In this day and age thermal efficiency, energy conservation and environmental impact are big concerns for British industry. No more so than the construction industry, but how high up the priority list are they?
In house building, thermal bridge reduction is a wide issue but with the housing crisis being made even more apparent by the collapse of Carillion, surely there are other things to worry about?
Well yes, but also a resounding no. For starters, you can’t ignore building regulations. Houses are designed to meet certain standards when it comes to thermal efficiency and thermal bridge reduction. Since 1995, a SAP rating is required under part L of the building regulations. Because of this, thermal efficiency has become more prominent and important in housebuilding.
What exactly is a thermal bridge?
In construction terms, a thermal bridge is an area of a building envelope where heat transfer is greater than the rest of the envelope. The thermal envelope of a building means that heat loss will almost certainly occur to some degree depending on the material and insulation, however, this heat loss is greater at a thermal bridge.
Typically thermal bridges occur at joins like window to wall, wall to wall and floor to wall, but can occur elsewhere, again depending on the material and insulation.
Where thermal bridges occur, the thermal transmittance or U value, which is essentially the rate of heat loss is greater, and it is the reduction of this U value that builders, developers and manufacturers like ourselves work towards.
Impact of thermal bridging
Thermal bridging results in a potential increase in energy required to heat the property, or to cool the property in the summer months. The area of the thermal bridge may cause temperature changes or some discomfort to the occupants, and in certain circumstances when the temperature difference between the indoors and outdoors is significant condensation can build up resulting in mould growth and poor air quality.
Reducing the thermal bridge
There are a number of ways to reduce the thermal bridge in the envelope of the property and when it comes to flooring we have a number of solutions that achieve this.
When putting together a thermal flooring product for a customer, we always work towards the required U value that has been specified. The U value or thermal transmittance is expressed in watts per square metre Kelvin (W/m2K). For most ground floors the U value can be calculated using ISO 13370, however, our input is simply to provide a product that meets the required U value as stipulated by the specifier.
Our thermal flooring products use a combination of EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) panels and/or an insulated ‘topsheet’ to produce a thermal break between the outside air and the inside air.
Thermal and energy efficiency
The reduction of thermal bridges is one thing that the construction industry is doing to help make more homes efficient, but as technologies are developed and natural resources diminish, there is increasing pressure to make not just houses more thermally and energy efficient, but industrial and corporate builds as well.
Some housebuilders, architects and developers are so good at thermal efficiency and energy conservation that they have developed a number of ingenious ways to reduce the impact on the environment and reduce the heat and energy loss traditionally seen in buildings.
In Crossway, Kent, architect Richard Hawkes designed his super-efficient home that not only has reduced his energy bill, but is so efficient he sells energy back to the grid for a profit of £2000 a year.
In West Kirby, another architect, Colin Usher spends just £15 a year on bills in the house he designed with many efficient attributes including insulated wraps around the windows and door frames.
The Co-Operative’s headquarters in Manchester ingeniously uses the heat generated from the IT systems to help heat the building, and even the Empire State Building in the United States has undergone a refurb that has seen a reduction in its annual energy use to the tune of $4.4m.
So is thermal bridge reduction important? Yes, it is, it is a small part in a bigger picture, and through technology and increased awareness and a conscious effort from the construction industry, houses and other buildings will continue to become more energy and thermally efficient.