Super-Efficient, Super Insulated and Sustainable: Thermal Envelope

Jul 2, 2014 12:11:00 PM Performance, Responsibility, Blog, Insulation By NAIMA
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Lucas Hamilton has more than 20 years’ experience in the building and construction industry – working with builders, designers and building product manufacturers. Over the years, he’s seen many advanced technologies employed to make a significant contribution to energy management in buildings. But, he says, insulation remains the most effective product for reducing carbon emissions while offering an immediate return on investment in terms of energy savings. And, he believes insulation will play an ever larger role in the future – as an increasing number of builders nationwide are super insulating homes to boost energy efficiency.

A home operates as a system, with the thermal envelope (including the outside walls, attic, foundation and insulation) being part of a larger equation that includes the mechanical systems like heating/cooling, hot water, kitchen and bathroom ventilation and appliances all working together in concert to achieve optimal energy performance. “For the occupants, active elements such as HVAC, and passive elements such as insulation are analogous to the driver, the car and the engine. Without one, the other would be useless,” Hamilton says.

“The thermal envelope has significantly benefitted from additional insulation levels required in current building codes and over the past 15 years there have been gradual increases in cavity insulation within the building envelope. So that we’ve reached a point where the conductivity of the structural elements must be addressed in order to continue with significant increases in whole building performance.” The need for continuous insulation, or as I like to call it ‘framing insulation,’ is now apparent as further increases in cavity requirements will not have a significant impact without it.”

Driving changes in building envelope technology

There are a number of factors that will compel future changes in building envelope technology, Hamilton says. “The most powerful forces driving change is the cost of energy, the impact of production and the volatility of the free market trading in futures, which hugely impact our society.” These three areas are driving how we build our habitat — changes which Hamilton says will become increasingly critical as time goes on.

Changes for a sustainable future

Hamilton predicts new home construction projects will soon include not just efficiency elements, but additional sustainability components, with managed rain screens, thermally broken building frames and super insulated envelopes. “As a result of the transparency documentation in the marketplace, such as EPDS and HPDs, material improvements should continue to reduce the impact of product manufacturing and will change the physical nature of the materials we use for the better.”

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