Humans are foolish creatures, in particular when it comes to how we build.
You know those crazy people who wear shorts and a t-shirt outside when the temperature is hovering around freezing? That is exactly what a poorly insulated building looks like. Put on a coat! What crazy fool would want to be so uncomfortable? The same applies to buildings. When you put on a coat, all of a sudden you can stay comfortable even when it is really cold outside. The better the coat, the more comfortable you are.
On a more serious note, insulation is important in all climates for a whole host of other reasons.
Lets take the recent Texas power outages. Many of the negative effects of this power outage could have been eliminated or drastically reduced with just a few inches of high quality exterior insulation. Homes that are well insulated would stay warmer in the winter and cooler during the summer for much longer without any energy input. This would mean that even during unexpected outages during extreme weather events occupants in these buildings would stay safe at all times and perhaps even remain completely comfortable throughout the disaster. With proper solar, an air-tight envelope, good orientation, and maybe a little thermal mass there is no need for any external heat input electrical, gas, or otherwise and no one in Texas would have died from freezing in their home or from Carbon Monoxide poisoning from turning on gas appliances not meant for heat. Moreover, all those pipes that froze would not have frozen, and as soon as the power came back on and things warmed back up a lot more people would have returned right back to normal pandemic life instead of dealing with a second completely preventable catastrophe of flooding. Just saying…
On a more regular basis, a well insulated building is simply more comfortable to live in. There are several components to thermal comfort. The first one addressed in the following chart is air temperature and relative humidity. These are considered in the field to be the largest determinants of personal comfort and as such much of the industry focuses on these factors. Unfortunately there are two more significant factors than can make a theoretically comfortable space according to this chart feel very uncomfortable in reality. The four factors are Air Temperature, Humidity, Wind Speed, & Mean Radiant Temperature. An effective well insulated envelope has a notable impact on three of these factors.
1. Air Temperature
Any effective envelope starts with a great air barrier to prevent the uncontrolled passage of air from inside to outside or vice versa. Good insulation protects that sensitive air barrier from both mechanical damage and thermal movements and stresses that may create gaps, cracks, and voids over time. In addition, good insulation counteracts the “sealed car” effect by limiting solar heat gain. Without the insulation the house would quickly overheat when in the sun is out and make the air conditioner work harder.
Insulation doesn’t have much of an impact on humidity. However, a poorly insulated wall can lead to condensation inside the wall assembly. Over time this can lead to mold, rust, rot, insects, or other headaches that are either dangerous, unhealthy, or expensive to repair. By putting sufficient insulation around our buildings we prevent sensitive components in our wall assemblies from reaching the dew point and also protect against this form of building damage passively.
3. Wind Speed
Oh the wind, the bone chilling wind. We even have a name for this in the weather. “Wind-chill factor”. It’s real. Of course in most buildings with a solid floor, four walls, and a roof the only wind generated is by fans or when we open the windows to let outdoor air in. This is the only factor of the four that is not really tangibly impacted by effective insulation.
4. Mean Radiant Temperature
You know that warm fireplace feeling even on a cold winter night? That is basically 3000 degrees of warmth in a small angle. What good insulation does is raise the mean radiant temperature of the external walls because the warmth on the inside doesn’t seep out leaving the surface as cold as the outside. Now your wall temperature is 70 degrees or very close to room temperature instead of 55 degrees over a large area.
As can be seen from the points on humidity and air temperature above, good insulation can improve the durability of our buildings by drastically reducing the amount of and frequency with which condensation occurs inside wall assemblies. Furthermore, this insulation protects the structure and air barrier membranes from thermal stresses and movement that may reduce the lifespan of many construction products.
This one is the main and most direct benefit of insulation. When you insulate you install it once and then passively get to enjoy saving energy for as long as that insulation just sits there. No maintenance, no further energy input, and you just keep raking in the savings. People rave about passive income and this is a great example of a passive income investment because a penny saved is a penny earned. Insulation is probably the best, most reliable, passive income investment you can make. Last but not least…
The Emperor Has No Clothes
If you are still developing, planning, designing, or building homes and businesses without insulation, you and your buildings look like naked fools, and anyone’s FLIR camera can see exactly how naked your building is!