If your energy bill is high, you are not alone. About 20% of the energy we use in the U.S. goes to power commercial buildings, and a survey from 2012 shows that by far the highest use is heating. If you add together heating, cooling, and ventilation, then about a third of your utility bill is going just to climate control.
This means that a key element of building efficiency is to reduce the energy used to heat the building, and insulation is an important part of this. Too many building owners focus on easy fixes such as using LED lights and buying more energy-efficient equipment. While these are important, insulation is a neglected factor that can result in significant savings for both new builds and renovated buildings.
The Benefits of Proper Insulation
Proper insulation, which covers walls, ceilings and floors, including floors in the building, has several benefits:
- It lowers heating and cooling costs substantially.
- It increases comfort for those working in the building, thus improving morale. For residential buildings, it improves resident satisfaction.
- If you have archives or other areas that need to be kept at a constant temperature, it makes it much easier.
How Does Insulation Work?
Insulation works by reducing air flow into and out of the building. This means that it helps keep the heat out in summer and in in winter. A lot of people mistakenly think insulation "keeps a building warmer," when what it does is slow heat transfer. In the summer, the heat can rush into your cooler building, causing the systems to work harder. In the winter, heat will escape through every crack.
Insulation, in other words, reduces the amount your heating and cooling systems need to work to maintain the same stable temperature. It is rated by something called the R-value, which measures the ability to resist heat transfer. The higher the R-value, the more efficient the insulation, but you should also consider the size and the shape of the space being insulated.
What Types of Insulation Are There?
There are several types of insulation, and which you should use for your building depends on its construction. It also depends on whether you are doing a new build or, as is far more likely in New York, renovating an older building.
- Concrete blocks or forms. Concrete blocks are a great form of insulation when used in combination with foam beads, trapped air, or specialized cells. Concrete forms, which are more versatile, are hard to impossible to install in existing buildings, because of the seal that is required and the custom nature of the forms. For most New York building owners, concrete forms are not going to be an option. Blocks, however, can be installed during a major renovation.
- Blown and sprayed insulation. This is much easier to install post construction. The insulation is a foam, cellulose, or fiberglass material that is blown or sprayed into vulnerable spaces. It can be put into spaces that are oddly shaped or difficult to reach but can be expensive on larger buildings.
- Blanket insulation. Blanket insulation is generally used in single family homes but may be an option for smaller buildings. Most insulation blankets are fiberglass, although they can be plastic or mineral wool. This is inexpensive for small buildings. They do, however, need to be fitted properly.
- Rigid fiber insulation. This takes the form of rigid panels or boards which are cut to fit the space they are required in. This is a great option for between-floor insulation as it is also fire resistant and can reduce the risk of a fire spreading through the building. They also have an excellent R-value, between R-4 and R-6.5 per inch.
What Should You Remember When Installing Insulation?
There are a few things you should remember if installing or updating insulation in your building:
- Don't forget the floors. Insulating between floors slows heat flow through the building and helps reduce the loss of heat and cooling effects. This is particularly true when different tenants have the heat set at different levels. A tenant who prefers the heat higher directly below one who is keeping it at a lower level will experience heat loss up into the cooler office, and then will have to turn their heat higher.'
- Make sure that the ventilation system is effective. Insulation makes a building more airtight, which can then cause moisture to be trapped into the building.
- Air sealing is important. Make sure that there are no gaps around windows or exterior doors. Stairwell doors should also be sealed as stairwells tend to cause air flow through the building.
If you need help designing a plan to improve insulation and overall efficiency, then contact Scott Henson Architect today. We are willing to assist with renovations to keep your New York City building comfortable, no matter what Mother Nature decides to do.