Thursday, 4 April 2013

The next insulation fiasco?

BPN (Building Products News), an Australian trade rag, recently carried an article titled 'Industry alert over reported insulation defects', with the lead paragraph:
Australian insulation experts have issued a warning against the ongoing use of poor-quality, hazardous insulation products.
In Australia, this topic strikes deep and fearful resonances.  It is not because insulation failures are catastrophic to the same degree or with the same frequency as they might be in other places on earth with less benign climates.  Rather, it is because the same headlines a few years ago brought to an abrupt, and politically hurtful halt the Federal government's initiative to upgrade the insulation levels of most Australian homes.  The scheme was one of several injections of Federal funds that probably helped Australia survive the Global Financial Crisis in better state than otherwise might have been expected, so technical issues were easily conflated with political point-scoring.  Be that as it may, it put tremendous pressure on the supply chain for insulation products, and exacerbated issues related to certification and quality control of imports, principally from China.  Those issues are still with us today.

And so it is that the article once again highlights the problems consumers face in choosing appropriate insulation products.  Noting the temptation for purchasers of imported and locally manufactured insulation products to buy on price alone, Keith Anderson, Technical Manager at Kingspan Insulation explains that this is false economy, due to potentially large replacement costs, energy wastage, construction delays and an increased risk of fire.

"The defects reported widely are said to include delamination, where the surface foil layer separates from the insulation core, and oxidation, when the insulation breaks down to a brittle dust over time, not having the ability to withstand long term exposure to high operating temperatures.  More subtle failures occur when low quality reflective surfaces are affected by aging, even when they have a protective film, so that they lose their reflectance and thermal properties over a relatively short period of time."

As is often the case with articles in the trade press, the undoubted relevance of the news reported is slightly tinged with an advertorial flavour.  I normally try to avoid jumping to that conclusion, but in this case it led me to wondering what other issues are at play in the consumer's choice?

These days thermal insulation in new buildings is invariably specified to obtain mandated energy efficiency performance.  To meet the controls relies on accurate declared thermal properties for the wide range of insulation products that make up the total building envelope. 


It took no more than a few minutes of inquiry to find out that the rumblings in the industry centre as much on whether insulation performance claimed by different suppliers can be trusted.  There is a very strong suggestion that many, possibly most such declared thermal properties are overstated.  Even more forcefully put to me was the question of how this can be done with impunity?

 

The principal implication is that there is very little point in being particularly rigourous with energy efficiency controls, if designers cannot have confidence in the data on which their decisions are made.  This issue cannot be simplified to the easy duality of cheap imported versus more expensive but more reliable local product, and may raise questions not only about the commercial practices of the suppliers, but also about the probity of the certification and testing arrangements on which we so absolutely rely.

 

One has to tread very carefully indeed when probing these issues.  At the moment, I cannot pretend to be in possession of enough facts to do more than sketch out the problem.  Even casual googling quickly reveals byzantine arrangements of local suppliers, overseas manufacturers of finished product or component materials, local certification with testing outsourced to overseas laboratories, etc.  

 

One thing is certain:  the problems of the insulation industry are complex, and it is urgent to bring them into the open. 

 

Read 'Industry alert over reported insulation defects' here.





3 comments:

Evan SHEN said...

Thermal insulation in building is a significant issue to achieve thermal comfort for its inhabitants. By reducing unwanted heat loss or gain, decreasing the energy demands of heating and cooling systems, insulation has become an essential and irreplaceable product constructed in the whole building envelope, as well as one of the inevitable developments of sustainable strategies on every aspects, including natural, economical, political, etc. There is no doubt that the global has problem about worse climatic issues, increasing pollution, and meanwhile, economic crisis.

Then it might raise the question about trade-off between quality and price, between clean environment and economic growth, between people public health and personal wealth, between technical green buildings and political constraints, etc. The fact shows that it is hardly probable to have a compromise to satisfy all the above.

The first choice of green builders is paying serious attention to the health effects of building materials on indoor air quality, however, in a rather long time, actually new chemicals have been invented for the needs of high technology development which affect the indoor air quality. That could be seen like a racing, to make the buildings safer and healthier for their occupants and inhabitants, as well as less polluting and lower carbon emitting, and it resulted in a behind in that race, when situating in and facing a regularity staff in green building.

Looking those popularity of insulation using, the manufacturers have confident claims of those chemicals formulations, nevertheless, Environmental Protection Agency might have the opposite words. That would be a kind of complicated situation as technical aspects may have conflicts with political aspects, and may also financial aspects or environmental aspects. There might have some level of toxicity which do harms to people health, meanwhile the product, the material itself with bunches of advantages is hard to be replaced. When customers, builders, home-owners come to make decisions, choosing to believe popular brands with good quality reputation but gradually high expense, or long-term used materials with average cost but potentially safety problems, or other choices else, all remaining under considerations. Even more, the existence of insulation was questioned, nonetheless, it is irreplaceable and indispensible. Consequently, balance and trade-off account for much.

Informing link:
http://www2.buildinggreen.com/blogs/epa-raises-health-concerns-spray-foam-insulation

Evan SHEN said...

Thermal insulation in building is a significant issue to achieve thermal comfort for its inhabitants. By reducing unwanted heat loss or gain, decreasing the energy demands of heating and cooling systems, insulation has become an essential and irreplaceable product constructed in the whole building envelope, as well as one of the inevitable developments of sustainable strategies on every aspects, including natural, economical, political, etc. On the other hand, insulation has complicated hidden danger to some extent nowadays. If we focus on those aspects, there is no doubt that the global has problem about worse climatic issues, increasing pollution, and meanwhile, economic crisis, which may cause contradictory factors in deciding selections, laying tremendous difficulties on the supply chain for insulation products.

Then it might raise the question about trade-off between quality and price, between clean environment and economic growth, between technical green buildings and political constraints, etc. The fact shows that it is hardly probable to have a compromise to satisfy all the above. As said by the post, furthermore, "technical issues were easily conflated with political point-scoring", deciders gradually have more considerations, hardly to get a proper choice of the insulation product, instead of easily coming out a "good and smart" option without too much thinking or struggling.

Indeed, the first choice of green builders is paying serious attention to the health effects of building materials on indoor air quality, however, in a rather long time, actually new chemicals have been invented for the needs of high technology development which affect the air quality. That could be seen like a racing, to make the buildings safer and healthier for their occupants and inhabitants, as well as less polluting and lower carbon emitting, and it resulted in a behind in that race, when situating in and facing a regularity staff in green building. The public may or may not be aware of such facts. But I guess once it bring to thoroughly open, it will lead to more intricate circumstance, inevitably kind of insulation fiasco.

Looking at those popularity of insulation using, the manufacturers have confident claims of those chemicals formulations, nevertheless, Environmental Protection Agency might have the opposite words. That would be like technical aspects may have conflicts with political aspects, and may also financial aspects or environmental aspects. The insulation products might have some level of toxicity which do harms to people health, meanwhile the product, the material itself with bunches of advantages is hard to be replaced. When customers, builders, home-owners come to make decisions, choosing to believe popular brands with good quality reputation but gradually high expense, or long-term used materials with average cost but potentially safety problems, or other choices else, all remaining under considerations. Even more, the existence of insulation was questioned, nonetheless, it is irreplaceable and indispensible. Consequently, balance and trade-off account for much.

Informing link:
http://www2.buildinggreen.com/blogs/epa-raises-health-concerns-spray-foam-insulation

Jessica Simpson said...

Thanks Steve King ! to share this informative article about insulation fiasco. Reflective insulation