What Ferrari Knows Can Help With Insulating Homes to Reduce Utility Bills

ferrari_192319It makes sense to “lightweight” automobiles, even though it costs more to use premium materials such as aluminum or magnesium than to use steel. The general rule of thumb in the auto industry is that you save about seven percent fuel economy for every 10 percent vehicle weight that you reduce. Reducing vehicle weight impacts almost every other attribute in a positive manner:

  • it burns less fuel,
  • lowers emissions into the atmosphere,
  • accelerates and brakes better,
  • provides less “wear and tear” on load bearing parts in the suspension and brake systems and,
  • is more nimble in handling.

 The aluminum alloys in the automobile industry perform equal or better to steel in dent resistance. Finally, pound for pound, aluminum absorbs twice the crash energy as steel, helping the all-aluminum Audi A8 achieve 5-star crash performance levels.

 Despite this, mainstream automakers continue to address fuel economy issues by improving powertrains, shrinking vehicle size, or a host of other band-aid fixes. A lighter weight vehicle is more efficient (efficiency improvement per unit cost) than most of these other approaches and it improves the performance of these other approaches in the process!

 Traditionally, it was high price tag vehicles (Audi, Ferrari, etc.) that were made from lightweight materials. Later this year, the 2015 Ford F-150 will launch with an all-aluminum body structure. The F-150 is one of the highest production volume vehicles in the world, so this is a game changer not just for Ford, but for the global auto industry. For the above-cited performance reasons, Ford wants you to equate an aluminum F-150 with other aluminum vehicles like the Space Shuttle or the battle-tested Army Humvee, not a soda can.

 So what does this have to do with insulation? We often hear homeowners being urged to switch to more efficient light bulbs, windows, doors, appliances, etc. to address utility bills. Yet millions of homes are under insulated.

 Like vehicle weight, insulation in a house is not very visible or exciting – at least not in the same way that a new stainless steel Energy Star refrigerator might be. Yet, like vehicle weight, improving insulation in a house is one of the smartest things you can do to lower your operating costs. Adding insulation helps improve the performance of things like high-efficiency HVAC equipment/systems, new appliances, or windows that are touted for their energy saving potential.

 We should all learn a lesson from the auto industry: it may not be as cool as an 8 speed transmission (new windows), but reducing vehicle weight (adding home insulation) is the smart move to make before you invest in other energy savers.

 

Rules Matter When it Comes to R-Value

Ken Forsythe

We all know there are ‘rules’ that everyone might not follow to the letter: “Speed Limit 55”…”Do Not Remove Mattress Tag Under Penalty of Law”…”Lather, rinse, repeat.”  When it comes to heating and air conditioning ductwork, there’s another rule many insulation contractors rarely follow:  “When installing bubble wrap insulation on ductwork, secure spacers every 24” to 36” around duct before applying wrap.”

While there’s no harm if you skip the “repeat” step when washing your hair, there can be serious utility bill consequences if installers leave out the placement of spacers between a duct and bubble wrap insulation. Bubble wrap insulation needs the thermal break provided by the air space that is created by spacers to achieve advertised R-values.  The actual R-value of improperly wrapped (i.e. no air space) duct with bubble wrap can be as low as R-0.90 to R-1.1.  Building Inspectors and owners need to be aware of what to look for to insure that the product performs properly.

In checking with HVAC insulation distributors to determine if insulation contractors routinely purchase air spacers with their bubble wrap, the answer is often “We’re still on our first shipment of spacers” or an outright, “We never sell any of those.”

Often bubble wrap insulation manufacturers do include spacer instructions with options for installers to create their own spacers by cutting and placing 2” wide strips of bubble wrap around the duct in intervals before applying the wrap around the duct or applying corner spacers specifically made for the purpose at each corner of rectangular duct.  But with so much pressure on insulation contractors to keep labor to a minimum, it’s hard to imagine that the vast majority are taking the time to create or use spacers on every project. Let’s face it: installers care about installing as quickly as possible for the lowest cost.

It’s true that quality bubble duct wrap may have good reflectivity and provides some protection against conductive heat gain or loss – as does fiber glass duct wrap with FSK (Foil-Scrim-Kraft) facing – however, the bubble wrap industry needs to do a better job educating installers and/or HVAC contractors. Educating the industry about the science behind adding air spacers and their integral role in delivering promised R-value is an important first step and is in everyone’s best interests.

 Ken Forsythe is a Senior Product Manager for CertainTeed Mechanical/Industrial Insulation