VIP role in FHS’s ‘world-leading energy efficiency’ goal

By Promat 04/07/2019

Promat SLIMVAC vacuum ultra-lightweight insulated panel
Promat SLIMVAC vacuum ultra-lightweight insulated panel

By Ian Cowley, Regional Director at Promat UK, the manufacturer of SLIMVAC® vacuum insulation panels.

Whilst the headline-grabbing goal of the new Future Homes Standard (FHS), announced by the Chancellor in the Spring 2019 budget statement, was the implementation of a policy to move away from fossil fuels to heat UK homes, the ‘clean growth’ strategy once again highlights the need to rethink how well insulated properties could and should be.

Most new build and refurbished homes could be insulated to a much greater standard than the current Building Regulations specify whilst providing more floor space, through more widespread use of advanced vacuum insulation panels (VIPs). This insulation technology, which was pioneered by Promat more than a decade ago, delivers superior thermal performance without the thickness usually associated with panels for cavities, flooring, roofing, balconies and terraces.

With the next review of Part L expected to begin soon, insulation levels are only likely to increase in order for the UK to meet its international obligations to tackle climate change. Whilst there is no indication on the likely uplift in standards, there has never been a more apt time to consider how VIPs could have an important role to play in upgrading the thermal insulation levels of homes in England and Wales. A ‘fabric first’ approach has long been advocated as the foundation of any low carbon homes strategy, but to date no minimum building standards in the UK have ever come close to unlocking the potential of VIPs.

The perception that VIPs are too expensive to be viable is outdated and does not consider the long term. The performance improvements that VIPs can deliver, combined with allowing for increased usable floor space inside properties thanks to thinner wall constructions, could result in significantly lower whole life costs with a reduced carbon footprint. Hence, over the lifespan of a property, VIPs could help landlords, housebuilders and owners derive much greater value.

How vacuum insulation panels work
Unlike conventional insulation, vacuum insulated panels are specially manufactured to achieve the same performance level as a conventional structural insulation such as PIR, EPS or XPS insulation boards, but with a much reduced thickness. In fact, one estimate is that a U-value of 0.3W/m2k delivered by a 100mm thick panel of expanded polystyrene (EPS) insulation could be achieved with just a 30mm VIP.

Heat transfers by three methods. Convection and conduction both need air molecules to do so, whereas the third method – radiation, which is the type of heat we get from the sun – does not. With VIPs, the gas-tight outer envelope is sealed to prevent outside gases from entering the panel, which minimises the transfer of heat by convection and conduction.

All vacuum insulation panels are gas-tight and custom manufactured to order – so they cannot be cut to size on site. Doing so would be detrimental to the panel’s thermal performance. But, the panels are supplied with special jointing tape, floor covers and top covers to ensure the most effective thermal barrier can be achieved on site with ease. SLIMVAC® panels are also moisture resistant up to 60% and contain no harmful materials to allow for easy post-use recycling.

Increasing usage of VIPs
Greater understanding of heat loss in homes and buildings has expanded the scope of VIPs to create superior building envelopes and deliver energy efficiency. Roofs, floors and walls are, of course, the key areas in which VIPs can deliver improvements, but there are other building aspects that will benefit too.

With roofs typically accounting for 30% of energy loss, using VIPs within the ceiling construction beneath a pitched roof is an ideal way to provide a stylish and energy-saving top floor room without the need for thick insulation layers under the roof. Flat roofs, terraces and balconies are also culprits for excessive heat loss, so utilising VIPs here rather than conventional insulation will avoid the need to raise internal floors to match the external; terrace.

Up to 15% of a properties heat is lost through the floor and this can be minimised using VIPs. These panels ensure that the floor is insulated without having to be deeply excavated. Stone and wooden façades account for significant heat loss, with an estimated 25% escaping this way. By insulating the exterior walls with VIPs, the amount of heat lost through the façade can be limited to the absolute minimum, and interior walls can be insulated with ease too with the best possible utilisation of internal living or working space.

Heat loss caused by thermal bridges can also have far-reaching consequences, including moisture and mould issues that lead to health problems. Thermal bridges can be subtly neutralised using VIPs leaving an unblemished, comfortable and healthy interior.

The policies underpinning the new FHS may take some time to come to fruition, but ultimately, with pressure groups and campaigners demanding more urgent action to mitigate the effects of climate change, the energy efficiency of homes can be vastly improved with ease now. The low hanging fruit for specifiers is to deploy proven technology that we know will help insulate properties to a superior standard and there is no better example of this kind of solution than VIPs.

Click here to find out more about the SLIMVAC® range of vacuum insulated panels.