What Material Is The Best Thermal Insulator?

Tuesday 27th February 2024

Ellen Warren

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Three rolls of insulation with varying materials

CONTENTS

Thermal insulation is integral to energy efficiency and comfort within buildings and structures. Understanding the mechanics of how insulation hinders heat movement by blocking, swirling, and bouncing it off highlights its importance in our buildings. 

At ICE Thermal, we provide thermal insulation installation services across the UK. Whether you need to replace old insulation or wish to install it in a new home or place of work, we can assist. Our engineers are qualified and have experience working with all types of insulation.

Read on to learn about choosing the optimal thermal insulation for you based on various factors such as building type, age of property, existing issues like dampness, and regional climate.

What is thermal insulation, and why is it important?

Thermal insulation significantly boosts energy conservation and indoor comfort by acting as a barrier against varying temperatures. Its primary function is to reduce unwanted heat loss or gain by providing an effective barrier between different temperatures.

With a reduction in the use of heating and cooling mechanisms, there is a notable cut in energy consumption. This reduces utility bills and minimises carbon emissions, making it an essential practice for sustainable living.

Thermal insulation ensures that the energy used to maintain comfortable indoor temperatures is utilised efficiently. In this way, it fosters a move towards more eco-friendly practices and simultaneously encourages financial benefits for residents and commercial entities.

How does thermal insulation work?

The process of thermal insulation involves three primary mechanisms: conduction, convection, and radiation. Each plays a distinct role in the movement of heat.

Conduction

Heat moves through these materials, and their speed depends on the conduction rate. Insulating materials are meant to be poor conductors, slowing down this energy transfer significantly.

To reduce conduction, insulators have a structure that limits interaction, reducing the ability for heat to flow through them.

Convection

In liquids and gases, convection occurs when warmer areas move towards cooler ones creating a circulation pattern.

Effective insulation disrupts this airflow by trapping air within its structure, minimising heat loss or gain through this method. The design and installation must minimise spaces that allow convective currents within insulated walls or roofs.

Radiation

Radiant heat transfer happens through electromagnetic waves from all bodies with temperatures above absolute zero (-273°C). Reflective insulations counteract this effect by reflecting radiant energy away rather than absorbing it into the building structure.

Specially coated surfaces can help reflect infrared radiation towards its source, contributing to an insulator's effectiveness against radiant heat transfer.

How to choose the best thermal insulation for you

Selecting the best thermal insulation depends on several critical factors. Things to consider when picking thermal insulation involve the building's design, its energy conservation status, how old it is, any prevalent problems such as moisture invasion, and the weather conditions specific to the area.

For modern buildings aiming for high energy efficiency, materials like polyisocyanurate or PIR insulation offer excellent performance due to their low thermal conductivity.

However, older properties might benefit more from flexible options such as mineral wool insulation that can easily fit into irregular spaces without compromising effectiveness.

Climatic conditions play a pivotal role; in places where the temperature changes often, it is essential to pick a barrier against temperature that can block heat transfer and flex with the shifting seasons.

Aerogel insulation is best because of its superior thermal resistance and lightweight nature, making it suitable for both hot summers and cold winters.

What are the best materials for thermal insulation?

Various materials are used for thermal insulation. Choosing the right one will depend on the factors above, and your concerns about eco-friendly substances.

  • Fibreglass insulation: A popular choice due to its cost-effectiveness and versatility. By capturing air in tiny compartments, it slows the transfer of warmth.
  • Polyisocyanurate or PIR insulation: High thermal resistance with its closed-cell foam structure makes it ideal for areas requiring thin layers with high insulating value.
  • Polystyrene insulation: Both EPS and XPS are known for their excellent ability to resist moisture and maintain their insulating properties over time.
  • Reflective insulation: This reflects radiant heat rather than absorbing it, which is particularly useful in hot climates or sunny exposures.
  • Mineral wool insulation: Its fibrous composition makes it great at retaining heat whilst providing soundproofing benefits.
  • Cellulose insulation: This eco-friendly material is made from recycled paper products, it is treated to be fire resistant and can block most air leaks when installed properly.
  • Aerogel insulation: One of the best insulators available today. Despite its high cost, its exceptional thermal performance makes it suitable for specialised applications where space saving with effective heat management is crucial.

What is the most environmentally friendly insulation?

With thermal insulation, environmental friendliness may be a concern for some. This means looking at materials with low embodied energy, are recyclable, and do not produce harmful chemicals or add to landfill waste.

Though widely favoured for its proficiency in regulating warmth, the production and installation of fibreglass insulation pose significant health hazards and environmental dilemmas. 

Polyisocyanurate (PIR) and polystyrene insulations offer high R-values but their production involves toxic substances. Reflective insulation presents a lower environmental impact but may be unsuitable for all climates. The best options for environmentally friendly insulation include:

  • Mineral wool insulation: High thermal efficiency and eco-friendliness because of its natural components. 
  • Cellulose insulation: Made from recycled paper products, it has low embodied energy and biodegradability. 
  • Aerogel insulation: Excellent thermal resistance with minimal material use, but is costly and uncommon.

Frequently asked questions

What is the best thermal insulator?

Aerogel offers excellent thermal resistance with its low-density structure that reduces heat transfer.

What is the most thermally insulating material?

Fibreglass leads in general use, thanks to its excellent balance of cost-effectiveness and insulation performance.

What is the most efficient thermal insulation material?

Polyisocyanurate or PIR stands out for high-efficiency buildings, boasting superior R-values per inch over others.

What is the best high-temperature insulation material?

Ceramic fibre insulation is best in extreme temperatures, maintaining integrity and performance in industrial settings up to 1430°C.

Get in touch

For high-quality thermal insulation installation services, ICE Thermal can step in. Our engineers are familiar with various insulation materials and installation methods. We can help you choose the right material for you and install it effectively to reduce your energy bills.

To learn more about our various thermal insulation services, get in touch with our team today at 0203 376 4802 or [email protected]. We operate nationwide, prepared to offer guidance over the phone 24/7, all year round.

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