Guide To Thermal Bridging Prevention

Insulation in attic

Energy efficient structures are currently in high demand, and while this lofty goal can be accomplished with solar panels and triple glaze windows, these approaches are not always viable for low-budget projects. The easiest and most effective way to amp up a building's energy efficiency rating is to take basic steps to prevent thermal bridging, one of the main causes of increased heating and cooling bills.

Thermal bridging occurs when the space outside of a structure is warmer or colder than the heated or cooled area inside. This is often caused by poor structural design and incorrect use of insulation. The result is a great amount of energy needed to reach an ideal heat setting. Over time, this increased energy usage can prove quite costly.

Thermal bridging is relatively easy to avoided, provided thecorrect materials and building process are utilized. Building contractors are advised to keep the following suggestions in mind so as to minimize this costly phenomenon:

Choose Insulation Materials Carefully

Demonstration on how rock wool is fire resistant. Rock wool will slightly smolder, but really won't ignite under normal circumstances.Often, when asked about the best way to keep a home warm in the winter and cool in the summer, the individual lacking construction expertise will recommend insulation. While this person would be correct in his or her assumption that insulation in the primary solution, the solution is not that simple.Different types of insulation can vary widely, both in terms of price and quality. Although higher quality insulation may initially seem more costly, it creates the potential for significant savings down the road. However, for the contractor working with a limited budget, certain types of insulation may be out of the question. 

In the past, most contractors and building designers relied on simple fiberglass rolls for insulation. While this is still a viable approach, today's contractors are willing to consider a much wider array of potential insulation materials. Polystyrene insulation has recently seen a surge in popularity, thanks, in part, to its fire-retardant abilities. However, a number of construction experts have expressed concern surrounding the potential environmental hazards of polystyrene. Rock wool serves as an excellent alternative, particularly as it comes highly recommended by the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association. Although rock wool is reasonably affordable, cellulose may be a preferable material for projects involving heavy budgetary constraints. 

Another important consideration surrounding insulation is where, exactly, it will be placed. Attics and upper floors often possess insulation requirements far more stringent than those attached to lower levels and basements. Thus, insulation with a higher or lower resistance to heat flow (often referred to as R-value) may be needed depending on the specific location of concern.

Alternative Solutions For Thermal Bridging

Housing Insulation In Cross SectionQuality insulation should be the chief technique used to minimize thermal bridges, but this approach can also be supplemented with a number of alternative solutions. For example, fiber reinforced polymers, in addition to strengthening beams and slabs, may also minimize heat transfer. Likewise, polystyrene boards can be installed as a quick and relatively inexpensive solution when insulation changes are not available. 

A common, although somewhat more expensive solution to thermal bridging involves the strategic use of stainless steel instead of carbon steel may reduce heat transfer. This technique can quickly prove costly, which is why contractors with limited budgets are advised to limit stainless steel use to targeted locations. Applying stainless steel bolts to areas in which thermal bridging is of major concern may prove sufficient when the use of higher R-value insulation is not an option.

Ideally, a thermal bridging resistant structure will include a targeted combination of approaches, including the overall use of quality insulation, as well as steel reinforcements and fiber-reinforced polymers where necessary. This multi-faceted approach to insulation will allow for greater energy efficiency, and, over time, a significant reduction in both heating costs and carbon footprint concerns.

 3m's Air Barrier Solutions Guide CTA


1. Photo credit: Red Moon Sanctuary / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

2. Photo credit: ilovebutter / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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Wallboard Supply Company is a third generation, family run business that has been serving New England's building needs since 1970. Bob Filion started the company with a commitment to provide quality drywall and finishing products with unmatched customer service. The company has grown over the years, expanding its' product range, but never wavering from its' core values.