Any structure built to withstand the rigors of cold winters and hot summers must include building insulation. But that's a broad statement that doesn't speak to the type of insulation needed, the amount, or the other factors that impact insulation's performance. Many people are familiar with the concept of R-value – the scale by which a material's thermal resistance is measured. However, R-value is not the end-all, be-all when it comes to the best insulation.

Instead, the top-of-the-line products consider a whole-building, systematic approach that includes air sealing, barrier membranes and continuous insulation. That doesn't mean R-value can be ignored – especially when it comes to state and federal building regulations. It only means that R-value is not the only aspect of quality insulation.

"R-value is not the only aspect of quality insulation."

Study highlights the strengths and weaknesses of insulation
In a new report from the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association, research showed that insulation of the same R-value performed equally well, regardless of the material. This finding contradicts what some manufacturers may claim – that one insulation type is better at preventing heat loss than another, despite similar R-values. However, the study also noted that poor installation, insufficient air sealing and thermal bridging are elements that can impact nearly any type of insulation and undermine its effectiveness.

By that logic, it stands to reason that products that are easy to install, circumvent thermal bridging and are included as a package alongside other building performance measures will perform optimally. As a result, the exterior insulation provided by companies like Sto Corp serves as an excellent option. That's because it eliminates thermal bridging by wrapping the outside of the building in insulation, rather than only the wall cavity. It's also an easy installation that can be coupled with air and moisture barriers and other building performance elements.

How well is your building insulated?How well is your building insulated?

Other insulation concerns
Thermal bridging has been covered, but there are other issues architects run into when planning and constructing new buildings. Some of these can't be helped, like windows and doors. These can be designed to be thermal-resistant when closed, but anytime someone opens them, they undermine insulation, according to Green Building Elements. These are necessary building features, though, so builders should focus on other areas where insulation might be compromised.

One other concern is the air gap. In a wall cavity, any open space is an avenue for heat transfer. Some insulation strategies try to counteract the negative influence of air gaps by simply filling in the cavity with material. But that can lead to high costs and it may be impossible to fill every space. Rather, Sto Corp's insulation strategy uses a multi-layer system that includes continuous insulation to prevent any chance of heat transfer.

Any insulation is better than none and new research shows that an R-value of 15 is technically the same from material to material. But the insulation strategy, placement, installation and accompanying elements all play a pivotal role in a truly well-insulated structure. The R-value is still crucial, but it shouldn't be taken in isolation.

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