The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) plan to regulate carbon emissions is just the latest challenge facing the U.S. electric power system. Technological innovation is disrupting old ways of doing business and accelerating grid modernization. Earlier this year, AEE released Advanced Energy Technologies for Greenhouse Gas Reduction, a report detailing the use, application, and benefits of 40 specific advanced energy technologies and services. This post is one in a series drawn from the technology profiles within that report.
One key building material that greatly impacts the efficiency of a building is insulation. Up to 45% of a building’s heat can be lost through the roof. The effectiveness of insulation can be determined by its thermal resistance, represented by R-value. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power, with R-30 being the recommended minimum value for an uninsulated attic in the U.S. Efficient insulation can be created from a number of different materials including fiber glass, polystyrene, spray foam, rigid foam boards, mineral wool, or recycled paper. Insulation can come in the form of batts, rolls, loose fill, spray in, concrete blocks, or even radiant barriers. The most common locations for insulation in a building are exterior walls, unfinished attic and basement spaces, and floors above exposed spaces (e.g. above garages).
While insulation has been used in some form for decades, the growing focus on energy efficiency has raised awareness opportunities for reducing energy losses related to heating and cooling. Insulation is a well-established means for reducing heating and cooling energy losses, with the commercial and industrial U.S. market totaling around $10 billion in 2010. Efficient insulation can be added to existing buildings to increase R-value, while efficient insulation that often exceeds state and local building codes is a standard component of new construction. RadioShack built a new headquarters in Fort Worth that focused on meeting LEED standards. RadioShack took the step of installing 1.3 million square feet of Johns Manville Formaldehyde-free™ fiber glass insulation to help meet the standards and maintain high indoor air quality.
Payback time for insulation depends on weather, location, and electricity costs, but the Department of Energy calculates that typical homeowners can see up to 20% savings on heating and cooling bills from sealing leaks and increasing insulation values to R-38. Reducing residential heating and cooling energy use by adding insulation to the home building envelope not only saves money and increases comfort, it also reduces emissions in the utility sector and has a substantial beneficial impact on public health.
 This study is currently being updated to quantify the energy savings, emissions reductions and public health benefits of bringing all under-insulated homes in the US to the 2012 IECC energy code.