Report by Liz White, UTI editor and Louise McHenry, UI staff
At the 2011 Ecobuild exhibition, held 1-3 March in the ExCel centre in London, visitors were faced with innumerable ways to help them construct energy-efficient homes, many of them rather quirky and not all of them noticeably sustainable.
But the polyurethane insulation industry was represented -and not just from the UK, see Icynene story and companies were keen to promote the green aspects of their various insulation products.
For the exhibition, the UK SIP Association, the trade body representing manufacturers of structural insulated panels (SIPs) in the UK, built a pair of dwellings which complied with Passivhaus' standards.
Passivhaus is a European standard for energy-efficient constructions, in which minimal or no energy input is needed to heat/cool the building.
Interest in the technology is high, according to Peter Barr of the UK SIP Associa tion Ltd, who is also commercial director of SIP Co. Ltd, based in Widnes, in the north of England.
"In the UK, obviously the crash has affected business," said Barr. "But this year we've seen a noticeable increase in inquiry levels right across all sectors from self-build through to developers," he added.
Self-builders were the early adopters when SIP Co. started 5-6 years ago, but now the markets are more aware of SIP technology, Barr said. Some three years ago, architects/builders started to get more interested and become aware of it, he added.
Building regulations pave way for SIPs
Agreeing that large-scale housing companies are showing more interest, Barr said: "In a sense they're being forced into it by the building regulations; the need for more sustainable homes." The UK's Code for Sustainable Homes
- a national standard for sustainable design and construction - has six levels which measure how much energy efficiency has risen over 2006 levels, and level 4 (44 percent improvement) becomes mandatory in 2012, Barr said. "SIPs as a system offers fantastic air tightness and insulation with a minimum wall thickness," he commented.
SIPs are prefabricated panels made of two skins, often oriented strand board (OSB) with a thick (110-150 mm) layer of polymer insulation between.
Barr's firm makes polyurethane foam filled panels, some with a U value - a measure of thermal conductivity, of 0.14 W/m2 K.
"We believe SIPS are the product of the future," Barr said. "We're more expensive than timber frame at the minute, and masonry is dirt cheap," partly because the building sector has such problems, Barr said.
"But we believe that as the sector moves forward, technologies such as SIPS will really prove their value."
Barr's company and the association are aligned with code level 6 for the UK sustainable buildings code, which has to be met by 2016 and is a carbon neutral building.
He also indicated that the US may pursue Passivhaus standards across Europe, and SIPs lend themselves to meeting that code and being carbon neutral.
Barr noted that the "US target for carbon neutral is 2030, so they're 14 years behind us." The UK SIP Association has 86 members among panel makers, raw materials people, engineers and designers.
There is still plenty of scope for self-build projects and "that's one of the reasons we set up: to try and make sure there's some control and things are built properly," Barr said.
UK SIP Association member Kingspan Tek's main focus at Ecobuild was the promotion of products that meet Passivhaus standards.
Kingspan Tek's SIPs panels are prefabricated housing sections, similar to SIP Co's, featuring a rigid urethane insulation core, bonded on either side to OSB. As SIP panels are structural composites, the panel can support much the load of a building, according to Alex Hyslop, brand manager for Kingspan TEK.
In terms of 'green' products, Hyslop told UTI, "It's not overt sometimes but polyurethane can be just as environmentally friendly as almost any other insulation product." He added that Kingspan had received an A+ Green Guide rating for its SIPs panel, which is the highest grade available.
He said that Kingspan as a company has a good reputation in terms of sustainability.
Hyslop noted that often urethane manufacturers didn't feel confident about promoting the green aspects of their products but said it was all about giving customers the right information and letting them make their own minds up.
Refurbishment project for old stock
Kingspan Insulated Panels is launching its Retrofit initiative, on refurbishing existing building stock to maximise the insulation potential of the dwellings.
In partnership with Elmhurst Energy, an energy-efficiency expert, and Cyril Sweett, a loft-engineering group, Kingspan found four different buildings - a primary school, a retail outlet, some council offices and a factory – and carried out an energy assessment and insulation refurbishment on each. The aim is to show how existing buildings can be insulated and made more environmentally friendly.
Kingspan also presented Benchmark, its architectural business which aims to combine insulation with aesthetically-pleasing facades. Head of marketing Chris Witte noted that as the facade and through-wall system (Benchmark Connect) have been factory-assembled, they provide a quick way to make 9 building weatherproof.
He added that Kingspan also offers solar photovoltaic technology called Solyndra which can be used in conjunction with Kingspan's PIR (polyisocyanurate) insulated panels for roofs.
"Because we have a large market share with insulated metal roofs in the UK, it made a lot of sense for us to ask our roofing contractor partners - when they're putting the roof on - to screw in some PV [technology] at the same time," Witte explained.
Underfloor insulation on the rise
EcoTherm, which was bought by the Kingspan Group in January, develops insulation boards for flat and pitched roofs. Walls, floors and ceilings.
Although Ecotherm's EcoUFH thermal insulation business for underfloor heating was not present at Ecobuild, sales and marketing director Mark Tudor was quick to point out that underfloor insulation is high on the green agenda for the company.
The EcoUHF board has a rigid PIR foam core with a woven aluminium grid, which holds the clips necessary to f ix the heating pipes. Tudor added, "Seventy percent of people that build their own home - self builders, very much into the green agenda - go for the underfloor heating rather than traditional radiators."
Ecotherm's flat roofing products include Eco Bond (a thin PIR foam with mineral-coated glass fibre tissue on both sides) and Eco-Fix (a PIR foam core with aluminium foil facing on both sides). Tudor pointed to the positives of PIR, noting that it can be made thinner than many other materials, while still maintaining the insulation values required by building regulations.
Tudor also commented that PIR will retain its insulation properties longer than other materials such as lambs wool or newspaper.
He concluded, "Over eight years, it pays back in energy efficiency; it pays back the carbon footprint it has taken to produce it. It never breaks down. That's why PIR is the product in terms of insulation."
UK-based supplier of construction products Alumasc, offers a wide range of insulation materials, including PIR insulation boards, mineral wool and cork panels. Area manager for the facades business, Nigel Walters, noted that PIR is cost effective and would retain its popularity "to satisfy the mass demand for solid wall insulation."
The company, which mainly serves the UK market, is currently preparing a strategy for the 'Green Deal,' which will allow homeowners to take advantage of cost-effective insulation to refurbish their houses.
At Ecobuild, Xtratherm showcased various types of rigid thermal insulation, including Xtroliner, a panel with a modified performance polyisocyanurate (PIR) core bonded to textured aluminium foil facings. The pane lhas a Class 'O' fire rating, which it says is the highest national product performance classification for lining materials.
The Irish company, which has production facilities in the UK, was also showing its Xtratherm Thermal Laminates, plasterboard/PIR composite boards, which have been approved by the BBA (British Board of Agrement).
Kerry Westlake, sales and marketing manager at Xtratherm,said while PIR is non biodegradable, this is a benefit from an ecological point of view as it means the product will not deteriorate over time.
"It's a high-performance product that performs well for the life of the building. Its contributions to energy saving and reducing CO, emissions are huge," he commented.
BLOCKING OUT THE WEATHER
IsoChemie's stand featured its lsoBloco product, a compressed sealant tape for door and window installations, made with flexible polyurethane foam.
Many of the German company's tapes are developed with a three level principle in mind, an Isa-Chemie spokeswoman told UTI.
"In the inside, you have air-tightness. In the middle, noise and acoustic, and on the outside, you have weather protections," she said. lso Chemie's tapes fit the green bill as they provide good air-tightness, which prevents heat loss from buildings, the company claims.