Insulation Guide Hopes to Comfort Engineers and Occupants Alike

If you haven’t been on a construction site lately, the word “insulation” will bring to mind one thing: long rolls of paper-backed pink fiberglass. This decades-old mainstay of residential construction is used in over 90% of homes in the United States, but it is not the only, nor the most efficient, type of insulation.

As the demand for high-efficiency building materials increases, engineers and contractors are looking for new ways of keeping the occupants of tomorrow’s buildings comfortable, and the existing buildings of today compliant with increasingly demanding codes.

One possible solution? High-efficiency foam insulation and wood structural panels. The problem in implementing these new technologies? The unknown.

A computer illustration of a 2x6 wall framing package.

A computer illustration of a 2×6 wall framing package.

Changes in building codes mean that existing buildings looking to improve their R-Value (a measure of an insulation’s efficiency) are left with two options: increase the cavity insulation, or add exterior insulation. Despite its ease of use and high performance, only 10% of homes use exterior rigid foam and insulated wood structural panels. Implementation of these new materials are limited by a lack of specific performance details and concerns over long-term moisture performance and hazard resistance.

The Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) hopes to answer some of these questions, and help bring high R-Value exterior foam and insulated wood structural panels into the mainstream. In cooperation with the Department of Energy’s Building America program and Home Innovation Research Labs, FPL researchers are working to assemble a Builder’s Guide to support a wider adoption of energy-efficient wall systems in residential construction.

The first edition will focus on two primary wall systems: 2×6 walls with optimized framing and 2×4 walls with exterior foam insulation. These two wall systems represent the best of adaptable, mainstream, energy-efficient options that use standard materials and require a minimal learning curve.

The guide, geared toward industry professionals, should be available in early 2016, and will contain advice for builders that can be readily implemented in the field using available methods and materials. The publication will cover everything from minimum code requirements and best practices, to 3-D graphics showing various construction options.

With this new guide, builders and engineers will have peace of mind about the performance of these new technologies and be armed with the knowledge to make informed decisions about these new insulation systems. Together, they will keep us all warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer, and reduce our energy requirements for the decades ahead.

For more information, please see the FPL Research in Progress publication Builder’s Guide to Energy-Efficient and Durable Wood-Frame Walls.