Stopping energy from escaping

Enviro WallWith homes producing over a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions, the onus on reducing their carbon footprint has never been greater for householders and a priority government issue too.

The way a building is constructed, insulated, ventilated and the type of fuel used, all contribute to its carbon emissions. A worrying fact is that, for over half of all homes in the UK, a significant proportion of the money spent on energy is literally being thrown out of the window as a result of inadequate levels of insulation, with around 50 per cent of the heat being lost through the roof and walls.

The National Insulation Association (NIA) is a not for profit organisation representing over 90 per cent of the home insulation industry in the UK. As a membership organisation, it actively supports the government’s accelerated programme for insulation and its intention to raise awareness not only of the amount of CO2 lost through inadequate insulation, but also the amount of money that householders can save by having their homes properly insulated.

Solid wall insulation
The UK’s housing stock is estimated at approximately 24.5 million dwellings and 36 per cent are made up of non-cavity wall construction – solid brick, solid stone, pre-1944 timber frame and non-traditional, i.e. concrete construction. These types of buildings lose more heat and energy than any other type of construction – a worrying fact when it is estimated that around seven million properties with solid walls have little or no insulation. While many local authorities, housing associations, private landlords and home owners have been concentrating on filling cavities to achieve their carbon savings, improving the thermal efficiency of solid-wall properties has largely been ignored. This is primarily because the solutions are deemed to be more expensive and cause greater disruption, hence the reason that these types of dwellings are referred to as “hard to treat homes”. This is not actually correct; they are not hard to treat, just more expensive to insulate compared to cavity wall insulation and loft insulation. However, the subsequent energy savings are significantly higher.

Improving the thermal efficiency of solid wall properties is therefore an area which has massive potential for the future; particularly as little work has been carried out to date. Around 25,000 properties a year currently receive solid wall insulation (SWI) and the government’s new ‘Green Deal scheme’ announced in June will focus on whole house eco-makeovers. However, SWI will have to increase dramatically if the government is to hit its target by 2020. In fact, at a recent seminar held by the NIA, an industry expert stated that: “A figure of 200,000 properties per year would have to be completed if the government is to hit its target by 2020.” More and more individuals are now starting to recognise the advantages of SWI and there are many cost-effective solutions available.

The solutions
Solid walls can be insulated with either External Wall Insulation (EWI) or Internal Wall Insulation (IWI) and either option will greatly increase comfort, while also reducing energy bills and the associated environmental impact.

IWI typically consists of either dry lining in the form of flexible thermal linings (commonly known as thermal wallpaper), laminated insulating plasterboard (known as thermal board) or a built-up system using fibrous insulation such as mineral wool held in place using a studwork frame.
Flexible thermal linings come on a roll and are applied like wallpaper and, with some at only 10mm thick, will not cause significant disruption during installation. These products can be applied to ceilings as well as walls and provide a solution for properties without a loft space as well as those with solid walls. It can also be applied to the underside of floorboards in a cellar/basement. It is applied using a special adhesive using a roller or a brush and can be easily cut to size using wallpaper shears or scissors. Once the product has been applied it can be painted, papered or even tiled. These products are only applied to the exterior facing interior walls of the property.

Another solution is laminated insulated plasterboard which normally replaces existing lath and plaster and is fixed directly to the existing brick. Depending on the system, thermal boards can either be screwed or glued using a dry wall adhesive directly onto the brick work just like standard plaster board. It has the advantage that it can be installed room by room with the tenants in situ. It increases internal surface temperature within a room and also improves response to heating input when heated intermittently. It has the lowest thermal conductivity available and allows installation on damp surfaces without drying periods because it’s hydrophobic.

EWI comprises of an insulation layer fixed to the existing wall, with a protective render or decorative finish. Dry cladding offers a wide range of finishes such as timber panels, stone or clay tiles, brick slips (brick effect finish) or aluminium panels. EWI increases the thermal quality of the building – particularly relevant when refurbishing non-traditional housing. It also overcomes moisture and condensation issues, protects the existing building envelope, can reduce heating bills by up to 25 per cent as well as greatly improve the appearance of the building.

EWI is a tried and tested method of upgrading the thermal performance and external appearance of existing properties which are literally transformed into warm, energy efficient and attractive homes and buildings. Improving appearance is of particular significance to many local authorities targeting housing projects in poorer areas. Adding EWI on a whole street basis will raise residents’ morale and give a sense a pride in their community.

There are many benefits of EWI including the fact that no living space is lost. There is minimum disruption for the residents as the work can be carried out while they are in their homes and there is no risk of condensation within the property as it is moved to the outside of the system that is being put in place. Also there is minimal maintenance once installed.

Peace of mind
As with all types of insulation, the NIA cannot stress enough the importance of using a reputable and suitably qualified installer.

All members of the NIA abide by a strict Code of Professional Practice, meaning they will work using the best possible customer care and to the best possible technical and professional standards. The Code regulates a company’s marketing approach and the contract between the customer and the installer. It also oversees how the company trains its staff, relevant health and safety procedures, customer care, pertinent guarantees and what happens should things go wrong.

Using an NIA member provides peace of mind and the assurance that work will be carried out to a specified standard. Also, with many local authorities and housing associations embarking on major refurbishment projects in line with government targets, SWI will no doubt be high on the list of priorities in many areas of the UK. The NIA is able to offer support to such organisations by contacting its members on their behalf requesting expressions of interest to tender for work. This not only removes the footwork out of finding a suitable installer, but also provides the reassurance that all work carried out will be second to none.