Insulating materials help keep buildings, clothing, and catering equipment at ideal temperatures. In construction and design, insulating materials are one of the main keys to creating efficient buildings. Humans have used insulating materials to improve their conditions for thousands of years. Here is a quick guide to the most popular kinds used today.
Hemp has been used as a base material for constructing fibrous products for thousands of years. It was first cultivated to manufacture fibers in Ancient China before being spread around the world thanks to the emergence of the Silk Road. Help has long been one of the most well-beloved fiber-giving plants in the world due to its strength and swiftness of cultivation. The first American flag was woven using hemp fibers!
As well as being a good material for making fabrics and rope, hemp fibres have been found to be extremely effective at insulation. Hemp insulation is usually constructed using extremely dense hemp wool. This wool is then packed into fibrous sheets. The tight fibers that make up the wool trap tiny air pockets, increasing insulation efficiency. Hemp farming is undergoing a renaissance as governments strive to help farmers grow profitable and sustainable crops. This has made commercial hemp insulation more affordable and available. Industrial hemp is legal to grow in the United Kingdom so long as parts of the plant that could be used to cultivate controlled substances are discarded. The UK government is hoping to promote the farming of the plant to produce 100 times more industrial hemp in the next ten years as part of the ‘hemp 30’ project.
Glass wool is made of fiberglass combined with special resins. As the name suggests, fiberglass is a material composed of very thin glass fibers. It can be used to reinforce plastic structures or as an insulating material. Glass wool can be blown into place using a special gun or rolled out in sheets.
Glass wool is extremely effective at insulating, but it has some downsides. It is not particularly sustainable as a material and cannot be recycled because of how the fiberglass has bonded to the resin and filler materials. It is also not very nice to work around. If fibers become loose, they can cause irritation of the skin and lungs. Although the fibers are too small to cause any lasting damage to the raspatory system, it is recommended that a respirator is used when cutting or rolling out glass wool.
Polyisocyanurate usually referred to as PIR, is a special plastic with a closed cell structure. This structure enables it to insulate extremely efficiently. It is usually produced and used in board form. A layer of PIR insulation plastic is surrounded by two hardened layers of wood, plastic, or aluminum in order to provide structural integrity and greater reflective qualities. PIR insulation is one of the more expensive materials in the insulation game, but it is one of the most effective. Some customers may shell out the large amounts of cash necessary for this material in the understanding that they will earn that money back due to the efficiency of their building.
Polystyrene is an insulating material that most people should be familiar with. Although it is used in cheap, flimsy product packaging and shipping boxes, it is a highly durable and effective insulating material when applied and treated correctly. Polystyrene sheets are created by molding together thousands of tiny plastic beads. Polystyrene can easily last over 50 years without degrading when encased between rigid plastic or aluminum boards. Unfortunately, polystyrene degrades when exposed to solvents, which means that it cannot be used for insulating areas where aerosols and glues are regularly used.
Aluminum is an extremely insulating material. It does not insulate in the same way as some of the more absorbent materials on this list. Instead, it reflects heat back toward its source. Aluminum is extremely mailable and easy to work with. This makes it perfect for bonding with other insulating materials to add a reflective layer to them. Many rock wool and PIR insulation blocks will come with aluminum layers bonded to their outer edges. Aluminum is relatively effective at reflecting all kinds of radiation. For this reason, spacecraft are often covered in aluminum insulating layers – preventing radiation from the sun from damaging internal components.
Mineral wool – known as rock wool – is one of the most beloved insulating materials today due to its effectiveness and sustainability. It is made of molten volcanic rock combined with the slag created during the steelmaking process. This use of steel slag is one of the keys to the success of the material due to its cheap and sustainable nature.
A special mention on this list has to be awarded to good old-fashioned straw. Straw, when layered thickly, provides an extremely good insulating barrier. Small pockets of air are trapped between individual clumps of straw – improving insulation efficiency. It is for this reason that straw became one of the dominant roofing materials all the way back in the Bronze Age. Heat typically escapes homes disproportionately through the roof due to how heat rises. It is incredibly important that roofing is created using insulating materials. Straw roof making became formalized in relatively cold countries with large stocks of grass and wheat, such as the UK.
In England, the tradition of straw roof-making was mastered. It is known as thatching and is still visible on many older countryside houses in Southern England. Thatching properly involves a great deal of skill. All thatchers must complete a five-year apprenticeship before they are allowed to work on a roof. Straw-thatched roofs are also very environmentally sustainable if they are made from local materials.
These seven insulating materials are some of the most common ones that are found in homes across the world, and some on this list you might be aware of, while others might surprise you. Depending on what you are insulating will have a bearing on the best material to use, and there are plenty of professionals available to consult about this.