3 months ago

Insulate Magazine Issue 14 - January 2018

Featuring exclusive articles, standing out from the crowd, NIA conference review, keeping everything moving and Review, Reflect and Reset the new year edition of insulation provides a kick start to 2018...

The only independent

The only independent insulation industry trade magazine Exclusive Insulate Column Standing Out From the Crowd the design and specification of insulation systems Undertaking building projects efficiently typically relies on using familiar details and materials that can be repeated from project to project. At a domestic level the refrain of, “We’ve always done it this way” is far from uncommon - and is perfectly acceptable, as long as ‘this way’ doesn’t involve a lack of familiarity with good practice. For domestic projects on a larger scale, volume house builders are widely recognised for their resistance to anything that might deviate them from their highly optimised, highly profitable, existing house-type designs. Invention and Innovation If necessity is the mother of invention then it’s hard to see where demand from the end user requires innovation from manufacturers of insulation - or any other construction product, for that matter. Designing new insulation products and systems is, inevitably, a costly process as well - costs that many users and installers are unwilling to accept when a familiar solution at a familiar price still exists. More often than not, necessity is regulation-driven - but changes in regulations might only occur every three to five years and be incremental in nature. Given such a level of inertia, it’s perhaps surprising how many insulation manufacturers employ the word ‘innovative’ in their branding. Does ‘innovative’ mean anything, or is it one of those buzzwords that companies have to be seen using? In any category of insulation material, take the products of different manufacturers and compare them side-byside. Based on the declared performance specification alone, it’s often difficult to discern significant differences. The development of manufacturing technology; the safeguards placed on raw material selection and usage; and the levelling of the playing field brought about by harmonised standards and product certification - all have made it harder for individual products to truly stand out from the crowd. It’s either extremely difficult or extremely expensive to make big leaps in product performance. For the manufacturer, the most exciting innovation might be unseen by the end user, such as refining their factory processes to deliver the same standard of product while reducing waste and improving the efficiency of raw material use. That’s not as easy to shout about as an interesting new product, however. With limited advancements to be made in the performance and physical dimensions of insulation products, it makes sense to look at how products can benefit the installer. After all, for as many people who ask how to install a product before they start work, nearly as many wait until the project is half built before they think to check. People might be impressed by a radical new product design, but that almost always relegates it to a niche where uptake is slow. And if people do take a chance on it, there’s a risk they’ll try to use like the products they’re familiar with. For installers, innovation isn’t necessarily the big leap - it’s addressing a shortcoming of an existing product or installation technique. Making a Differennce 18 Specifying Systems and Products 3 Checking You may be surprised to read this, but there is an insulation product out there that is the answer to everybody’s needs. From time to time, it surfaces in written specifications. It disguises itself by sharing the name of an existing product that was probably on the mind of the person writing the specification. The product has market-leading thermal performance, the best Green Guide rating available, a superior compressive strength … and no manufacturer can actually develop it. Okay, so this tongue in cheek observation is risking veering into outright sarcasm, but it is an observation based in truth. Too many specifications feature a clause that starts describing one type of insulation, only to then require performance characteristics found in others. All of which begs the question as to whether the original insulation material was actually intended or not. In the book Architectural Technology, author Stephen Emmitt lists six rules of specification writing. All are important; three have particular pertinence to this discussion: 1. 1 Accuracy In particular the precise use of words and symbols. For example, the ease with which a thermal conductivity of 0.022 W/mK can be confused with a U-value of 0.22 W/ m2K is as alarming as it is frequent. “Check and double check for compliance with … manufacturer’s recommendations … and compatibility with the overall design philosophy.” When a manufacturer receives a specification clause describing a product that can’t exist, it’s difficult to trust that a design philosophy is in place. Education, education, education Is that lack of trust fair? Producing full NBS documents for a contract is a daunting undertaking, and time and cost pressures rarely afford the freedom to research to a desirable extent. Sometimes the references and standards quoted for a single clause are so unfamiliar that it’s impossible to know what question to ask to start making sense of it! Designing and developing insulation products, then, is balancing the desire to appeal to specifiers by setting the product apart from closely matched competitors, with retaining familiarity for contractors so as to make sure the product is installed correctly. Perhaps the real innovation needs to come in developing educational tools to accompany new products and systems, written to make sure all parties feel suitably informed about which insulation materials are best-suited for what applications. That way, we might all be able to enjoy the benefits of realising their full performance potential in finished buildings. 2 Redundancy Most commonly, when using a previous specification as the basis for the current project and not pruning it accordingly. 19