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Category: insulation July 15th, 2008 by mbc


From a full Passivhaus design to a simple loft conversion the effective use of insulation has never been more high profile. One of the key features of current renovation and new building design is the effective utilisation of insulation to minimise heating requirements. Whilst in the UK we historically tended to think of insulation in terms of carpeting lofts with fibre or pumping old newspapers into wall cavities, things have moved on.

In this series of articles, mbc will bring you an overview of the current technology and options that are available.

We’ll use four broad classifications for insulation materials:

Insulation manufactured from natural sustainable materials.
The most sustainable and therefore greenest category of insulators. Includes Sheep’s wool, Cork, Hemp and Straw-board.

Insulation manufactured from waste materials.
Closely on the heels of the sustainable materials come Wood fibreboard, Cellulose fibre and Foamed glass.

Insulation manufactured from natural materials.
These have been with us for sometime and use plentiful but finite resources and have production processes that lead to products with high embodied energy. Glass fibre & Mineral wool insulations fall within this category.

Insulation manufactured from petrochemicals.
Expanded and Extruded Polystyrene, Phenolic foam, Polyurethane and Polyisocyanurate. Being derived from oil and with production processes that lead to products with high embodied energy these are the least green category of insulators.

[Update: bear in mind that these types of insulation can be very efficient and therefore repay the embodied energy more quickly than a less well specified, less efficient, seemingly greener alternative.]

As articles on each type of insulation are added links will open up from the article – keep checking back!

If you enjoyed that post, then read these…

Insulation ~ Wood Fibreboard
Made from pulped wood, wood fibreboard is potentially a local material for all.

tag: ‘insulation

Insulation ~ Mineral Wool
Mineral Wool is an inorganic product manufactured from glass or rock.

tag: ‘insulation

Insulation ~ Phenolic foam
Phenolic foam insulation is made by combining phenol-formaldehyde resin (note the presence of formaldehyde, a hazardous chemical and known carcinogen), a foaming agent and a hardener.

tag: ‘insulation

Posted in insulation | 11 Comments » « Leave Yours

11 Responses

  1. Ed Davies Says:

    Wouldn’t it be better to classify cellulose fibre as being manufactured from waste material rather than from natural materials – most of it comes from recycled paper, doesn’t it?

  2. mbc Says:


    I think you’re right … my classification between sustainable and waste was a bit woolly (nothing to do with sheep!) … moved!


  3. Chokyi - Parenting Says:

    Thanks for your introduction on the classification of insulation material. 😀

  4. antony jackson Says:

    Comments regarding Petro chemical derived insulants (least green) are correct only if the insulant you refer to saves more energy over the life of the building than a petro chemical one, eg. If you have a given thickness of wall or roof you are far better off using PIR or phenolic as insulation with improved lambder value, this will save far more energy than the emobodided energy, open to debate but roughly 1000 times over a 100 year life cycle. Yes i do work for a PIR manufacturer but i am reading this in my own time out of genuine interest! Very good site!

  5. mbc Says:

    Thanks for that Antony – an important point and well made… I’ve added an update to the text above.

  6. alan bryant Says:

    dare i say multifoil??? i now work for KDB although i have converted my own oak framed barn so im still impartial of sorts. Airflex is 100% recyclable as its 30 micron aluminium rather than pe film like most of the other “foils”

  7. anthony Watts Says:

    Does anyone have any views on the best solution for insulating the internal side of external stone walls of a barn? The issue seems to be insulation performance v’s breathability of the existing walls. Any thoughts/advice would be greatly appreciated.

  8. mbc Says:

    Anthony, not the most practical or encompassing advice, but in Eastern Europe fire wood can provide a partial solution >>

    More practically I think a friend of mine has some advice on this – I’ll ask him next time I see him and pass on any information.

  9. Logs | my barn conversion Says:

    […] Location, Location! pah, that’s old hat we all know that the new mantra of home-building is Insulation, Insulation, Insulation learn more from our ongoing series. Read more about – Lime mortar, VAT on conversions… more […]

  10. Gyles Palmer Says:

    Anybody have any ideas as to how I could insulate a stone barn without covering the internal stone walls?
    The outside will be limewashed and I was thinking of putting a (thick) layer of Hempcrete and then limewashing it thus insulating from the outside – do you think it will work?

  11. mbc Says:

    Gyles – seems like a very sensible thing to do if you need to preserve space. Personally I wouldn’t keep that much internal stone exposed for aesthetic reasons only.

    Thick hempcrete and then limewashing seems to be a workable solution – people get very excited on the subject over on the Green Building Forum! I’d discuss it with your local planners as early as possible as well.

    My one reservation would be the cooling effect of all that internal exposed stone. It will take a lot of heat to raise the temperature of the massive thermal store of your walls. I’d say you’d need to heat at a low level continually over the winter to avoid a perpetual heating-cooling cycle. Obviously in a ‘normal’ internally partitioned and insulated build the insulation keeps the heat ‘in’ and the cooling effect of the masonary ‘out’.

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