7 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 Keeping Everything Moving Supply and Demand No Room for the Future Specifications, for cavity wall constructions in particular, have been carefully engineered around the contribution a thermally efficient block on the inner leaf makes. That leaves only a narrow window for an alternative product to help achieve the same, which simply isn’t realistic given the shortages experienced. The implications of bringing a site to a halt are potentially severe: extra costs, setbacks to the schedule, and the possibility of losing a workforce if they move to another site. The restless beast, therefore, demands an answer - and it is usually demanded sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, the specifications are so carefully engineered that there is no contingency in the design for product substitution. There’s often a limited understanding of the likely implications of using something different, and what on paper looks like a small change is magnified and exaggerated when it comes to making it work in reality. For example, changing a lightweight block to a medium density block might only worsen the U-value of the whole wall by 0.01 W/m2K - let’s say, from 0.21 W/m2K to 0.22 W/m2K. Not the end of the world, it might seem - but increasing the cavity insulation thickness by 5mm to claw back that difference is easier said than done. Does the insulation manufacturer make their product 5mm thicker as a stock item? Is there tolerance in the design to accommodate it if they do? If there isn’t and they don’t then there certainly won’t be the tolerance for a product 10mm or 25mm thicker. How likely or practical is it that the design can be altered to include a wider cavity, a wider inner leaf block, or a layer of internal insulation? Insulation Upheaval Over the last twelve months it hasn’t just been the supply of lightweight blocks that has exerted pressure - supply issues in the insulation industry have caused their own challenges. The limited availability of rigid polyisocyanurate (PIR) foam boards due to a shortage of one of the chemicals usedin production has left contractors and installers looking for alternatives. Which is fine … up until the point that products are offered for the wrong reasons or applications. And cavity walls remain one of the biggest areas of concern. Approved Document C of the building regulations in England and Wales advises that rigid insulating materials for cavity walls should possess current certification, and the products be installed in accordance with the contents of that certificate. (With the levels of exposure experienced in Scotland, Section 3 of the Technical Handbooks contains its own guidance on cavity insulation. Consultation with Local Authority Building Standards is advised when considering appropriate solutions.) The shortages in PIR have resulted in many and varied questions about alternative solutions. Where those solutions are based on other insulation types of proven performance, and the design can be adapted accordingly to utilise them, then all should be fine. But seeking alternative rigid products from within the same range and thinking they are ‘basically the same thing’, even though they don’t benefit from certification for cavity applications, is a recipe for quality issues - and possible non-compliance with regulations. 28

Unfortunately, the specifications are so carefully engineered that there is no contingency in the design for product substitution. Nipping it in the bud Blindly accepting unsuitable solutions means questions are likely to only come later, when there is even less willingness to address the problems. The Building Control system in England and Wales came under a lot of scrutiny in 2017; for myriad reasons, and often justifiably so. On this occasion, however, answers need to be found in the supply chain before products even get to site. The distribution partners of insulation manufacturers have a role to play, asking questions, or encouraging their customers to ask questions, as early as possible. Looking for a quick sale and getting products on site by guessing what an appropriate alternative solution might be, and only then asking questions, is NOT how business should be done. Manufacturers of the different insulation types - whether faced with taking advantage of openings in the market or minimising the disruption caused by raw material shortages - have a part to play in that process by keeping their distributors as informed as possible. It only emphasises, rather than diminishes, the importance and collective responsibility needed if our buildings are going to be the best they can be. Pacifying the restless beast is not enough; keeping it in good health is to the benefit of everybody. 29