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Insulation & Heating
Roeland De Meulenaere
Laborelec October 2007
The scope of this document is to introduce the basic principles of insulation and heating.
Insulation is the best and most direct way to reduce energy consumption related to heating in buildings. Heat is lost due to transmission through external building elements (walls, windows, floors, roofs, etc.). Consequently, the better a building is insulated, the less heat - and therefore energy - is lost. Besides fitting insulation, it is important to ensure that the building is airtight, since ventilation and infiltration losses through cracks, crevices and the like also account for much wasted heat. This will reduce the amount of draught and moisture entering the building and make the walls and floors feel less cold. If a building is properly insulated and airtight, it will require less heating and a smaller (and hence cheaper) boiler may be able to heat the same surface area. Proper insulation requires significant additional outlay when building or renovating, but this can soon be recouped. The following paragraphs explain some key concepts relating to insulation.
The U-value (thermal transmittance) indicates the amount of heat lost through the various elements of a building (floor, wall, roof, glass, etc.). The insulation value of a construction element indicates how much heat is transmitted through a construction assembly under stable conditions per second, per m2 and per degree of temperature difference (W/m2.K). The U-value depends on various factors including the thickness and type of building materials used, insulation and glazing. More specifically, the U-value is calculated based on the k-value and thickness of the materials. External factors (orientation of the wall/façade/etc., ventilation, fitting quality, etc.) are not taken into account when calculating the U-value. The lower the U-value, the lower the heat transmission and the better the insulation. W/(m2 · K) External walls Windows Roofs and ceilings Floors Average losses (U) 1.5 6 2 3 Maximum losses (U) in an energy-efficient house < 0.25 < 1.3 < 0.2 < 0.35
Table 1: Heat losses through external elements
This is an intensive material property indicating the amount of heat (in watts) that passes through 1 m2 of a material with a thickness of 1 m and a temperature difference of 1 degree Kelvin between the two faces (W/m.K). The lower the k-value, the better the material will insulate. This does not mean that materials with a low k-value are necessarily better to use as insulation than those with a slightly higher k-value since the higher k-value may be offset by using thicker material.
The E-value represents the energy-efficiency of a building based on primary energy consumption. To determine the E-value, all factors influencing the energy performance and climate of the building need to be assessed. These are: • • the building’s orientation; the air tightness of the building;
Insulation & Heating
• • •
the ventilation system; the use of solar energy (e.g. for hot water) and the degree of sun protection; the hot water and heating system.
There are various ways of insulating walls. The most effective method depends on the type of wall construction: Cavity walls A cavity wall comprises four layers: the facade, an air cavity that limits heat transfer, the inner (breeze-block) wall and the internal plastering which makes the whole thing airtight. Cavity walls can be fully or partially filled with insulation material such as polystyrene foam, glass wool or rock wool. Massive walls Older walls without cavities can be insulated on the inside and/or outside. The insulation must be at least 5-7 cm thick. Bear in mind that external insulation may require permission as it expands the building’s surface area. However, insulation is best fitted to the exterior wall as it can be covered over with reinforced plaster, panelling or slates. Insulating internally can lead to problems with condensation and to very high temperatures inside the house in summer as the walls are unable to absorb the heat (increased internal inertia).
With flat roofs, the insulation can be fitted on the inside or the outside of the roof, above or below the waterproof layer.
A lot of heat is lost through windows. You should consider replacing single glazing with double glazing or, better still, super-insulating or high-performance glazing. This insulates five times better than single glazing and two to three times better than double glazing. High-performance glazing comprises an inner and an outer sheet made of special glass. The space between the two is filled with air or inert gas. It is surrounded by a metal frame fitted using an elastic watertight seal. For best results the joinery around the glazing should also be properly insulated. The insulation value of a window is not only determined by the quality of the glass but also by that of the frame, with wooden frames generally making better insulators than other materials. Various types of wood can be used for window frames, including chestnut, oak, afzelia and false acacia. Chestnut or oak frames are no more expensive than aluminium ones. Large glass surfaces (skylights, roof domes, etc.) can cause rooms to get very hot in summer. To counter this, highperformance solar-control glass was developed. This has a special coating that deflects or absorbs infrared radiation from the sun, allowing all the light in but keeping some of the heat out. Glass quality: Glazing single glazing double glazing triple glazing double glazing with reflective layer gas filled double glazing with reflective layer vacum glass Table 2: U-values of different types of glazing U-value (W/m2 · K) 5.8 3.2 2.1 1.9 1.2 0.8
Much heat is lost through the floor. The thickness of insulation required depends on what lies beneath, i.e. a heated or unheated space. Ground floors in direct contact with the underlying soil require really effective insulation. Pressure-resistant, rot-proof mineral wool panels can be fitted under the concrete slab on a consolidated sand bed between two moisture barriers (e.g. foam glass). There are plenty of technically approved insulating materials, including mineral glass and rock wool, polystyrene foam, polyethylene foam, coconut fibre, cork and building felt. Bear in mind the following when choosing your material: • • • • • moisture performance mechanical strength and stiffness shape stability chemical resistance fire performance.
Floors can be insulated in a number of ways, including floor slabs with an insulation layer on the underside, insulation panels, insulating mortars and PU foam.
Thermal bridges lead to heat losses which in turn can cause a host of problems. Broadly speaking, thermal bridges are attributable to two causes: design faults and construction faults. One major group of thermal bridges are insulation gaps where the insulation is poorly fitted or where a poor insulator (and thus a good conductor of heat) runs through the insulation. Metallic objects (such as fasteners) can very easily become thermal bridges and concrete too is a good conductor. Often the faults are hidden: carelessly applied insulation (with gaps between the panels) or clips or pipes sticking out through the insulation. Thermal bridges can also arise naturally through the effect of wood. Disadvantages: • • • Higher energy consumption: ‘direct’ flow of heat to exterior Damp patches: depending on the dew point, moisture in the air tends to precipitate in the coldest places. This moisture can cause problems such as mould and damaged walls. Cold bridge v. heat bridge: a cold bridge in winter also acts as a heat bridge in summer, causing unduly high temperatures on very hot summer days.
Thermal bridges are usually very difficult to deal with. Prevention is therefore better than cure and due attention should be paid to the problem during construction. Thermal bridges can sometimes be remedied by surrounding them with new insulation, but in many cases the problem is very hard to deal with so do take care during the building phase. The most common thermal bridge is an open window or door.
All buildings should be airtight as every air leak means loss of heat. Uncontrolled air entering a building has to be heated up, while draughts can be very uncomfortable and lead to the heating being turned up. If the insulation is porous or not airtight (with air holes around the edges), natural convention will occur as the temperature difference across the insulation layer will lead to the latter being bypassed and a much greater flow of heat than the conductive properties of the material would naturally cause. Pressurisation testing - also referred to as ‘BlowerDoor’ measurement - can be used to test this.
Insulation & Heating
Here are some things to look out for during installation in order to avoid air leaks: • • • • Ensure insulation panels dovetail perfectly. Fit an airtight barrier against the insulating material. Ensure the air barrier does not contain any holes or tears. Seal the foil seams and connections to the wall carefully with adhesive.
An airtight building requires well-balanced (mechanical) ventilation, i.e. a well-managed flow of fresh air. Obviously, leaks will disrupt these flows and stop the ventilation from working properly. Roofs are highly prone to leaks. Roof penetrations are a particular source of air leaks, with many occurring due to oversized holes being cut. In addition, in many cases too little thought is given to the processing conditions of the insulation material and the need for a finishing panel is underestimated. One very effective measure is to seal up all crevices and connections on the roof using a special tape. Another source of leaks are badly fitting doors and windows. A careful finish between windows and floors and floors and walls is a key factor in ensuring an airtight building. Plastered walls are naturally more airtight than unplastered ones. Pipe ducts, plugs and switches should also be properly sealed.
A vapour barrier should not be confused with an air barrier. Particularly necessary above warm, damp spaces, it is made of the same materials as an air barrier but performs a different function. It is always fitted on the warm side and serves to keep in the moist interior air to prevent condensation on the cold side of the roof construction. Condensation in some insulation materials acts as a cold bridge, although other insulation materials, such as polyurethane foam, are 100% moisture-resistant.
Do not be misled by claims that you can overinsulate a building, thereby causing mould or condensation. In fact, the reverse is true: mould and condensation occur where there is no insulation or where insulation has not been properly fitted.
Energy sources The following table shows the characteristics of various fuels in terms of comfort, maintenance and the environment.
Heat source Comfort Maintenance Environment Space required
Direct electric heating +++ +++ ––– +++
Electric storage heating + +++ – +
Natural gas ++ – ++ –
Oil ++ ––– + –––
Pellets ++ ––– +++ –––
Table 3: Comparison between heating using different types of fuel
+ + + : very good, + + quite good, +: good – – – : very poor, - - : quite poor, -: poor
Electric heating is cheap and easy to install, the appliances themselves are cheap and no boiler, furnace or flue is needed. The major drawback is that direct heating appliances are extremely expensive to run. There are two types of electric heating: direct and indirect. Direct heating is the cheapest and most convenient but uses a lot of power on day tariff. Storage heating is cheaper to run as it operates mainly on night tariff ; however, it is less convenient as it is harder to adjust heat output during the day.
NATURAL GAS AND OIL
The installation costs for natural gas are lower than those for oil because no storage tank or furnace is required (also obviating the risk of leaks). The gas boiler (cheaper than an oil boiler) can be fitted in the attic, where no flue is required and does not require a flue. Furthermore, gas boilers do not require annual inspections as oil boilers do (although these are recommended). Lastly, natural gas is more environmentally friendly as it releases around 25% less CO2 when burnt.
Waste wood pellets have long been used as fuel for stoves but are now also emerging as an energy source for central heating boilers. Pellet-burning units are more expensive than traditional gas- or oil-fired boilers, with the boiler costing 2.5 to 3 times as much. However, in terms of consumption they work out much cheaper than a traditional central heating boiler. Pellets are also CO2-neutral and thus not environmentally damaging.
Heat output RADIANT HEAT
Generally considered a pleasant type of heating, radiant heat is produced directly by thermal radiation from heating elements (like heat from the son or a stove). The closer you are to the heating element the hotter it feels. The heat is more localised and inert than convection heat, taking longer to get the room up to temperature.
Convection heat heats up the air in the room and ensures an even temperature throughout the space. It can bring a room up to temperature fast, but because hot air rises the heating needs to be set at a higher average temperature in order to attain the desired level of comfort. This means increased consumption.
Principle of central heating CONSTRUCTION
• • • • • • Burner and boiler Expansion tank Water pump Heating elements (e.g. radiators, convectors, underfloor heating, etc.) and associated heat distribution pipes Control apparatus Draught diverter (natural gas only): to reduce excessive draughts in the flue
HOW IT WORKS
Water is heated by the boiler then pumped to the heating elements. Once cooled, the water flows back to the boiler where it is re-heated. The expansion tank accommodates the extra volume generated as the water expands when heated.
A boiler’s capacity must be suited to the needs of the building. If it is too low, i.e. the boiler is too small, the building will not be properly heated. If it is too high, the boiler will be less efficient and heating costs higher than they need to be because the boiler will seldom be working at full capacity.
Insulation & Heating
ONE- AND TWO-PIPE SYSTEMS
Two-pipe systems: • • • • Separate pipes for water flowing to radiators and water flowing back to the boiler. More expensive to install.
One-pipe system: Radiators connected in series. The last radiators gives out less heat than the first ones because the hot water has lost some of its heat in the previous radiators. The last radiators therefore need to be bigger for the same capacity.
CHOOSING A HEATING BOILER
There is a huge variety of heating systems available and the innovations are seemingly endless. Currently, the most significant innovations relate to output, appearance and, in particular, increased efficiency. These are important criteria in choosing a heating system as energy efficiency is now a hot social issue. Condensing boilers To further boost the efficiency of central heating boilers, manufacturers developed condensing boilers based on the steam boilers used in industry. The technology is increasingly being used in gas- and oil-fired boilers. Condensing boilers are extremely efficient as they re-use the heat left in the water vapour of the combustion gases, heat which normally disappears through the flue. The technology could once only be used for large boilers, but there now exist light and compact condensing boiler models. With their high efficiency (+10% with natural gas) and extremely low NOx and CO2 emissions, these boilers also score very highly in environmental terms. Open v. closed boilers Another innovation boosting boiler efficiency is the forced-draught system. Boilers equipped with this technology are also referred to as ‘closed’ boilers, as opposed to traditional atmospheric or ‘open’ boilers. The technology can often be found in gas boilers, but oil-fired boilers too are gradually converting. A fan blows away the flue gases whilst drawing in the combustion air. Because the amount of incoming air can be adjusted precisely, these boilers are usually more efficient. They also do not require a traditional flue: a discharge pipe through the wall or roof is sufficient. They are normally connected to a special concentric double-walled pipe: air is drawn in by a fan via the outer opening while the combusted gases are removed through the inner pipe. These pipes are smaller, more discrete and significantly cheaper than a traditional flue, offsetting much of the additional cost of the boiler. As the fans are quite powerful, the boiler may be positioned at some distance from the roof or the external wall, which can be a major advantage when renovating.
Different heating units
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN RADIATORS AND CONVECTORS
How they work: • • Radiators consist of pipes or plates through which hot water flows causing them to emit radiant and convection heat. Radiators hold more water than convectors. Convectors consist of a single thin pipe surrounded by a heat exchanger with fins through which hot water flows. These fins give off convection heat.
A major advantage of convectors is that they provide heat quickly and evenly. Radiators, by contrast, give off more radiant heat than convectors, which many people consider a more pleasant kind of heat.
Advantages • • • • • • • • • • Provided there are no intervening objects such as carpets, underfloor heating results in 100% radiant heat. No space is taken up with radiators or convectors. Windows and walls can be fully used. Energy-efficient: underfloor heating does not require such high boiler temperatures as other heat sources to achieve the same level of comfort, due to the large radiant surface. Underfloor heating requires virtually no maintenance and creates virtually no dust.
Disadvantages Difficult to fit in renovated buildings Requires a higher floor level Still relatively costly: the hot water piping has to be fitted in an intricate pattern and is quite expensive in terms of both material and man-hours. It also requires a more complex control system to prevent the water flowing through the pipes from getting too hot. Takes a long time to heat up.
How it works: The air is drawn in, filtered, heated by a boiler and then circulated through duct work and vents. Ventilation (ensuring constant air purification) and heating are integrated in a single system and air from damp spaces is discharged outside. Some of the air is pumped back into the room but fresh air from outside is also drawn in.
How it works: Hot water tubing is fitted in the wall using grooved blocks (breeze blocks or sand-lime bricks). Wall heating can be used as either the main heating source or for top-up. The heat it gives off is largely radiant and therefore gives a pleasant feel. The relatively low temperatures make it an economical - yet also comfortable - system.
Floor Maintenance Heat-up speed Heat storage Consequences for interior Adjustments possible Possible during renovations Air purification Economical Architectural implications Cooling possible +++ –– ++ ++ – – 0 ++ + + Air –– ++ –– ++ –– –– ++ 0 –– ++ Radiator 0 + + – + ++ 0 + + 0 Convector – ++ – – + ++ 0 0 + 0 Wall ++ – ++ +/– –– – 0 ++ –– +
Table 4: Comparison between different means of heat transfer
+ + : good, +: quite good, 0: neutral, –: not particularly good, – – : rather poor
Insulation & Heating
A heat pump is an energy-efficient alternative to traditional heating systems. It draws heat from the earth, water or air, which is then pumped into the building at a higher temperature using a compressor or the central heating system. Reversible heat pumps can also be used to cool the building. The type of heat source used is a key factor in determining the type and efficiency of the heat pump. Which system is most economical will depend on the natural environment (climate, available surface area, etc.) amongst other factors. The most common heat pumps are those that extract heat from the ground using either an open or a closed system. Open systems use groundwater from a well as a heat source. The used water is discharged into a second well, the aim being that it should return to the same water layer from which it was originally extracted. Closed systems, on the other hand, do not require groundwater to be pumped up. Instead, a mix of water and glycol (usually) is circulated through a ground heat exchanger consisting of horizontal pipes laid at a depth of at least 1-2 m. A large surface area is normally required (1-2 times that of the surface to be heated). If not enough ground surface is available, a vertical ground heat exchanger may also be used (typically up to 100 m deep). Finally, another potential heat source is air. This system is considerably less costly than using ground heat and can also be used to cool the building. However, it has the major disadvantage of being less efficient than geothermal heat pumps. These types of heat pump perform worst at low outside temperatures.
Tailoring the heating system to the type and use of space
The wrong type of heating in warehouses, halls, etc. will lead to complaints and may have serious financial consequences. Greater loss through walls and roofs is one of the factors that need to be borne in mind. Ensuring comfortable conditions can pose a major problem since it is harder to achieve an even temperature. Sometimes it is not necessary to have a uniform temperature throughout, as long as the temperature is right at the level occupied by people. However, in this case care must be taken to avoid problems of stratification (i.e. temperature a few degrees warmer above than below). When heating large spaces, two basic principles can be distinguished, convection and radiation: Convection heating using gas-fired air heaters and hot air generators. These appliances are mainly used for heating relatively well-insulated medium-sized halls (<7 m) with a relatively low recommended ventilation rate. If the height of the room allows, destratification units may be added which draw in hot air from above and blow it downwards in order to achieve a uniform temperature. Radiant heating (light or dark) based on direct heat transfer from heating appliances to users with little use of ambient air. This system ensures sufficient user comfort without increasing the ambient air temperature significantly. Radiant heating is very advantageous because it considerably reduces heat loss (especially through the roof ) whilst targeting the heat at specific areas; it is particularly well suited to high halls (>5.5 m) with poor insulation and a high ventilation rate. It can mean savings of up to 50% compared with a convection system. Irrespective of the system used, it is more economical to generate heat where it will be used. This means decentralising and dividing into zones in order to reduce heat consumption in large halls … and maximise savings. Radiation Roof insulation Roof conductivity Height of room Ventilation rate Work stations Industrial activities Ceiling space taken up Continuity of heating regimes little little > 5,5m high dispersed heavy little strong variations Convection Good Good < 7m low uniform light much constant
Table 5: Overview of key factors determining choice of heating in large spaces
Maintenance of a heating system involves the following: • Inspecting the central heating boiler and flue (annual inspections required for oil-fired boilers; for gas boilers they are not required but are recommended; if a fire is caused by poor maintenance, insurance companies may refuse to pay out) Bleeding pipes: this will extend the lifetime considerably by reducing corrosion. Cleaning heating elements regularly: dust can impede air circulation thereby reducing efficiency. Cleaning any filters (e.g. air heating).
• • • • • • • • • •
Things to look out for before, during and after construction: Is the boiler suited to your needs? Is there an insulation panel on the rear side of the radiator or convector? If you are thinking of installing underfloor heating, check that it is compatible with your flooring. Ensure that the room thermostat is not located on an external wall, a wall in direct sunlight or near to an external door. Is the boiler temperature set too low? It must be at least 60°C to prevent legionella. Setting your thermostat one degree lower will reduce your energy bill by around 6-7%! Radiators: o o • • • • • • • • • • • • • Heat output will depend on the size of the radiator; the number of convection fins and the number of parallel radiator elements. Ease of maintenance: can any side or top covers be removed, is the radiator easily accessible for maintenance, etc.
Room thermostat should have at least two settings, a day setting (around 21°C) and a night setting (e.g. 16°C). It is not advisable to fit a thermostatic valve in the same room as a room thermostat. Old central heating boilers should be replaced. You will recoup the cost through reduced consumption. When replacing a heating unit, you are advised to choose a gas or oil-fired high-efficiency or condensing boiler. Electric heating is not advisable as a main heating system. Insulate heating pipes in unheated rooms. Keep the pipe network as short as possible. This saves installation costs and engenders less heat loss. Heating a dry building requires less energy. Therefore, ensure that the building is properly ventilated on a regular basis. This will dissipate moisture without too much heat loss. The latest heating units are 20-25% more efficient than older models (15 to 25 years old). By using a room thermostat with time setting and thermostatic valves on each radiator, you can achieve the right temperature in each room. Fit an outdoor thermostat so that the boiler temperature automatically adjusts to the outside temperature. With underfloor and wall heating, the floor or the wall between the heating system and the outside must be extra insulated to prevent immediate heat loss. Local electric heating elements designed to heat up a particular space quickly (as additional heating) should preferably not be used in mid season. Additional petroleum stoves should preferably be avoided due to the fire risk and also because such stoves take air out of the room to aid combustion, which can lead to CO poisoning.
Insulation & Heating
Have the heating system in existing buildings serviced and adjusted regularly, preferably before the start of the heating season. A poorly adjusted system is significantly less efficient. Central heating boilers over 20 years old should preferably be replaced.
There are many different ways of heating a building. Do the necessary research in advance and chose a heating system that suits the building and the needs of its users. Oversized facilities consume more energy than is needed. For central heating, you are advised to choose a gas-fired condensing boiler or a groundwater heat pump.
 www.epb2006.be, accessed in August 2007  www.energiesparen.be, accessed in August 2007  www.livios.be, accessed in August 2007  http://www.netonline.be/wonen/energietips_isoleren.asp, accessed in August 2007  http://www.informazout.be, accessed in August 2007  Handboek voor industriële isolatie, Rockwool  Praktische gids voor als u binnenkort gaat bouwen of verbouwen, information from the Flemish government  Handleiding voor de realisatie van elektrische verwarmingsinstallaties, CEG  Verwarming van grote ruimten and De verwarming van de bedrijfsruimte… Straling of Konvektie, Distrigas
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