The need to reduce energy consumption combined with the desire of homeowners to cut costs and enhance their quality of life means that, right now, insulation is a critical topic for specifiers.
Up until now, Australia’s climate policy debate has centred mainly around energy sources. The focus has been on whether we will shift from our current reliance on fossil fuels to renewables, and if so, when and how quickly.
Another key factor, energy efficiency, has received less attention. Even though – at least in the construction context – it has just as important a role to play in a low carbon future as renewables, we don’t hear much about it.
And we don’t hear much about the fact that one of the best ways to reduce energy use is by installing insulation. As the Victorian government points out, insulated homes can cut energy usage and its associated costs by 40 - 50 percent. What’s more, because of these reductions, these products will pay for themselves in five to six years.
Energy efficiency isn’t insulation’s only positive. It delivers other benefits like reducing moisture in homes and, in the case of acoustic insulation, making living spaces more liveable and reducing stress.
In other words, insulation is an important consideration for anybody building or designing a house. The good news is that the products on offer in this space are only improving, making it simpler for Australians to not only reduce their ecological footprint but to create liveable homes for themselves and their families.
So, what are these products, and who are the key players in this important market?
In the insulation market, Kingspan’s products include Kooltherm K18 Insulated Plasterboard, a high performance, fibre-free rigid thermoset, closed cell phenolic product.
The product’s insulating material is sandwiched between a front-facing, tapered edge gypsum-based plasterboard, and a reverse facing of low emissivity foil autohesively bonded to the insulation core during manufacture.
One of the key benefits of Kooltherm K18 Insulated Plasterboard is that it provides a continuous thermal line for the walls of homes and therefore, improved performance as compared to products that can only be installed within a frame.
Made in Australia, it is easy to handle and install, CodeMark certified for NCC Compliance and has Group 1 NCC Fire classification. It allows for quick response heating and cooling, and is resistant to the passage of water vapour.
Knauf Insulation offers a range of thermal and acoustic systems for walls, roofs and floors.
However, unlike other manufacturers, Knauf offers Earthwool – a brand that features Ecose Technology. A sustainable binder that contains no added formaldehyde, this technology is certified by Eurofins Gold as an ‘outstanding material’ according to Volatile Organic Compound’s (VOC) indoor Air Quality emissions regulations.
Softer than traditional glasswool products and therefore easier to handle and install, Earthwool products are odourless and are brown in colour.
They are manufactured using up to 80 percent recycled glass bottles and contain no phenols, acrylics, artificial colours, bleaches or dyes. Despite this, they lose nothing in terms of performance. On the contrary, Earthwool insulation products deliver high level thermal and acoustic performance, along with fire resistance. They comply with all the required Australian and European Standards for glasswool.
AIS Building Insulation
The commercial and residential building arm of the Perth based AIS Group, AIS Building Insulation, is the Australian distributor for the global Rockwool and Rockfon product range. The company offers a large suite of non-combustible thermal and acoustic stone wool insulation materials. These include the Rockwool Safe‘n’Silent range, which is designed and manufactured to achieve excellent acoustic insulation performance in all types of drywall partition configurations.
Recommended for use in residential buildings and elsewhere, its benefits include a high noise absorption co-efficient, excellent thermal efficiency and low water vapour absorption.
Further products include Rockfon Facett, a versatile insulating ceiling tile that is fixed directly to the building soffit envelope and recommended for parking garages and building entrances; and Rockwool HardRock roofing boards, which are suitable for flat roof construction.
All these products are made from rock, basalt, anorthosite and carbonates, in a process that is not unlike the natural production of lava in volcanoes. The rocks are melted in a cupola (furnace) then spun into fibres and processed in different ways to produce a range of products ideally suited to their intended applications.
This may vary from rigid slabs, flexible rolls, flexible wired mattresses, pipe insulation, ‘construction’ rockwool for sandwich panel cores, ‘loose fill’ for cryogenic insulation and even slabs suitable for growing plants in. All of them being low cost, non-combustible, durable and recyclable.
An Australian manufacturer of insulated wall, ceiling and roof panels, Bondor Metecno offers products in three globally accepted options including a PIR insulated wall panel, mineral wool insulated wall panel and an EPS-FR insulated wall panel.
One of the strengths of these offerings is that they share common features, regardless of whether they are designed for use on roofing or walls.
“The products are a three-in-one panel offering a roof sheet, insulation and ceiling sheet as one compact unit,” explains Geoff Marsdon, executive general manager of Bondor Australia.
“They replace the traditional approach of built up systems using individual products (roofing, insulation and ceiling products). The structural nature of the products also means there is no need for trusses. Therefore, the panel can achieve long spans. They open up living, retail or warehouse space very effectively.”
According to Marsden, because the insulating material is held in place and the panels lock together with airtight joints, it does not suffer from crumbling, sagging or gaps that can mean that traditional approaches to insulation lose as much as 70 percent of their effectiveness over time.
“Replacing three individual products with one also means a better outcome for the environment with less site waste and few site deliveries to deal with,” he says.
Covering all areas of residential homes, CSR Bradford’s offerings include Bradford Gold Hi-Performance insulation for ceilings and external walls; Bradford Anticon roof blankets for metal roofs; Airomatic roof vents and Eave Vents for both tiled and metal roofs; Bradford Enviroseal roof sarking for tiled roofs; and Bradford SoundScreen, an acoustic insulation solution designed to reduce airborne noise transfer between floors.
On top of that, the company offers Bradford SoundScreen to help minimise noise transfer between rooms, as well as Bradford Enviroseal, a vapour permeable wrap for external walls.
Mark Pohlner, CSR Bradford’s architectural business development manager explains that the company has played a role in the development of high-performance glasswool products over recent years.
“Traditionally, these products had a density of around 10kg a cubic metre. With our high-performance products, we’ve doubled the density. We’ve gone to densities of 20 – 32kg a cubic metre. This has improved the thermal performance of the products without making them any thicker,” he says.
Those bemoaning the lack of political progress in reducing Australia’s carbon emissions can take heart from developments in places like the home insulation market. While parliaments have failed to reach consensus, manufacturers continue to take significant steps on the path to a low carbon future.
Anticipating a shift in the NCC, from the insulation performance to conductive performance of buildings, Pohlner is positive about the future.
“There’s going to be a seismic shift in the industry. We’ll go from just chucking insulation in homes to producing carbon neutral homes... Most of the major builders are already building higher energy efficiency homes,” he says.
“They are improving the insulation performance of the outer envelope of the building. The thermal envelope – the floors, walls and roof – will be improved.”
“We will head down the road of introducing additional insulation in the form of a deeper stud on the external envelope. We’ll also look to make houses far more airtight. We’ll wrap them externally in tape and we’ll tape up all the penetrations around windows and doors.”
Along with improvements in areas like window design and the increased use of solar panels on houses, insulation is set to play a key role in creating the zero carbon homes of the future.