Insulation unlocks the savings

Director of the National Insulation Association, Gillian Allder outlines the potential energy savings available to industry from effective buildings insulation.

Far greater energy efficiency is one of the core elements needed to meet the environmental challenge of the 21st century. The government’s Energy White Paper sets out its goals and targets for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide by 60 per cent by 2050. Half this reduction must come from improving the energy efficiency of buildings, which account for more than 50 per cent of the UK’s greenhouse emissions.

The planned saving over the next two decades alone – 10m tonnes of carbon – is double that which has been achieved over the past thirty years. Analysis shows that energy efficiency is not only the most cost-effective way of cutting energy use, and thereby carbon emissions, but it can be achieved with a net benefit to the economy of £150 per tonne.

The UK consumes £54 billion worth of energy annually: 42 per cent of this is consumed in buildings. Increasing the energy efficiency of buildings is identified as the cheapest, cleanest and safest way of achieving the government’s policy objectives.

Energy expenditure

Evidence from past decades suggests that energy expenditure is not a major concern for non-energy intensive industry. However, in recent years in business and the public sector, price mechanisms like the Climate Change Levy and associated measures (in particular the Climate Change Agreements) introduced in 2001, have been successful in highlighting the role of energy efficiency and raising the profile of energy costs to industry and business.

The Carbon Trust says Britain’s non-domestic sector has the potential to save more than a million pounds worth of energy and about six million tonnes of carbon each year by the end of 2010. Based on energy use, rather than actual emissions, the Climate Change Levy penalises the clean high energy user as much as the smokestack.

The government has put insulation at the top of its energy efficiency strategy, recognising the essential role it can play in helping the UK achieve its climate change target of a 20 per cent improvement in energy efficiency by 2010. The biggest potential savings are to be found in the insulation sector. For example, the total potential achievable savings available by 2010 from low cost measures such as cavity and internal solid wall insulation, loft insulation, draughtproofing and tank/pipe insulation represents 49 per cent of total energy savings and 37 per cent of additional carbon savings.

Insulating the building fabric through inexpensive cost-effective energy efficiency measures utilises the benefits of the heating system – a well insulated building will require a smaller boiler capacity and fewer radiators. This reduction in heating demand will release funds to spend on important frontline services. Additionally, condensation is generally eliminated and overall comfort is improved, thus providing a more acceptable and healthier working environment. However it is essential, in order to achieve maximum cost-effectiveness, that the insulation is applied as a package of measures.

The updated Building Regulations (April 2002) significantly tighten insulation and thermal efficiency standards, thus leaving more existing buildings well below acceptable levels of insulation.

Insulation service

The National Insulation Association, the national trade body of the installers and manufacturers of insulation products and services, can provide an insulation service. It is an ongoing ‘one-stop-shop’ for obtaining a package of technical information on energy efficiency measures for all parts of the building fabric – wall insulation, loft insulation and draught proofing.

The Association welcomes the very substantial improvements within the revised Building Regulations, in the interest of reducing pollution. However the effect on buildings which are below 21st century standards, is likely to be less impressive. Climate change appears already to be having an adverse and costly effect: it would therefore be preferable for Building Regulations to move to requiring minimum energy efficiency standards for all heated buildings. Minimum acceptable standards could be progressively raised, in line with the insulation industry’s ability to cope with demand.

One of the major areas of heat loss in a building is the uninsulated wall. In an uninsulated building, the walls account for up to half the total heat loss. If the buildings with cavity walls built before 1976 were insulated, up to 70 per cent of this could be saved. The process alleviates condensation on the inside of the walls: it assists in making inner walls warmer and temperatures in the building more even and comfortable. Given a sufficient level of background heating and adequate ventilation, condensation does not occur on the walls and is less likely elsewhere.

Warmer conditions

To improve energy efficiency in solid walled buildings an insulated thermal lining can be used successfully. This measure provides immediate warmer conditions within the building; minimises heat loss through cold walls; and dramatically reduces the incidence of condensation. It is quick and easy to apply and can be decorated with virtually any finish. Fuel savings can be quite substantial.

Loft insulation and draught proofing have an effective role to play in energy efficiency within existing buildings. To gain maximum energy efficiency and bring existing loft insulation in line with the latest new build standards, the National Insulation Association recommends topping up 150mm or less of loft insulation to 270mm thickness (glass wool) or 250mm (rock wool or cellulose fibre) to include 100mm laid between the joists and 170/150mm across the joists.

Top quality durable draught proofing is now seen as a key energy efficiency measure. Simple and relatively inexpensive, but quality British Standard draught proofing systems can transform the majority of energy inefficient buildings. Ill fitting windows not only cause severe cold down-draughts, but also lose warm air at exceptionally high rates. Draught strips and sealants can reduce this outflow by up to 90 per cent. The same applies with doors, unnecessary vents and other gaps in the building fabric.

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