Thermal Insulation Materials for Buildings – What Are My Options?

    

scaffolding on building

Industrial, commercial and residential buildings rely on efficient systems to conserve energy while protecting people. Thermal insulation helps achieve this by reducing the transfer of thermal energy while remaining both cost-effective and environmentally friendly.

There are also many ancillary benefits, such as a reduction in energy consumption and carbon emissions. Thanks to decreased heat movement and vapor condensation, thermal insulation prepares your building for a variety of harsh conditions, including humidity and freezing. At the same time, it protects people. Less moisture means less risk of respiratory infections due to humidity, fungus, mold or dust. In the same vein, though secondary, thermal insulation aids in soundproofing, which provides a safer environment for people using these building long term. 

Determining which materials are right for which project can be challenging, especially since insulation materials vary greatly from bulky and rigid boards to malleable foils. Let’s take a closer look at material composition, application and benefits to determine which material is right for you.

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Cellulose

Cellulose is a material made from recycled cardboard or newspaper in loose form. Boric acid and other inorganic salts are added to the compound to deter mold and insects. Cellulose is applied either as a damp spray or blown on to fill in walls or ceiling crevices. 

There are many benefits to using cellulose as thermal insulation. Cellulose seamlessly reduces the flow of heat. It’s eco-friendly and maintains an R-value between R-3.1 to R-3.7. Because cellulose contains close to no oxygen, it’s fire-resistant. Cellulose is considered to be an effective and inexpensive method of thermal insulation. 

Fiberglass

Fiberglass is made of extremely fine glass fibers and contains recycled materials. Commercial, residential and industrial applications most often include unfinished walls, foundation walls, floors and ceilings and areas between studs, joints and beams. 

Besides retaining interior temperatures, fiberglass serves as a moisture-resistant, fire-resistant and acoustic barrier. Fiberglass is easy to install through standard joint and stud spacing. Fiberglass is also considered both lightweight and cost-effective. 

Mineral Wool

There are several types of mineral wool, and two of the most prominent are glass and rock mineral wool. Glass mineral wool is composed of molten glass and industrial waste materials. The process to produce the wool involves arranging glass fibers into a wool-like texture. By doing so, small pockets of air form, amplifying mineral wool’s thermal insulation properties. 

In the case of rock mineral wool, molten rock is sent through a furnace while a stream of air or steam courses through. Sometimes it’s spun on a high-speed base until it becomes tightly woven. Rock mineral wool is made of inorganic fibers that originate from molten rock, such as basalt rock, and are then strengthened with glass fibers. 

Mineral wool can be applied to unfinished walls, foundation walls, floors and ceilings using easy-to-install batts between studs, joints and beams. Mineral wool applications offer easy installation at an affordable price. Because thermal insulation reduces heat gain between the interior and exterior spaces, it dramatically decreases the load on heating and cooling systems. This energy conservation measure helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over time. 

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Polystyrene

Polystyrene integrates into both residential and commercial settings. Polystyrene originates from the monomer styrene and takes on a solid or foam form. Not only is polystyrene one of the most widely used plastics, but it’s also highly effective due to its rough and rigid nature. Most often, polystyrene is applied to unfinished walls, foundation walls, floors and ceilings. During the installation process, polystyrene must be covered with weatherproofing.

In addition to its high R-value, polystyrene remains thin, thereby increasing its versatility. Because of its smooth surface and water-resistant properties, polystyrene is ideal for sound and temperature insulation. Important note: Although polystyrene is a closed-cell foam, it is not completely waterproof or vapor-resistant. 

Polyurethane Foam

Polyurethane foam, also known as “spray foam,” is a polymer composed of organic units connected by carbamate (urethane). Non-chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gas acts as a blowing agent. Two-component applicators then combine these two components to form a solid foam. “Spray foam” can be used for one- and two-component systems in both vertical and horizontal spaces. 

Polyurethane foam is light and low-density, with an R-value of about R-6.3 per inch of thickness. This method of thermal insulation is eco-friendly as it can help reduce air leakage, lowering costs and emissions. Additionally, the foam can harden over time, which can improve the building’s strength and resistance to natural elements like heavy winds.

Choosing the best materials for your insulation project might feel overwhelming, but we're here to help. Browse more than 29,000 products specifically designed for a variety of insulation needs on our website and reach out to our team to get started on your next project today.

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