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Simplifying a Complex Range of Insulation Systems
By Bill Lippy
Research by looking at a building from the building owner's perspective
Metal building insulation systems are complex. One way to simplify the range of products is to look at a building from the building owner's perspective and start your research from that basis. If you step into the process with a good sense of the "why," you'll be able to survey the range of available systems with a better eye for solutions.
The predominant reasons you'll hear for implementing an insulation change in a metal building are:
1. Visual-the client has been in the building a long time or has recently taken over an old building. Existing insulation is torn or damaged, and fiberglass may be falling into the space.
2. Comfort-unwanted heat gain and loss is evident at the physical, sensory level. This occurs in both new and old buildings.
3. Energy efficiency-many building owners will also ask about maximizing performance, whether or not the insulation problem has already reached a visual or comfort level. In a hot climate, owners may want to know how to trim 5 degrees from their mean temperature while controlling costs. For other buildings, the reason may center on meeting a particular ASHRAE guideline.
Range of Options
Insulation systems exist to address all the above reasons, alone or in combination. The range of options includes:
1. Replacing the existing mass insulation or, in the case of new construction, choosing this type of insulation at the outset. This product range appeals mainly to single-reason clients⎯those who are looking to solve only one problem at this time (basic efficiency). Products for this client include spray foam, reflective insulation, and liner or banding systems.
2. Covering existing spray foam or mass insulation with a specialized radiant barrier or reflective insulation.
These products, from basic reflective bubble or flexible foam insulation to Auburndale, Fla.- based Fi-Foil's Thermal Barrier Blanket (used with spray foam), address two or more client problems at once. They provide better energy efficiency and comfort, and improve building aesthetics.
As one user in this range reported: "The system looks great and increased our energy efficiency of the building. Our average energy consumption for the second quarter 2009 to the second quarter 2008 has been reduced by 22 percent. We are saving money and we have a more comfortable building."
The total R-value for systems like this is the sum of the mass insulation R-value and the R-value for the enclosed reflective air space and the surface air film coefficient (based on the emittance of the reflective insulation facing).
3. Installing a high-performance hybrid insulation system. This meets the full range of needs for a metal building, from visual and comfort to maximum-performance energy efficiency (including coverage of thermal bridges). Sound dampening-part of building aesthetics-will also improve with these systems.
It's important to note that, for many clients, operational downtime could be a problem. While the high-end options may seem expensive, the cost of ceasing operations during a difficult retrofit can be even more significant. Part of any insulation system is how it's installed or applied.
Fiberglass and foam products dominate the metal building insulation systems range. If you're making decisions with a building owner, and if you're really asking about the full range of problems behind his or her decision, it will open your eyes to all the niche products that fill out the rest of the spectrum.
As an added bonus for your contracting business, you'll start to see an expanded market for metal buildings as they become more attractive, comfortable and efficient.
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