New solutions must be found for those problem areas where, increasingly, the space available for insulation is at a premium, says Tony Millichap, technical manager, Kingspan Insulation.

There is increasing pressure on the construction industry to develop new approaches to the issue of energy efficiency. This has an impact on both new build and existing buildings where thermal performance is one of the areas that needs to be improved. There are already high performance insulation products available that will fulfil the majority of these requirements, however new solutions must be found for those problem areas where, increasingly, the space available for insulation is at a premium.

One such solution is the development of the Vacuum Insulated Panel, or (VIP). Kingspan Insulation will be unveiling its new Vacuum Insulated Panel at EcoBuild.

VIPs are made from a micro-porous core, which is capable of being evacuated, encased and sealed in a thin, gas-tight envelope. The structure has to be capable of withstanding atmospheric pressure, and of maintaining the vacuum over time. The resulting panels can provide an insulating performance that is up to ten times better than traditional insulation materials providing architects and specifiers with a solution where depth of construction is at a premium.

With so many highly effective insulation materials already available it could be argued that there is no need to look for further advancement in insulation technology, but VIPs offer a unique solution to a range of problems that are likely to become more pressing as regulatory requirements tighten, and as our drive to save energy gathers pace. It is now clear from the consultation on the next changes to the Approved Documents L that, for new domestic buildings at least, there is a firm emphasis on improvements to the building fabric. The potential introduction of consequential improvements for refurbished dwellings is also once more on the table. Quality of build is also coming under the spotlight, with a call from the government for the industry to collaboratively produce a standard to ensure that ‘as built’ meets the designed performance.

The market can feel confident that the mainstream products will deliver on the principle requirements, but whatever the outcome of the consultation, the changes due to be implemented in 2013 are simply a stepping stone to the ultimate target of zero carbon in 2016 for domestic new build and 2019 for non-domestic new build. The timescales are short, and the race is on to find innovative solutions for problem areas that could affect the overall performance of some buildings.

In retrofit applications the very high levels of thermal efficiency (a typical aged lambda would be 0.008W/m.K) with minimal thickness achieved by VIPs can provide solutions for areas that previously would have remained un-insulated because space was an issue. For new construction, it can enhance u-values in areas that would previously have been accepted as inevitably denigrating the overall performance.

Projects in Germany and Switzerland countries that have a history of successfully embracing new methods of achieving very high levels of energy efficiency in buildings, have seen VIPs being used in a range of applications for both retrofit and new build, including facades, roofs, ceilings, floors and details such as dormer windows. For example, they are often used to insulate flat roof terraces with heated rooms adjacent and below, as the thinness of the insulation allows consistency of ceiling height and avoids the necessity of a step between the terrace and the room.

The construction industry needs to rise to the challenge of providing extremely thermally-efficient buildings, and many new developments are slowly becoming more mainstream. There is still a long way to go in order to make the kind of energy efficiencies we need to cut carbon emissions and increase energy security, but the next generation of insulation products can help to move in the right direction.