Do You Have an Insulation Strategy?

Carl Weinschenk

September 1, 2016

Considering its importance, insulation doesn’t seem to get as much attention as it deserves.

This appears to be changing, at least to some extent. Recently, there have been changes to insulation requirements in the both the country’s biggest state and biggest city —
California and New York City. There also is a new standard released by the Green Seal.

Since insulation goes into just about every structure, it is almost needless to say that it is a big business. And it is growing. The Freedonia Group earlier this week published a study that predicts that global demand for insulation will rise 3.7 percent annually to reach 26 billion square meters of R-1 — a measure of insulation’s thermal efficiency — in 2020.

In New York City, there will be changes to the Energy Conservation Code that take effect on October 3. The site Habitat quotes an engineer from RAND Engineering & Architecture as saying that the new rules will almost double the amount of insulation necessary. The story says that the rules are projected to create energy savings of 32 percent in residential structures and 9 percent in commercial structures. They are aimed mostly at new builds, but some retrofits fall under the rules, the story says.

Californians are gearing up for more insulation as well. The 2016 Building Energy Efficiency Standards, which will take effect on January 1, 2017, impact both residential and commercial structures. In a fact sheet specifically addressing the non-residential sector, EnergyCodeAce says that insulation mandates are changing:

“Prescriptive insulation requirements for roofs and ceilings have become more stringent under the 2016 Energy Standards. Additionally, prescriptive insulation requirements have become more stringent for metal and wood-framed walls in certain climate zones.”

The status of New York City and California are illustrative of the fact that the insulation sector is growing in a backdrop of increased attention to the environment. Last month, Green Seal — which describes itself as “the nation’s first independent nonprofit certifier of sustainable products and services” — introduced the GS-54 Architectural Insulation Standard. Energy Manager Today covered the announcement recently. The standard was developed specifically for the U.S. market. It covers multiple types of insulation at all points in their life cycles, the press release says.

People may tend to think of insulation as a passive commodity that sits in a wall or ceiling. It actually is an active and complex area with many options. And, of course, where there are options there is a balance of benefits and liabilities. “The major point is that when you install insulation you can gain benefits, increase comfort and lower liability in terms of potential health hazards in the future,” said Daniel Pedersen, Ph.D., Green Seal’s Vice President of Science and Standards. “You also can be recognized for green building and green branding by paying attention to not just how well insulation performs but the significant impact on human health. By choosing wisely you can minimize negative impacts without sacrificing performance.”

Insulation is a big investment. Moreover, it is a decision that is hard to undo. It is difficult and expensive to change direction once a better path is found, since most insulation sits within closed walls and ceilings. For that reason, energy managers and facility managers — as well as the upper level executives who set the strategic agenda — must carefully plan their insulation strategy.