A newly released study by ICF, an international consulting firm with expertise in the energy and energy efficiency sectors, shows that upgrading building envelope insulation and air sealing leads to substantial energy savings and carbon emission reductions.
ICF was tasked with quantifying the lifetime energy savings, economic benefits, and carbon emission reductions that can be achieved with insulation improvements to existing single-family homes, commercial buildings, and industrial facilities. The study’s findings underscore insulation’s enormous potential to help each corner of the country meet building performance standards and carbon reduction goals.
“Both the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, passed in the past year, allocate billions of dollars in investments to improve the energy efficiency of our existing building stock,” said Curt Rich, President and CEO of the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association (NAIMA). “As government and business begin to tap into this transformational level of funding, they should pay close attention to the show-stopping carbon reductions and consumer savings that can be realized by focusing on upgrading tried-and-true measures like insulation and air sealing.”
Key findings from the independent study include:
The study assessed the state- and national-level energy and emissions savings benefits as well as the economic benefits that could accrue over 50 years as a result of the implementation of code-compliant insulation retrofits.
- Energy savings ranging from 10 to 45 percent can be achieved in existing homes that are air sealed and have insulation added in the ceiling and floors (and walls in very limited circumstances) to levels prescribed by the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code.
- Nationally, this retrofit activity could yield roughly 10 billion tons of carbon emission reductions over a 50-year period—the assumed useful life of building insulation. This is equivalent to eliminating over 25,000 natural gas-fired electrical generation power plants for a year, the annual energy use of over 1 billion homes, or operating almost 3 million wind turbines over a year.
The study assessed the impact commercial roof and pipe insulation retrofits would have on state- and national-level energy use, energy costs, and carbon emissions on an annual basis and over a projected 30-year service life. ICF analyzed a range of commercial buildings, including schools, small to midsize office buildings, mid-rise apartments, and stand-alone retail.
- Insulation upgrades reduce energy use in primary schools by an average of nearly 9 percent, and secondary schools would save an average of more than 7 percent.
- Upgrading roof and pipe insulation in just 25 percent of existing commercial building floor space in the U.S. would save more than 700 therms of natural gas each year, or the equivalent of having 800,000 fewer gasoline-powered passenger vehicles on the road.
- Over a 30-year service life of these insulation upgrades, cumulative CO2 equivalent emissions savings reach nearly 360 million metric tons. This is equivalent to the annual energy use of more than 45 million American households.
The study assessed the state- and national-level energy and emissions impacts as well as the economic benefits that could accrue over a 20-year horizon from the installation of code-compliant steam pipe insulation in a select number of manufacturing sectors.
- Making pipe and mechanical insulation improvements to industrial facilities in eight major industrial sectors (Chemical, Food, Paper, Petroleum and Coal Products, Primary Meals, Nonmetallic Mineral Product, Transportation Equipment, and Plastics and Rubber Products) would save these sectors more than $126 billion in energy costs based on an average capital cost of $3.77 billion. The average payback on this investment is about one year. For many industrial sectors, the payback is as little as six months.
- Energy savings from insulation upgrades can reduce natural gas use by 118 billion therms across the U.S. industrial sector and help reduce demand on the electric grid as electrification technologies roll out.