Choose high efficiency insulation, naturally

Duncan Voice from Insulation Superstore looks at the reasons why construction specifiers are increasingly investing in the benefits of eco insulation products.

Green building is not only a wise choice for future environmental sustainability; it is also an essential choice. With the inevitability of declining fossil fuels and increasing proof of global climate change, reducing our energy consumption is now widely recognised as part of a strategy for our long-term survival. The UK Government has been active in urging eco-friendly practices and materials in construction, including making a commitment to and is committed to integrating green specifications into Building Regulations and codes.

As a result, the industry has seen a sharp increase in the specification of more environmentally sustainable products, with architects and client specifiers transitioning towards sustainable design in a bid to drastically reduce negative environmental impact. Sustainable design is much talked-about but means the application of strategies that focus on renewable resources, minimal environmental impact and forging a connection between people and the natural environment.

Natural solutions to stringent requirements

The broader sustainability issue is that insufficiently insulated homes will see almost half of their heating or cooling wasted, because it escapes from the house. This makes insulation an essential consideration when building a new home or renovating an older one; energy efficiency and heat loss reduction should be key considerations in the design of every new building. In addition, as thermal insulation requirements – represented by ever more stringent U-values – continue to grow, the industry is placed under increasing pressure to achieve them.

With a greater focus on sustainability in the design and construction of new homes comes an increasing demand for eco-friendly options in the insulation market – and the ranges currently available are surprisingly extensive. Online distributor Construction Materials Online lists over 60 products that fall within this category, including naturally-derived options such as wool, hemp and cellulose, and recycled insulation products made from cotton or plastic.

Sustained growth

In the first half of 2016, we saw an increase in sales of our eco insulation products, up 12 per cent when compared with the same period in 2015. The growth in sales comes in spite of the fact that eco-friendly choices generally come at a higher initial cost than conventional alternatives. While the initial investment may be higher, eco products can provide an equal level of efficiency, and are still considered cost-effective in the long-run due to the associated reduction in energy bills. With this comes a fall in the amount of fossil fuels required to heat the home as well as other environmental benefits, making eco products a sensible choice for the discerning housebuilder and homebuyer alike.

Financially, businesses can also benefit. In a recent survey 55 per cent of consumers – a number that is rapidly increasing – are willing to pay more for products and services that are supplied by companies committed to creating a positive environmental change.

In terms of the different options available, recycled plastic products are becoming increasingly common choices. With a thermal conductivity of 0.040 W/mK, it is consid- ered highly competitive with other, non-environmentally preferable insulations on the market. Constructed from 85 per cent recycled plastic bottles and 15 per cent nylon to hold it together, it is safe to install and free of floating fibres and dust. It is often used to insulate both ventilated and unventilated loft spaces, and timber frame wall applications, between studding, with a weather resident cladding.

Sheep’s wool: shear performance

Sheep’s wool, however, remains the go-to option within the eco insulation market. A very efficient thermal insulator with a higher performance than traditional glass fibre, it is also proven to absorb and neutralise harmful substances. The wool is a natural protein made up of a number of different amino acid chains (18 to be exact), 60 per cent of which have a reactive side chain. These reactive areas allow the wool to absorb harmful and odorous substances including nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and formaldehydes, and neutralise them through a process known as chemisorption.

Sheep’s wool also has the benefit of a hygroscopic (moisture-absorbing) core which enables it to absorb 33 per cent of its weight in moisture from the air without compromising its insulating ability. This makes it the ideal choice in the loft space, where more condensation is likely to be encountered.

The objection is often raised that the higher U-value of eco insulation products compared with their conventional counterparts can prove a challenge for contractors who are required to hit demanding Building Regulations, but the solution to this is straightforward. Increasing the thickness and amount of material leads to the U-value being vastly improved, and pairing the insulator with a breather membrane can further aid in the meeting of specifications.

For those seeking a true eco-specification we recently added a new range of sheep wool insulation to the line-up, which is 100 per cent pure and treated with Ionic Protect – a biocide free, CUAP tested treatment that protects against moth infestation for life. The growth in uptake of such products shows that the trend towards eco insulation is a rapidly growing and sustained one, paired with innovation which is continuing to improve the options available to the market.

Duncan Voice is brand manager for Insulation Superstore, one of three brands owned by Construction Materials Online