22nd Nov 2022 -

Insulation is used throughout the building industry, playing a vital role in heat retention. This provides two main benefits, keeping those within a building warm and reducing the energy costs to heat the building. Insulation is therefore essential within any building project, on both a personal and environmental level. 

Keep reading, because we aim to tell you everything you need to know about insulation, the forms it comes in, the ways it can be used within a building, and the methods to install it. In this section, we’ll take a look at the types of thermal insulation available, and the ways it is used throughout a building. We’ll also look at the ways that thermal insulation is rated.

What is Thermal Insulation?

Thermal insulation is any product that helps reduce heat transfer. Within an uninsulated building, heat will naturally escape as the two temperatures merge to create an equilibrium. This will mean that either your building will lose heat until it is as cold as outside, or you will have to use a large amount of energy to continually heat your building.

Insulation reduces heat loss from a room or building, keeping a room warmer for longer. Thermal insulation will also work in the opposite capacity, keeping an air-conditioned room cooler in the summer.

The History of Thermal Insulation

Thermal insulation has played a role in construction since the early empires, with the thick stones of Egyptian buildings keeping them cool in the daytime, and Vikings plastering mud within the gaps of their buildings to stop draughts. 

From the Victorian era into the early 20th century, asbestos insulation was used throughout industrial buildings as a method of thermal insulation. The modern era of insulation began around 100 years ago, with the invention of fibreglass insulation. In the modern era, thermal insulation is a required element of building design and a great way to reduce energy bills in older properties.

What is Thermal Insulation Made of?

Modern thermal insulation consists of a huge range of products, from solid boards to fibre rolls, to blown-in foam. Here are the common insulation materials used in contemporary products:

Mineral Wool

Mineral wool is a fibrous thermal insulation material, sold as firm batts and as a loose-fill insulation product. It is made from melted rocks like basalt and diabase, which are spun into fibres and attached together by resins and oils. Mineral wool products can also be made from slag, a byproduct of steel manufacturing. This can sometimes be called slag wool.

A man wearing protective clothing, gloves, goggles and a white hard hat installing acoustic foam insulation within an interior timber wall frame of a building.

Sheep’s Wool

A natural insulation substance, sheep’s wool can be used to produce a range of insulations rolls. This is an environmentally friendly option, offering strong levels of thermal insulation. Hemp wool exists as another natural insulation material.

Fiberglass

Fibreglass insulation is made from extremely thin threads of molten glass which are used to create a material with a similar consistency to wool, hence why it is sometimes called Glass Wool. Fibreglass is commonly used to make insulation rolls.

Cellulose

Cellulose is a blown-in loose insulation typically made from recycled paper products. It is used for insulating cavity walls, but can also be used within lofts.

Polyurethane (PUR)

Polyurethane is a plastic-based material that can be produced in a variety of forms. Solid PUR boards and injectable foam PUR insulation are both available, for use throughout a building project. To be manufactured as injectable foam, they will be mixed with blowing agents. This form of Polyurethane insulation will commonly be used within cavity walls.

PIR (Polyisocyanurate)

Made from a similar source as PUR, PIR is used to make insulation boards for use throughout building projects.

Polystyrene

insulation is a type of plastic that can be expanded into closed-cell foam boards. Polystyrene foam boards are available in two types, Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) or Extruded Polystyrene (XPS). Due to its low thermal conductivity, polystyrene foam insulation can make for great thermal insulation.

Vermiculite

Vermiculite is a naturally occurring mineral, that can expand through heating to create a quality loose-fill insulation that can be used throughout a building project.

Asbestos

A naturally occurring mineral, asbestos is today recognised as possessing a severe health risk. However, historically it was used as thermal insulation in a wide range of building projects. Today asbestos insulation can still be found in some older properties.

What is Thermal Insulation Used For?

In most buildings, the priority for installing thermal insulation will be around the roof, the exterior walls, and the ground floor. This is known as the thermal envelope, and accounts for much of the heat loss in a building. 

A solid estimate for heat loss in an uninsulated home is 25% through the roof, 35% through the walls, and 10% through the floor. Thoroughly insulating a building can help to minimise this heat loss, saving money on energy bills. Here are some of the common types of places that are thermally insulated:

Cavity Walls

Cavity walls are exterior walls built from two brick walls with an empty cavity, or air space, between them. Most homes built from the 1920s onwards contain cavity walls. While cavity walls can be fitted with solid insulation boards during construction, there are options for retrofitting insulation, using small holes to blow in a loose-fill insulation substance.

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Exterior Walls

In options where cavity wall insulation is unsuitable or not possible, the external wall of a building can be fitted with solid insulation panels. This can help to prevent heat loss from the interior of a building. Exterior insulation can be faced with brick effect slips to maintain the previous look of a house.

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Interior Walls

Another option for outer walls where cavity wall insulation is not possible is to install insulation against the internal facing of the wall, either by attaching insulated boards with a plasterboard face, or by building a batten wall against it and inserting insulation. This batten wall can then be faced with plasterboards.

Loft Insulation

Loft insulation is laid between the joists of a loft, helping to limit the heat escaping through the roof of a building. Both solid boards and insulation rolls can be used.

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Attic Insulation

An alternative to loft insulation, insulation boards can be installed within the rafters of an attic. This will mean that your loft space is also insulated, allowing it to be used as a living area if needed.

Flat Roof Insulation

Flat roofs can also be insulated internally with insulation boards, either as a warm roof or a cold roof. A warm roof features insulation at the top of your roofing, while a cold roof involves insulation between the rafters.

Ground Floor Insulation

Depending on the type of foundation a building has, insulation can sometimes be placed within it. Otherwise, insulation boards can be laid across the ground floor.

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Pipes

Insulation can be run around pipes to protect people from burning themselves on high-temperature pipes and keep pipes warm during the winter, preventing freezing.

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What Are the Ratings For Thermal Insulation?

The measure used to show the thermal insulation capabilities of a material is the R-value. The higher the R-value, the better the level of thermal insulation provided. The R-value measures the resistance to heat flow from a set thickness of the tested material. Another method for testing thermal insulation are U-values. This is something of a reverse, measuring heat loss through a set thickness of material. A higher U-value would mean a lower level of thermal resistance. 

R-value ratings are usually provided with insulation products, allowing you to calculate the thermal insulation of your house. To do this you will also have to establish the level of insulation provided by your bricks, plasterboard, and fittings.

Insulation is used throughout the building industry, vital in heat retention. This provides two main benefits, keeping those within a building warm and reducing the energy costs to heat the building. Insulation is therefore essential within any building project, on both a personal and environmental level. 

Keep reading, because we aim to tell you everything you need to know about insulation, the forms it comes in, the ways it can be used within a building, and the methods to install it. In this section, we’ll look at the types of thermal insulation available, and the ways it is used throughout a building. We’ll also look at the ways that thermal insulation is rated.

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