factor of humidity is dis-
1 Theory of heat flow dynamics regarded, will change the comfort level. The dynamics of heat flow

This section reviews the thermodynamic principles of heat flow with within and through a building envelope at low exterior temperatures
respect to the building envelope in order to provide a theoretical back- is depicted in Fig. 1.
ground to the role of thermal insulation in designing buildings.
1.1 Forms of heat transfer
Human thermal comfort How heat passes through materials is described by the classical prin-
There are six major variables in human thermal comfort (Fanger 1970): ciples of heat dynamics and combinations of them, restated here as an

i Author: Donald Baerman, AIA
Credits: The portions of this article on heat flow definitions and illustrations are excerpted from 1993 SWEET’S Catalog File Selection Data,
by permission of McGraw-Hill. The author is indebted for contributions to this discussion by Larry Berglund, Ph.D., John B. Pierce Founda-

W tion, Yale University.

References: ASHRAE Fundamentals. Atlanta, GA: American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers. 1993 (or
latest edition).
Additional references are listed at the end of this article.

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introduction to understanding the design principles and applications

of insulation.
• Conduction, the transfer of heat by direct contact between two
parts of a stationary system, caused by a temperature difference
between those two parts. An example of conductive heat loss is

warming your feet in bed by pressing them to your spouse’s back,


and an example of insulation from conductive heat loss is wear-

ing socks while doing so.
• Convection, the transfer of heat from one material to another by
the circulation or movement of an intermediary fluid, such as a
liquid or gas. Diffusion can be considered a form of convection
for the purposes of this definition. An example of convection is
warming your hands by blowing on them, and an example of con-
vective insulation is stepping behind a wind shelter.
• Radiation, the transfer of heat by electromagnetic waves, irrespec-
tive of the temperature of the intervening medium such as air. An
example of radiation is warming yourself by standing in sunlight,
and an example of radiative insulation (radiant barrier) is placing
a reflective surface inside a car window.
• Evaporation is also a form of heat transfer by phase change, not
directly relevant to insulating properties of materials but part of
thermal heat loss, such as water cooling a roof surface when it
evaporates, absorbing “latent heat” in order to drive the evapora-
Fig. 1. Heat flow in and around the building envelope tion process. Similarly, when ice melts on a roof surface, it gives
“back: the latent heat originally required to freeze water into ice.
In well insulated roofs, neither of these effects is significant.
• A related process in heat transfer dynamics is the heat storage

effect or thermal time lag of heat in materials with high thermal

mass or capacitance, such as adobe or masonry. Heat moves into
and out of such materials very slowly, and for this reason, we say
it is “stored” in the material’s mass. Time lag effects explain some
effects related to insulating buildings.
An example of a complex heat and mass transfer that occurs in
buildings and involving all of these mechanisms is as follows (an
actual case):
- Water enters an insulated steep roof system through a leak.
- The interior finish is warmed by a combination of convective and
radiant heat from the room below.
- The heat passes by conduction from the interior through the finish
and vapor retarder.
- The water is warmed by conduction, and it undergoes a phase
change, becoming water vapor.
- The water vapor diffuses through the insulation in all directions
and passes by diffusion and convection to the underside of the

roof sheathing.
- At the roof sheathing. the water vapor condenses, transferring phase
change heat to the sheathing.
- The heat passes through the roof sheathing and covering by con-
duction, and it leaves the system by a combination of radiation to
the sky, convection to the air, and convection to the rain water

running down the roof.
After building up droplets on the underside of the roof sheathing,
the water drips down through the insulation to the vapor retarder,
and the process continues.
After a while the entire system is sopping wet, and it is difficult to
find the source of the moisture. The architect is called to explain
the matter. W

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1.1.1 Radiation and reflectivity

Radiation is the phenomenon of heat transfer by radiant energy through
space (without the need of a medium of transfer) from a body or ma-
terial at a higher temperature to bodies or materials at lower tempera-
tures which are in its line of sight (Fig. 2).

- Heat transfer by radiation increases significantly as the tempera-
ture of the emitting surface rises.

- Solar energy striking a surface will be partially reflected and par-
tially absorbed, with the fractions primarily dependent on the se-
lectivity or reflectance of the surface:
- A dark (selective) surface may absorb about 90 percent, while a
white (reflective) one will absorb from 20 to 40 percent, reflect-
ing the balance.
- The difference between maximum temperatures of reflective and
selective surfaces exposed to solar irradiation may be as much as
60F as a result of their surface reflectance.
- Even though reflectance of two light surfaces may be similar, their
emissivity may differ, resulting in significantly higher tempera-
tures in those with lower emissivity under the same exposure. Fig. 2. Radiation: reflectivity

1.1.2 Radiation and emissivity

Temperature and emissivity of the surface will determine how heat
gained is reradiated (Fig. 3).
- Painted surfaces have a higher coefficient of emissivity: most of
the heat absorbed will be reradiated faster.
- The color of a painted surface has little effect on emissivity: black
and white lacquers at 100 to 200F both have an emissivity range

of 0.80 to 0.95.
Metallic surfaces, especially when polished, have much lower coeffi-
cients of emissivity. Unpainted Metallic surfaces therefore will rera-
diate more slowly than painted surfaces and remain hotter.
- bright aluminum foil is 0.04 to 0.05
- commercial grade polished copper is 0.03, but 0.78 when heavily
- aluminum coated roofing 0.1 to 0.2.
1.1.3 Convection and surface conductance
Heat will flow through a solid body when there is a temperature dif-
ferential between air on opposite sides (Fig. 4). Fig. 3. Radiation: emissivity
- Heat gain and heat loss by and from the body will be by convec-
tion: air in contact with the surfaces will either give up heat to the
body, or pick up heat from it:
- Natural convection will take place when the motion of air is due
entirely to differences in density.

- Forced convection occurs when the air motion is augmented by
external forces.
The transfer of heat from or to air is affected by the layer of air adja-
cent to the surfaces of a body, or the surface film:
- Surface film is a layer of stagnant air which clings to the surface

of any object and offers resistance to the flow of heat.
The heat flow through a surface film, the convective surface con-

ductance, in general use is the design value for interior surfaces:
still air generally assumed at .65 Btu/hr. sq. ft. per degree F. Since
this varies somewhat depending on surface material, relative po-
sition of surface, direction of heat flow and temperature, other
W design values are sometimes used. The design value for exterior
surface, whether vertical or horizontal, with 15 MPH wind is 6
Btu/hr. sq. ft. per degree F. These design values are incorporated
into the temperature gradient calculations offered below.
Fig. 4. Convection: surface conductance

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1.1.4 Convection and radiation: vertical air space

Heat transfer through an air space incorporated into a vertical assem-
bly will be by natural convection within the air space: temperature
differences between the surfaces of components facing the air space
will set up convective currents within the air space (Fig. 5). The amount

of heat transferred will:


- increase with increase in temperature differences of the two sur-

- will not be significantly affected by the temperature level.
Radiation will occur through the air space from the warm surface to
the cold one. The amount of heat transferred by radiation will vary:
- with the temperature difference.
- also with temperature level, increasing rapidly with increase in
surface temperature levels.
At low temperature levels, convection will be the controlling factor:
at very high temperatures, the controlling factor is radiation. When
Fig. 5. Convection and radiation: vertical air space vertical air space is broken up into a number of horizontal cells:
- heat transfer by convection is reduced by minimizing convective
- transfer by radiation will remain unchanged.
- the horizontal divisions will allow some heat transfer through them
by conduction.
1.1.5 Convection and radiation: horizontal air space
Heat transfer through horizontal air spaces will differ depending on

the direction of heat flow (Fig. 6). Upward heat flow through an air
space will be by convection and radiation, similar to that for vertical
air space. When the flow of heat is downward, the air in contact with
the upper warmer component will also be warmer and less dense than
air in contact with the lower colder component:
- heat transfer will be by radiation.
- convection will be at a minimum.
- a small amount will be transferred by conduction.
The transfer by radiation is the same through vertical and horizontal
air spaces. Assuming that at normal temperatures, the emitting sur-
face has a coefficient of 0.9—such as for painted surfaces or red
Fig. 6. Convection and radiation: horizontal air space brick—the heat transfer by radiation might be about 50 percent of the
total heat transferred. If a bright metallic surface is substituted, heat
transfer by radiation may be reduced to about 5 percent of the total.
1.1.6 Conduction
Conduction is the transfer of heat from one part of the body to another
part, or from one body to another which is in physical contact with it,

without any appreciable displacement of the particles of the body or

bodies (Fig. 7). Heat continues to flow as long as a temperature
difference exists within the body, or between bodies in contact with
one another.
The rate of heat flow depends upon the conductivity of the body. Con-
ductivity of materials varies with differences in their densities: low
density materials have voids in them, which contain air or other gas-
eous substances and which impede the transfer of heat by increasing
the cross sectional area or length of travel:

Regular weight concrete with a density of 140 lb./cu. ft. has a
coefficient of conductivity of k = 9.09.
Cellular concrete with a density of 30 lb./ cu. ft. has a coefficient
of k = .90. In this case, the transfer of heat will be 10 times less W
per unit area per unit time for the less dense material under the
same difference in surface temperatures.
Fig. 7. Conduction

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1.2 Temperature variations and units of measure

1.2.1 Equivalent temperature
Heat gain and heat loss in assemblies is normally calculated at the
time of greatest heat flow which implies that such conditions remain
the same at all times. This approach is referred to as the steady state

of heat flow. It assumes that:

- the rate of heat flow through the assembly will not vary with time.
- temperature differentials within the assembly, and outside of it,
will remain constant.
Actual conditions do change almost constantly, especially when an
assembly is exposed to variable solar radiation, resulting in an un-
steady state of heat flow. An assembly may be exposed to instanta-
neous heat gain through solar radiation, which will first be absorbed
by the surface layer. The temperature of this layer will rise above the
temperature of the remainder of the assembly, and also above the tem-
perature of outdoor air:
- heat flow will occur into both regions of lower temperatures
- the amount of heat flowing in either direction will depend on the
resistance of the assembly and the surface film coefficient.
The unsteady flow of heat or dynamic response generally is accounted
for by using the equivalent temperature difference (Fig. 8):
Fig. 8. Equivalent temperature
- The temperature difference which reflects the total heat flow
through an assembly caused by variable solar radiation and out-
door temperature.
- The solar irradiation required to establish its amount at a given

location can be found in ASHRAE HVAC Applications (ASHRAE
1991 or latest edition).
- Design temperature differentials for a given location are available
from the National Climate Data Center.
1.2.2 Varying outdoor temperatures
The equivalent temperature difference must take into account the du-
ration of the exposure during various times of the day (Fig. 9). Out-
side temperatures vary with a resultant immediate effect on the flow
of heat. For examples, if outdoor temperature suddenly drops from 95
to 85F (from 35°C to 29.5°C):
- heat continues to flow from the interior surface of the assembly
into an interior space at 80F (26.6°F).
Fig. 9. Varying outdoor temperatures
- there is also heat flow from the outer surface of the assembly to
now cooler outside air.
- therefore the amount of heat stored within the assembly is reduced.
If the outside temperature rises again to 95°F (35°C) after several

hours and the outer surface of the assembly begins to gain heat, the
flow of heat from the inner surface of the assembly into the interior
space does not immediately rise to its previous level:
- the inner surface remains slightly above the temperature of the
interior air due to negligible heat flow when outdoor temperature
was at 85°F (29.5°C).

TOC - heat flow into the interior increases gradually returning to the pre-
vious level only after the temperature of the entire assembly has
risen to a point where the steady state condition is re-established.

i 1.2.3 Time lag

The interval between the change In outdoor temperature and the tem-
perature of the inner surface is known as the time lag (Fig. 10). It is
Fig. 10. Time lag
W due mostly to the heat required to raise the temperature of the assem-
bly itself. Time lag is the time required to establish steady state condi-
tion through an assembly: for heat to travel through an assembly from
the warm surface to the colder one:

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Thin lightweight assemblies have little mass and do not require large
amounts of heat to raise their temperature:
- The steady state temperature distribution is reached soon after the
temperature of their outer surface rises.

- Since little heat is stored in such assemblies, the temperature of

the inner surface drops quickly after a drop in outside tempera-

tures: the time lag is short.

Dense, thick assemblies have a large heat storage capacity:
- A considerable amount of time may be required for the heat being
absorbed at the outer surface to reach the inner surface.
- Should the temperature at the outer surface drop before the heat
reaches the inner surface, the flow will reverse and heat will flow
back to the outer surface; and from there to the cooler outside air.
Fig. 11. Conductivity - Heat will be stored in the assembly, some of it being released
when outdoor temperature falls below the temperature of the as-
sembly, then replenished as outdoor temperature rises.
- The thermal capacity of an assembly is determined by the volume
x the density of the materials incorporated into the assembly x the
specific heat of the material.

1.2.4 Conductivity
Thermal conductivity designated k, is a property of homogeneous
material (Fig. 11):
- It is measured by the quantity of units of heat passing through a
unit thickness, per unit area, in unit time, when a unit temperature
difference is maintained between the outer surfaces of the mate-

rial. Coefficients of conductivity are not additive.

Generally used units are:

- units of heat given by British Thermal Unit, or Btu, which is the
amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of
Fig. 12. Conductance water from 63F to 64F.
- unit thickness: one inch.
- unit area: one square foot.
- unit time: one hour.
- unit temperature difference: one degree F.
Resistivity, designated by r or 1/k, is the reciprocal of conductivity:
- it is measured by the temperature difference in degrees F between
smooth parallel outer surfaces of one inch thick material that are
required to cause one Btu to flow through one square foot per
hour, or: r = temperature difference in degrees F per inch per one
square foot per hour, divided by Btu. Coefficients of resistivity

are additive.
1.2.5 Conductance
Thermal Conductance designated C, measures the rate of heat flow
through the actual thickness of homogeneous, nonhomogeneous, or
composite materials (Fig. 12):
- Composite materials are those where the cross sectional area is
Fig. 13. Transmittance
not identical throughout, such as in hollow core concrete block,
or where a product consists of several layers of similar or differ-
ent material, such as plywood or built-up roofing.
- Conductance is defined as the heat flow in Btu per hour through
one square foot area of given thickness for one degree F differ-
ence in temperature between the outer surfaces.
- Coefficients of conductance should not be added. W
Thermal Resistance, designated R or 1/C, is the reciprocal of con-

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- It is a unit for the resistance to heat flow through a given thickness this is not the case. Many materials vary in their insulating value
of a homogeneous, nonhomogeneous, or composite material. according to such factors as temperature and dampness.)
- It is measured by the temperature difference in degrees F between
the outer surfaces required to cause one Btu to flow through one Heat flow can be calculated by knowing the temperatures on both
square foot per hour: R = temperature difference in degrees F di- sides of construction and the thermal resistance, or insulating value,

vided by Btu per one square foot per hour. of the construction. Thermal resistance values can be added to give
the total thermal resistance of the construction system.

- Resistance (R) values may be added.
1.2.6 U value
Thermal Transmittance, designated as U-value, is the measure of heat Table 1. Thermal resistance of common building materials
flow through a component of the building, whether vertical or hori-
zontal, when a difference between air temperatures on either side of Material Thickness
such component exists (Fig. 13): R-value
- The effect of air spaces 3/4 in. and wider, incorporated into the Air film, exterior, 15 mph wind 0.17
assemblies, and that of surface air films is included in the coeffi- Air film, interior 0.52
cient of thermal transmittance. Aluminum per inch 0.008
Asphalt shingles normal 0.44
- Thermal transmittance is measured by Btu per hour through one Brick, common
square foot, when the temperature difference is one degree F be- 80 lb. cubic ft./inch 0.45-0.31
tween the air at the two surfaces of the assembly. 100 lb. cubic ft./inch 0.30-0.23
- The U-value is the reciprocal of the sum of all thermal resistances 120 lb. cubic ft./inch 0.23-0.16
Built-up roofing 3/8" 0.33
of the components, or the total resistance to heat flow through a Carpet and fibrous pad normal 2.08
complete assembly: Sum. R = R of surface film + R of outer com- Cellular glass per inch 2.86
ponent or components + R of air space or spaces + R of inner Cellulosic insulation (milled
component or components + R of surface film. paper or wood pulp) per inch 3.70-3.13
Cellular polyisocyanurate
- U-values are not additive: when modifications of an assembly are (gas-impermeable facers) per inch 7.20
investigated, thermal resistances (R values) should be used. Cellular polyurethane/
polyisocyanurate (unfaced) per inch 6.25-5.56

1.3 Calculating heat flow: a short-form method Concrete, normal weight per inch 0.08
ASHRAE Fundamentals, Chapter 20 “Thermal Insulation and Vapor Concrete masonry units,
Retarders—Fundamentals” gives the standard procedure for calcu- lightweight 8 inch 3.2-1.90
lating heat flow. For those who are comfortable with engineering cal- Same with perlite filled cores 5.3-3.9
Concrete masonry units,
culations, the writer suggests going directly to that document. The normal weight 8 inch 1.11-0.97
following is a short-form method, intended as a very brief summary, Same with perlite filled cores 2.0
illustrating the above stated definitions. Douglas Fir-Larch per inch 1.06-0.99
Expanded perlite,
• Heat passes from the warm side of materials and systems to the organic bonded per inch 2.78
cold side. If the temperature at the two sides is the same, heat Expanded polystyrene, extruded
(smooth skin surface) per inch 5.00
does not pass. Coldness is not considered a quality; it is simply a Expanded polystyrene
lower heat. beadboard per inch 4.00
• Materials pass through different materials at different rates. Gold, Cellular glass per inch 2.7
aluminum, and other metals conduct heat at very high rates, while Foil-faced polyethylene
foam, heat flow down 1/4" 10.74
plastic foams and other insulating materials, that is, those Glass fiber, organic
with devious paths, conduct heat poorly. The time rate of heat bonded per inch 4.00
conduction through gold is approximately a thousand times as great Gypsum or plaster board 0.5 inches 0.45
as the rate through polyisocyanurate foam. Also, foam is less Gypsum plaster: sand
expensive. aggregate per inch 0.18
Mineral fiber batts processed

• The time rate of thermal conductivity of materials is represented from rock, slag, or glass nom. 6 inch 22
by the symbols “C” and “k,” and the time rate of the total heat Oak per inch 0.89-0.80
flow from the fluid on the warm side of the construction to the Particleboard
fluid on the cool side is represented by “U” or “U-factor.” low density per inch 1.41
medium density per inch 1.06
- “C” conductance, is the time rate of heat flow through the unit high density per inch 0.85
area of a body per unit of temperature difference. Plywood (Douglas Fir) per inch 1.25
Shingles, wood, 16 inches,
TOC - “k” conductivity, is the time rate of heat flow through the unit
area of a homogeneous material per unit of thickness.
7-1/2" exposure
Siding, wood
0.5 thick
per inch

i - “Btu” British thermal units, is a measure of heat energy required

to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree Fahren-
heit (F). Calorie and calorie are the comparable measures used in
the SI (metric) system.
Western redcedar
Wood, hardwood finish
per inch
0.75 inches

W • The resistance to heat flow is the reciprocal of thermal conduc-

tance, and is represented by “R.” The reciprocal of conductivity is
resistivity, represented by “r.” (Although it is convenient to as-
sume that these factors and rates are constant for any material,

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Consider the wall of a wood frame house. The composition of the - Adding an additional inch of extruded, expanded polystyrene to
wall, from outside to inside, is follows. The values in this example are the previous system changes the R value from 15.79 to 20.79, or
given in inch-pound units as degrees Fahrenheit (F), Btu, and inches. less than 1-1/3 times the previous value. It decreases the U-factor
Comparable units can be transposed for the SI (metric) system. from .06 to .05, a difference of .01.
• Given that: The U-value is (approximately) proportional to the money spent on

fuel. If the money value per Btu per year is $2.00, the savings per
- The air film on the outside of the wall. At 15 miles per hour the

square foot in going from no insulation to 1" of insulation, as calcu-

thermal resistance of that air film is assumed to be 0.17.
lated above, is 1.09 x $2.00 = $2.18 (example in Southern New En-
- 1/2" wood siding. The thermal resistance is approximately 0.81. gland). Under the same conditions, adding 3" of additional insulation
- Underlayment or air infiltration retarder. The thermal resistance will save $.24.
is so low as to be negligible.
As the calculation shows, it makes more sense to add insulation to
- 1/2" plywood sheathing. The thermal resistance is approximately parts of a building which have little or no insulation, while adding
0.63. more insulation to a well-insulated building may not pay for itself.
- Nominal 2" x 6" studs 24" o.c. The thermal resistance is approxi- Table 1 indicates common thermal resistance factors, compiled
mately 5.5. The portion of the wall with studs is 1.5 / 24 = 0.06. from various sources, principally from ASHRAE Fundamentals.
- Between the studs: Nominal 6" fiberglass batt insulation. The ther- A complete tabulation along with the thermal properties of com- See
mal resistance is approximately 19. The portion of the wall be- mon building materials and assemblies can be found in the
tween the studs is 0.94. Appendix: Insulation.
- Vapor retarder. The thermal resistance is so low as to be negli- There are also doors and windows in walls, form which thermal resis-
gible. tance figures are available from manufacturers (often given only for
- 1/2" gypsum wallboard. The thermal resistance is 0.45. the center of the units, but properly calculated for the entire assembly,
including perimeter losses). A typical 1-3/4" solid core wood flush
- Inside air film. The thermal resistance is approximately 0.61. Note:
door would have a thermal resistance of about 3.0. A typical clad
one of the reasons why blowing air against the inside of a window
double-hung wood window with insulating glass might have a ther-
clears condensation is that it lowers the thermal resistance of the
mal resistance of about 3.0.
inside air film and thus warms the glass.
For fixed glazing and other glazing not listed in manufacturers’ litera-

• Solution:
ture, the following figures are typical. Note, however, that the ther-
- The total thermal resistance between the studs is the sum of the mal resistance figures for glass include the insulating values for inte-
appropriate figures above, 21.67. rior and exterior air films, not the glass alone.
- The total thermal resistance at the studs is the sum of the appro- - One sheet of 3/32" monolithic glass: 0.89.
priate figures above, 8.17.
- One sheet of 1/4" float glass: 0.92. Note that the thickness of the
- Multiplying the thermal resistance between the studs x 0.94, and glass has little effect on the thermal resistance; glass by itself is a
multiplying the thermal resistance at the studs x 0.06: the average very poor insulator.
thermal resistance for the wall, combining studs and insulated
- Insulating glass composed of two sheets of 1/4" float glass and 1/
spaces between the studs, is 20.86.
2" dry air space: 2.08.
- The heat loss through this wall will be the reciprocal of the total
- Insulating glass, as above, with low-emissivity coating, which re-
thermal resistance. 1 / 20.86 = 0.048. This is the U-factor, mean-
flects radiant heat back inside: 3.0.
ing that 0.048 Btu of heat will pass through the wall per hour per
square foot of wall per degree F temperature difference. - Insulating glass, as above, with low-emissivity coating and also
argon-filled space: 3.57.
- The U-factor and Resistance are the reciprocal of one another,
and a graph showing their relationship is hyperbolic. The curve is For skylights, manufacturers’ data is available. Most skylights have
asymptotic (approaching but never reaching zero). No matter how deep metal rafters, so that the metal area exposed to the inside air is
much insulation is used, the heat loss will always be above zero, large. The relative areas of glass and frame are important in estimat-
and no matter how little insulation is used, the heat loss will be ing heat loss. The primary route of heat transfer from the outer rafter

finite. The heat loss advantage of using a little insulation is great, covers to the inner rafters is probably the metal fasteners. This sug-
but adding the same amount again has less advantage. gests a good use of reinforced polymer fasteners, which have much
lower thermal conductivity.
There is a point of little return, where adding more insulation has
virtually no advantage. For example: 2 Insulation types
- Adding 1" of extruded, expanded polystyrene to a thin sheet of The practical ideal insulation is a vacuum or air when kept completely
motionless in a space separating two solid components. Air, however,
aluminum increases the R value and resistance to heat flow from
.79 to 5.79, or more than seven-fold. It decreases the U-factor
from 1.26 to .17, which is a difference of 1.09.
cannot be kept motionless even in a narrow vertical cavity (as in a
wall assembly).
- Adding an additional inch of extruded, expanded polystyrene to
the previous system changes the R value from 5.79 to 10.79. It
decreases the U-factor from .17 to .09, which is a difference of

Convective currents develop, which transfer heat from the warm
side of the cavity to the colder one.
Radiation from the warm side to the colder one takes place whether
.08, much lower than the previous figure.
Adding an additional inch of extruded, expanded polystyrene to
the air moves or is still.
- In an air space broken up horizontally into tiny compartments con-
the previous system changes the R value from 10.79 to 15.79. It
vective currents can be effectively minimized, and the excellent
decreases the U-factor from .09 to .06, a difference of .03.
insulating properties of still air utilized.

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Mass type insulation reduces the flow of heat by preventing convec- styrene bead concrete can also be considered in this category, since
tion in entrapped air and also by forming a barrier to radiation. Some the main function of the beads is to create voids in the concrete.
types (such as foamed plastics, or cellular glass) trap small quantities
• Organic foams, including expanded polystyrene, polyurethane
of air or other gaseous substances in closed cells. The heat flow through
foam, and polyisocyanurate foam. Cork is a natural form of void-
the cells is greatly reduced because convection currents are virtually
filled organic material.

eliminated in small cells. Size of the cells is critical:
• Metal foils and metal foil laminated on other materials. One

- if they are too large, convective heat flow within them may be-
form combines shiny aluminum foil with flexible polyethylene
come significant.
foam, and its manufacturer reports very favorable insulation val-
- if they are too small, or there are too few of them, conduction ues, especially where radiant heat is the predominant mode of
through the solid material surrounding the cells increases, offset- heat transfer.
ting the insulating value of the cells.
• Composite materials combining several of the materials listed
- granular materials (such as perlite, vermiculite, granulated foam) above.
trap air in relatively large voids and consequently may have poorer
• Natural materials of low thermal resistance which, nevertheless,
insulating properties than materials with numerous small cells.
act as thermal insulators and also provide thermal storage include
- fibrous materials (such as glass fibers or cellulose) depend for earth, masonry, and turf.
performance on the air’s characteristic to cling to all exposed sur-
faces in thin films, thus reducing the heat flow. 2.1 Perimeter and foundation insulation
Perimeter and other foundation insulation reduces heat loss through
Fibrous materials will perform best at a specified optimum density: the foundation walls. It may be installed outside the foundations, in-
- if compressed to higher than optimum density, heat flow will in- side the foundations, integral with the foundations, under slabs on
crease since fiber will touch fiber and some of the surface air film grade, or in a combination of these locations. Common perimeter in-
will be lost. sulation types include expanded polystyrene board and fibrous glass
board. There is some evidence that insects can attack polystyrene in-
- if fluffed up too much, more heat may be transmitted by convec- sulation, and cellular glass and fibrous glass insulation may be a good
tion or radiation through the large voids. alternative material. (See “Residential Foundation Design” in Chap-
ter A1 of this Volume).
Reflective insulation—properly called radiant barriers—reduce the
transfer of heat through air spaces by minimizing radiation of energy 2.2 Wall insulation

from the warmer, or emitting, surface of one of the components which Selection of the type of insulation to be used should also include con-
enclose an air space to a colder, or receiving, surface of the other sideration of the method of its installation within the wall assembly.
component: Wall assemblies may be insulated by:
- Emissivities of various building materials at the same surface tem- • Batt insulation, between studs, available unfaced or with reflec-
perature vary: radiation across an air space between two polished tive foil of paper face.
aluminum surfaces will be only about 3 percent of that between
two black surfaces. • Foamed-in-place insulation between studs.

- Reflective materials act as insulation because of their low surface • Rigid-board insulation sheathing, placed on outside, within or on
emissivity by reflecting incident radiant energy: in a cavity wall the inside face. Each location has an impact on constructability
up to 60 percent of heat transfer is estimated to be by radiation. and attachment details.
(See “Radiant Barrier Systems” in Chapter B3 Roofing). • Foamed-in-place insulation may be placed within masonry
Of all of these, the principal way in which thermal insulation works is
the capacity of that material to resist heat flow by forming a tortuous • Concrete Masonry Units (CMUs) available with rigid insulation
path through the material, around voids. The more efficient insulation inserts cast-in during fabrication.
types are also made from materials with poor thermal conductance. • Rigid board insulation, laminated or clip attached, to inside face
Low emissivity materials and coatings reflect radiant heat. of masonry walls. Furring strips may have to be provided between
the boards to facilitate attachment of interior facing materials.
Inorganic fibers, including fiber glass, mineral wool, spun basalt, as-
bestos, ceramic fibers, and others. These may be in the form of loose • Loose insulation fill within masonry cavities.

fibers, batts, and semi-rigid boards. • Monolithic in-place concrete assemblies may be insulated with
rigid board insulation laminated or clip attached to interior face.
Asbestos was used in the past for thermal insulation. It has been found
Precast and tilt-up concrete assemblies may be Insulated by:
to cause cancer, and its use is restricted today. Other fibers are being
used where asbestos used to be used. The following caution is the • Rigid board insulation between interior and exterior courses of a
final paragraph in Skinner (1988): “After a thousand years of use, sandwich panel.
asbestos is being replaced by other, often fibrous, materials. It re-
TOC mains to be seen whether the substitutes will be as successful, com-
mercially and financially, or more or less hazardous. We are certainly
Water vapor migration is either by diffusion, or by air leakage; and is
generally controlled by providing a vapor retarder on the warm side
of the wall. Vapor retarders consist of materials that resist the diffu-

i not going to do without fibrous inorganic materials nor expunge them

from our environment.”
Representative insulation materials include:
sion of vapor through them under the action of a difference in pres-
sure, such as plastic film metallic foil, coated paper, and, to a certain
extent, applied coatings. (See “Moisture Control” in this Chapter).

W • Organic fibers, including cellulose fibers, bagasse, thatch, and

wood fibers.
Walls in existing buildings may be insulated with blown-in or
foamed-in insulation, however, consideration should be given to:
• Inorganic foams, including foamed glass, cellular concrete, hol- - ensuring that all voids in wall assembly are completely filled.
low glass bead concrete, perlite, and vermiculite. Expanded poly-

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B2 Exterior closure B2.2 Thermal insulation

- possible settlement of blown-in insulation. 2.2.3 Roof and attic insulation

- water vapor migrating by diffusion or by air leakage into the wall • Roof insulation may be installed above the roof structure. It has
assembly, condensing within the wall and causing rapid deterio- the advantage of being an unbroken layer. Available materials in-
ration of exterior facing or even the wall assembly itself. clude organic foam board, organic and inorganic fiber board, cel-
lular concrete, and cellular glass board. Protected membrane roof

2.2.1 Masonry wall insulation

systems have the insulation above the membrane, and the insula-

- Expanded polystyrene board and some other materials can be in- tion is extruded, expanded polystyrene board. The insulation above
stalled in the cavities of masonry cavity walls and veneer walls. It the membrane must be protected from sunlight, and it must be
can be made with an integral drainage course to keep the cavity ballasted to prevent its blowing off. (See Chapter B3 Roofing in
drainage from being clogged with mortar. this Volume). ASHRAE Fundamentals recommends that roof in-
- Fibrous glass and other inorganic fiber insulation boards may also sulation be placed above the structure of low-slope roofs. One
be used in wall cavities. important advantage is that the roof structure is protected from
thermal changes and potential resulting damage.
Workmanship is especially important for masonry wall insulation. • Roof insulation may be integral with the roof structure. Thick wood
Once the walls are built, inspection is impossible. Unless the insula- plank roof decks have enough insulating quality for mild climates.
tion is secured tightly to one of the wythes, cold air can circulate Another form of integral roof deck is Portland cement-wood fiber
around and behind the insulation, greatly reducing its effect. Unse- planks. Reinforced cellular concrete planks have been used as roof
cured cavity insulation acts like a warm coat unbuttoned. decking.
- Expanded polystyrene inserts are available for concrete masonry • Roof insulation may be installed under the roof. This is the nor-
units, installed in the factory or field. mal method for steep roofs, and it is also used for low-slope roofs.
- Foam-in-place polyurethane and polyisocyanurate can be placed The insulation may be between the attic floor joists, between the
in wall cavities, where they expand and fill the space. An rafters, or in between. Common materials include fibrous glass
early example is the CBS building in Manhattan, Eero Saarinen, batts, blown-in fibrous glass, and blown-in cellulose fibers. Other
Architect. materials can also be used. It is difficult to avoid multiple pen-
etrations of the insulation, and, in the writer’s experience, it is
- Various types of insulation can be installed on the inside of ma-
common for there to be voids in the insulation.
sonry walls, and special furring systems with little or no thermal
bridging are available. • There are several other cautions regarding the use of roof and
ceiling insulation between framing members. Unless the insula-

- An innovative system used for fruit storage and other uses incor-
tion is secured at the eaves, the insulation may impede proper
porates a thick extruded, expanded polystyrene core and concrete
ventilation above it. Also, and probably more important, the insu-
faces, held together through the insulation with permanent rein-
lation may lift and the eaves, and cold winter air may pass under
forced polymer form ties.
the insulation. Attic insulation is sometimes be omitted over walls
- Exterior insulation and finish systems (EIFS) can be applied to containing plumbing lines, thus chilling the occupants and freez-
the masonry exterior. The insulation may be extruded expanded ing the pipes. It is prudent for the architect to inspect the attic
polystyrene board or expanded polystyrene bead board. This sys- insulation carefully before substantial completion of the construc-
tem may be applied over other types of structure. tion. It is worth the expense to have thermographic studies made
of buildings during their first winter, to verify proper placement
2.2.2 Frame wall insulation of insulation.
- The most common type of insulation is fibrous glass batts. Other • One of the most important functions of roof and attic insulation
types of insulation for stud spaces include foam-in-place polyure- is to limit summer heat gain. The sun’s heat is delivered as radiant
thane, polyisocyanurate, and other plastic foams, other inorganic heat. Light, heat-reflective roof coverings are available at little
fiber batts, blown-in fibrous glass, blown in cellulose fibers, and or no additional cost, and they are very effective. Radiant barrier
reflective foil systems. systems, with the reflective surfaces facing air spaces, are
- If there are plumbing lines in exterior walls (not a good idea, but also effective.
sometimes necessary), the insulation should be installed outside
the pipes and, just as important, not inside the pipes. If the separa- Soffit insulation has the same characteristics as ceiling insulation. If
there are plumbing lines between the framing members, they should

tion is small, use a highly efficient insulation.

be above the insulation, and there should be no insulation above the
- Various types of board insulation can be installed inside or out- pipes.
side the frame. They have the advantages of potentially high insu-
lation value per unit thickness and not being penetrated by the 2.2.4 Basement insulation
framing members. The siding or interior finish is installed over • Basement ceiling insulation may be used in place of perimeter
them. If they are used instead of plywood sheathing, other forms insulation and interior basement wall insulation. Depending on
of bracing are required to replace the shear value of the plywood. the use of the basement and the relative areas of the basement
Integral wall materials and insulation.
Wood fiber Portland cement roof panels have been used as wall
ceiling and walls, the choice may be the one or the other. The
writer favors insulating the basement walls in most cases, but most
panels with integral insulating qualities.
Cellular concrete panels have been used as bearing and non-load
bearing walls with integral insulation. Expanded polystyrene bead
houses with basements in the writer’s area have insulated base-
ment ceilings. The most common fault with basement ceiling in-
sulation is that it tends to be incomplete. Even if just a few voids
in the insulation exist per joist space, cold air from the basement
concrete has been used in the same way. will circulate above and below the insulation. This is the unbut-
toned coat syndrome again. The writer recommends careful, void-
- Log houses have thick wooden walls, with fair insulating
properties. free installation and application of a gypsum board ceiling or poul-
try netting retainer. Plumbing pipes are best kept above the insu-

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B2.2 Thermal insulation B2 Exterior closure

lation, and all mechanical equipment and pipes in the cold base- absolute (not relative) humidity, or the part of the air pressure which
ment must be insulated. is exerted by the water vapor in the air. Under normal temperatures fit
• There may be a problem with insulated water pipes in very cold for human life, water vapor makes up a relatively small part of the
areas. If the water doesn’t flow often, the insulation will only slow total air pressure:
the water’s freezing, not stop it. A heat source is needed to stop - at 0F(-18°C), partial vapor pressure at saturation is approximately

freezing. 1/10th of 1% of the air pressure.

3 Summary: Insulative envelope design - at 32F (0°C), partial vapor pressure is 6/10 of 1%.
Design, calculation and installation details of insulation is often speci- - at 70F (21°C), partial vapor pressure is 2-1/2%.
fied by rote reference to prevailing codes and standards, but this ap-
proach, however expeditious, fails to benefit from the interactive role - at 100F (38°C), partial vapor pressure is 6%.
of thermal insulation, moisture control and protection of building Condensation will not occur unless the partial vapor pressure is high
materials. There are substantial economies to be realized through op- enough and the temperature is low enough. To predict whether water
timally insulated envelopes that account for the role that thermal mass vapor condensation will occur, the conditions must be quantified, and
and solar and other time lag factors might serve in balancing reducing fairly complex calculations are required. Most building construction
HVAC equipment sizing and operating costs. is affected by water vapor condensation, and the effect is mostly harm-
3.1 Thermal storage capacity ful. Examples are wet insulation, rotting wood structure, and damp,
The thermal mass of masonry and concrete walls can be used in heat spalling masonry.
loss calculations to show lowered heat loss. The method is described 3.3 Insulation, envelope and HVAC systems
in Brick Institute of America and National Concrete Masonry Asso- Determining how much insulation to use should involve the follow-
ciation publications. Heat storage capacity of walls can be used to ing minimum considerations:
significant advantage:
- Conforming to code requirements. This step alone may come close
- to reduce peak heat gain and thereby reduce cooling loads on to being a proper level or amount of insulation, but this judgment
mechanical equipment (when the masonry surface is exposed to has to be considered in terms of site and building specific factors.
interior air). Higher insulation values may permit lower mechanical system
- to reduce heat losses through timelag (when there is partial to installation sizing and usage.
significant heat flow through the envelope). - Making a best guess as to the likelihood of future energy costs

- to store heat absorbed through solar energy and release it when and cost escalation compared to general inflation. Unless one has
needed (as in glass-covered masonry walls or in interior masonry special information, assume that energy inflation will approxi-
exposed to solar irradiation). mate general inflation.
To analyze time lag and heat storage capacity of a design, a “dynamic - Drawing a graph, or making a series of calculations, of dollar sav-
analysis” of heat gain/ loss is required that takes into account the hourly ings vs. the cost of additional insulation. After a certain increase
changes in weather conditions as well as the thermal storage capacity in insulation thickness, the added provision of insulation may re-
of the structure, and closely predicts the peak loads required to deter- quire higher costs for the envelope. For complex buildings, utili-
mine the size of equipment needed to control the interior environ- zation of computer simulation programs is required for more ac-
ment of a structure. curate thermal dynamic analysis.
- Adding factors having to do with the durability of the building
3.2 Water vapor condensation and its possible vulnerability to condensation, as affected by insu-
The dew point method of calculating whether or not water vapor con- lation.
densation will occur is made determinate by the existence of one va-
por retarder. However, recent research has shown that vapor move- - Adding the time-value of money.
ment in buildings is much more complex than was thought. Air al- - Note that too much insulation may be wasteful of irreplaceable
most always contains a certain amount of water vapor. The maximum resources and money.
amount of vapor that can be contained at constant pressure is directly
- Adding ethical factors regarding non-cash values of reducing fuel
proportional to the temperature of the air/ vapor mixture:
use and using resources to increase the insulation.
- When air at a given temperature, saturated with water vapor, is

cooled, or comes into contact with a colder surface, water vapor The role and effectiveness of thermal resistance of the building enve-
will continuously condense as long as the temperature of the air/ lope is dependent on these dynamic variables:
vapor mixture drops. - the daily and seasonal temperatures imposed by weather, as a func-
- Insulation incorporated into assemblies of an enclosure changes tion of average and extreme climate norms.
the temperature gradients through them, thereby increasing the - the daily flux of internal heat gain, as a function of occupancy,
likelihood of condensation within the assemblies: building type, electric lighting and equipment loads.
TOC - Condensation may occur within the insulation, if it is permeable,
and increase its density, thereby lowering its thermal resistance.
- the amount and placement of windows and skylights, especially
the respective benefit or liability of solar heat gain during

i The analysis of water vapor transport and moisture control is described

in the ensuing article “Moisture Control” in this Chapter. Here, a brief
comment is needed in order to emphasize that insulation and mois-
ture control issues must be considered together in designing the build-
underheated or overheated periods.
the HVAC system type, thermal controls and response time of the
HVAC system.

W ing envelope and assembly.

- occupancy profile of the building, for example, limited to day-
time use compared to 24 hour occupancy.
In its simplest form, water vapor condensation requires low tempera-
tures and high partial vapor pressure. “Partial vapor pressure” is the

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B2 Exterior closure B2.2 Thermal insulation

For example:
- a well insulated exterior wall (including high R windows), may
preclude the need for perimeter heating, or may permit downsized
heating and cooling plant capacity, thus saving in HVAC installa-
tion and operating costs.

- thermal mass exposed to the building interior and insulated on the


outside will serve as a “heat sink” for typically overheated hours

and occupancy conditions, thus reducing cooling plant sizes and
operating costs.
- poorly insluated masonry structures will require longer “start up”
of heating time to reach comfortable indoor air and radiant sur-
face temperatures.
- the interior temperature of a well insulated structure that is used
only during the day may “float,” that is, remain relatively stable
with the HVAC system turned down or off, requiring less energy
and less “start up” time at the beginning of the following day.
- well insulated structures, on the other hand, require careful provi-
sion of fresh-air ventilation supplied to all portions of the space,
but especially those subject to temperature flux (such as near win-
dow areas).
- an improperly insulated building envelope (wall or roof) may cre-
ate moisture control and condensation, potentially damaging to
both the building envelope and to objects within (such as in
For all of these reasons, the determination of insulation values for
major building components (ceilings/roofs, walls and windows) needs
to be analyzed alongside thermal mass, building occupancy and equip-

ment loads, lighting and mechanical system design and sizing.

The relative effectiveness of insulation, thermal mass for heat stor-

age, and solar irradiation through windows requires complex calcula-
tions, now possible through widely available computer simulation
programs. Such analysis is needed to “optimize” the building enve-
lope design and often demonstrates that reduced mechanical system
sizing and cycling are possible with increases of thermal insulation
and thermal mass, creating design guidelines for cost-justified im-
provements in the building envelope.

Additional references
Fanger, P. O. 1970. Thermal Comfort, Analysis and Applications in
Environmental Engineering. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Sixth Canadian Masonry Symposium. 1992. Proceedings of the Sixth
Canadian Masonry Symposium. Saskatoon, Canada: Civil Engineer-
ing Department, University of Saskatchewan.
Skinner, H. Catherine, et al. 1988, Asbestos and Other Fibrous Mate-

rials. New York, Oxford University Press.

Trechsel, Heinz R., editor, Moisture Control in Buildings, 1994. Phila-
delphia, PA: American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) .
U. S. HUD. 1994. Design Guide for Frost-protected Shallow Foot-
ings. Washington, DC: Department of Housing and Urban Develop-
ment, Office of Policy Development and Research.

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