Insulating from the ground up

Danny Phelan, Sales Manager at Panel Systems, looks at an innovative new solution for enhancing the thermal performance of buildings during refurbishment.

To meet the ever increasing need for greater thermal performance, specifiers and developers are constantly looking for new ways to enhance the energy efficiency of a building. As many apartment blocks and retail outlets now have underground car parking facilities, this opens up new opportunities for insulating the semi-exposed concrete decks that form the ceiling of these car parks.

One popular soffit solution, which is suitable for use on any semi-exposed concrete deck, is based on Styroclad, a factory bonded composite comprising 6mm fibre-cement board and Styrofoam extruded polystyrene. The fibre-cement board is designed to withstand extreme climatic and working conditions, as well as offering excellent impact resistance, with a smooth grey surface that requires no finishing.

This solution can be used to improve floor thermal performances on both existing and new buildings. For existing buildings, the upgrade can be carried out with no disruption to operations, yet results in significant energy savings for building owners and users.

It is particularly relevant to projects that aim to achieve the higher BREEAM levels ‘Very Good’ or ‘Excellent’, as at least 15% of energy can be lost through badly insulated floors. Styroclad ‘A’, for example, uses Styrofoam LBA, which can be used where there is a BREEAM requirement.

Dry-fix benefits

Installing floor insulation has always had potential issues, as it regularly holds up other trades while the refurbishment takes place. With this new method of insulating soffits, there are no unnecessary delays on site and the insulation can be fitted at any convenient time during the build. Being a dry fix solution it is also easy to avoid many of the issues associated with wet trades, such as delays due to bad weather.

Another problem encountered with traditional floor insulation, especially in retail environments, is the weight of services on the floor area. Supermarkets, for example, often have very heavy equipment such as tills and racking, which may be too much for standard floor insulation, resulting in compression and as a result reducing its thermal performance. Using a soffit insulation solution avoids this issue as it is fixed to the underside of the concrete deck.

Insulating soffits in this way also means that construction can be completed much quicker and it can be carried out at any stage of the build, without causing disruption to other trades or building users.

When looking for a suitable insulated board, there may be several different criteria to meet. A common requirement is for it to be fire retardant and here it is advisable to choose a soffit solution with a fibre cement facing board that has Class 1 surface spread of flame and Class O to meet building regulations.

The insulation itself should contain a flame retardant additive to inhibit accidental ignition from a small fire source. It is also possible to specify Phenolic foam insulation, which offers Class 1 surface spread of flame and Class O to meet building regulations requirements. The board can be fixed directly or indirectly to the underside of any semi-exposed concrete deck, such as those seen on car parks, offices and retail developments.

This method of insulating semi exposed concrete soffits has recently been used for a new development of retirement homes in Scotland. The project used 275sq m of 81mm Styroclad Plus, which involved 75mm foil-faced Phenolic insulation bonded to 6mm cement particle board.

This method of insulating soffits is ideal for projects such as this, as it improves the thermal efficiency of the properties significantly, without interfering with other trades. This method is becoming increasingly widely used for both new builds and renovations, as contractors and end users recognise how it helps to reduce the carbon footprint and the energy bills of these properties.

Modern requirements

There are many types of insulation available, but it is important to take into consideration the need to source a material that will perform well over the long term. Insulation materials, like Styrofoam extruded polystyrene, which is used within Styroclad soffit solution, are known for being extremely durable. As the material also offers excellent rot and moisture resistance, this means that it will perform well over the lifetime of the building.

Where environmental credentials are important, it may be necessary to choose an insulation board that can demonstrate its sustainability. Styrofoam insulation is available in an ‘A’ grade, as it uses carbon dioxide as the foaming agent, which has an Ozone Depletion Potential (ODP) of zero and a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of one.

Easy installation

The method of installing soffit boards is also very straightforward as it can easily be cut on site to the required size and as a result there are less handling issues. The boards can be mechanically fixed at 600mm centres into the concrete soffit and many contractors find that this type of board is particularly easy to work with, as it is self-finished and requires no additional decoration.

Contractors and engineers are now recognising that there are ways to achieve a much improved thermal performance level for existing buildings in a cost effective way. The result is a convenient means of upgrading a building, with a significantly reduced carbon footprint and much greater energy efficiency.

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