Why Insulation Matters

Blog By Dermot Moore

It may appear obvious, but getting to the root of a material’s use can aid the decision to go with a specific type of insulation. 

So, what is there to consider?

Price 

It is often the first thing that jumps to mind. Insulation matters to effectively reduce heating costs that can accumulate from radiators or electric heaters, particularly in the winter months. The Office of Gas and Electricity Markets, supporting the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority, is the UK’s regulating body for electricity and downstream natural gas. In 2021 they reported the average gas and electricity bill was £95 per month. One factor they mention to influence the reduction of energy costs significantly is insulation. However, the choice of insulation can affect how successfully one reduces their living costs. Certain traditional materials might increase discomfort of living and potentially exacerbate health conditions, most often of a respiratory nature. Therefore, the following two factors intrinsically tie into our decisions around pricing. 

Comfort 

Comfort is a primary concern when choosing a home. Installing the right insulation system is vital here. It will influence the heat flow throughout the house, seen from its capacity to resist heat flow in winter, allowing it to accumulate and help heat a room. Good quality insulation will also permit enough airflow to prevent rooms from overheating in the summer months. So the balance between heat resistance and conductivity should be central to one’s decision to go with a specific material. 

A modern standard for home construction, known as Passivhaus, is worth mentioning. Passivhaus developed from a German – Swedish investigation. Passivhaus advances low energy building systems that reduce a house’s energy use by approximately 75%. This system combines insulation (usually wood fibre or clay bricks) with air-to-air heat exchange ventilation systems, making for a more breathable, comfortable indoor environment. This standard is also increasing in popularity and recognition, in conjunction with growing concerns around carbon emissions in domestic life. 

Health

Health often accompanies price and comfort as a key factor when purchasing a home, with temperature playing a pivotal role in maintaining optimum wellbeing for the occupant of a house. The UK government currently recommends an indoor temperature of 18 degrees celsius. Part of the reason for this is our reduced ability to detect and adapt to a sudden change in temperature as we get older, posing health risks. However, overheating from poor insulation and electrical/gas sourced heat can contribute to less regulated heat, increasing threats to our health. Therefore, choosing insulation that functions successfully as a heat resistor and conductor is paramount. 

It is not solely temperature that we should be considering when it comes to our health at home. Moisture is also affected by our insulation choice, sometimes for better or for worse. In this instance, more traditional forms of insulation in the UK do not fare so well. Well insulated houses, but of the traditional variety, tend not to permit the necessary transfer of moisture that many people require for healthy respiration and skin health. Recently, less mainstream materials are making their mark in this area and having great success. One example that aligns with the Passivhaus standard is Margent Farm in Cambridgeshire. The home’s insulation, consisting of hemp shiv and lime, demonstrates the advantage of bio-based materials, as it regulates the moisture in the home’s air whilst also resisting mould accumulation. 

On a final note, health concerns may be significantly lower than the price for an individual buying or renting a home. Still, there is experimental evidence to suggest that health considerations when purchasing insulation can contribute to long term cost reductions, particularly for those suffering from respiratory issues.

Extra Sources

Average Heating Bill UK: How much is it, and how to save money?

25 Years of Passive House – Interview with Dr Wolfgang Feist

What are the best insulation materials for a Passivhaus?

Dezeen

Association between home insulation and hospital admission rates: retrospective cohort study using linked data from a national intervention programme

 

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