Building energy efficiency

The challenge to improve the energy efficiency of UK homes has meant considerable focus on the benefits and importance of renewable technologies. Crispin Dunn-Meynell shows how making any building energy efficient starts with the fabric – more specifically, insulation.
Insulation, particularly mineral wool insulation, has been around for such a long time that its impact and importance is sometimes underestimated. However, the building industry has come almost full circle due to the increasing pressure to make homes more energy efficient and insulation is rising in popularity once more.
Insulation remains the most effective solution to reduce the energy consumption and carbon emissions of buildings. Given that they account for around 40% of Britain’s energy consumption, improving the efficiency of our 25 million homes and 2 million non-domestic buildings will go a long way toward achieving the Government’s target of 80% reduction of CO2 emissions
by 2050.
Thermal theory
The theory behind a thermally sound building is that it should stay warm in winter and cool during summer. However, in order for that to become reality, insulation for the entire building envelope needs to be considered.
While there are multiple insulation products on the market, mineral wool remains one of the most flexible and all-encompassing solutions to achieving a whole building approach. It is used widely all over the world because it is a proven, cost-effective way to reduce fuel bills, improve comfort, deliver an improved Energy Performance Certificate rating, significantly reduce noise levels and provide a high level of fire resistance.
Both rock and glass mineral wool produce a sustainable, versatile insulation that can be used in roll, slab or loose granular form for applications including lofts, solid walls, cavity walls, and floors. It has a high recycled content and can be manufactured to many different thicknesses – again making it ideal for multiple applications within a building. Further, mineral wool is a proven technology that both delivers reliably and is cost effective.
[box type=”success” align=”aligncenter” ]The Energy Company Obligation (ECO) will direct £1.3 billion per year into home energy efficiency[/box]
Primary concern
With the thermal insulation of a building once again coming to the fore, finding a material that restricts heat transfer through
the building envelope to reduce the demand for space heating and cooling has become the primary concern. Once again, this is where the benefits of mineral wool deliver.
As the most commonly-used insulation type in the world, mineral wool products are setting the standard for sustainable construction. A typical mineral wool product can save, over its lifetime, 300 times the energy needed for its manufacture, transportation and disposal. The whole life cycle process of mineral wool is being continually refined to reduce its already-low environmental impact.
Plus, with modern packaging and the resilience of mineral wool, some forms can be packed up to a twelfth of their original volume with no impact on the installed thickness. This reduces the number of vehicles needed to transport the product and so reduces the overall
carbon footprint.
Sound performance
The ability of mineral wool to absorb sound energy means that it is able to improve the acoustic performance of walls, floors and roofs – helping to restrict noise transfer within a building. It also reduces noise transfer from one building to another, and both to and from a building and the external environment – an increasingly important consideration for consumers.
There is also potential for further revisions to energy efficient requirements to be introduced in Part L of the 2013 Building Regulations as part of the Government’s ambitious plan for all new homes to be ‘zero carbon’ from 2016 and new non-domestic buildings from 2019. Increased levels of insulation will be required for buildings to achieve these energy efficiency targets along with other building fabric improvements such as improving thermal bridging and airtightness.
Insulation will also play a central part in the Government’s retrofit plan, the Green Deal, which is being introduced to improve the energy efficiency of millions of homes across the UK. The Energy Company Obligation (ECO) will also direct £1.3 billion per year into home energy efficiency investments.
The Government may also introduce new rules around improving the energy efficiency of a home that is having an extension put in place. These ‘consequential improvements’ will require improved insulation across the home. The result is that homes need to be made more efficient before technologies such as solar photovoltaics or biomass boilers deliver the maximum benefits possible.
Important step
Realising the fundamental importance of ensuring the fabric of the building is as thermally sound as possible before considering the inclusion of low carbon technologies is an important step to securing the long-term energy efficiency of UK properties. Using mineral wool insulation to provide that thermal security delivers the additional benefits mentioned above, making it the sustainable and sensible choice for insulation.
[author image=”” ]Crispin Dunn-Meynell has been involved with the construction industry for over 30 years and has acted as the General Secretary of the Mineral Wool Insulation Manufacturers Association (MIMA), and its predecessor EURISOL, since 2003[/author]