With energy prices expected to continue rising for the foreseeable future, it’s more important than ever for insulation in walls, roofs, ceilings and floors to do its part in making buildings energy efficient and keeping the interior of a building at the desired temperature.
The IAPMO Institute of Building Technology recently began conducting the ASTM C518 thermal transmission properties test on such insulating materials as expanded polystyrene insulation (EPS), extruded polystyrene insulation (XPS), spray-applied polyurethane foam insulation, polyisocyanurate insulation, fiberglass and rockwool batts, and blankets.
IAPMO IBT earned ANAB accreditation in late 2018 to conduct ASTM C518, Standard Test Method for Steady-State Thermal Transmission Properties by Means of the Heat Flow Meter Apparatus. IAPMO IBT’s in-house TA Instruments/LaserComp FOX 314 Heat Flow Meter is used to determine the insulation material’s thermal resistance (R-value) and thermal conductivity (k-value).
The Heat Flow Meter is a machine with a hot plate on the bottom and a cold plate on the top. The sample, typically 1 square foot and 1 to 4 inches thick, goes between them. The plates move toward each other until they touch, and the heat travels from one plate to the other through the insulation material. The computer uses the information gleaned from this process to determine the R-value and k-value. The greater the R-value, the greater the heat resistance or insulating effectiveness of the material, and thus the better its insulative capacity.
“R-value is a very jealously guarded number,” said Jay Mishra, Vice President of Building Product Testing. “Manufacturers fight each other over a tenth of an R-value; that’s a big deal in that industry. It’s very competitive, so they’re constantly tweaking their formulations, adding a pinch of this and a dash of that.”
Mishra said the building industry is also working to comply with recent changes to the energy code, such as the Department of Energy- mandated requirement of continuous insulation for new construction in ASHRAE 90.1: Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings. ASHRAE 90.1 defines continuous insulation as “insulation that is continuous across all structural members without thermal bridges other than fasteners and service openings. It is installed on the interior, exterior, or is integral to an opaque surface of the building envelope.”
The minimum R-value requirements vary according to the climate zone in which the building is located. Mishra said there is a constant balancing act for manufacturers between improving aspects of a product such as R-value without decreasing such characteristics as strength or water absorption.
“What we’re seeing is, because of the continuous insulation requirements and the minimum requirements that are now being mandated by the government, people are focusing more on insulation and how to keep the whole building envelope as tight and energy efficient as possible,” he said.
Rather than being strictly a testing laboratory, Mishra said IAPMO IBT wants to collaborate with manufacturers on the entire process.
“We like to partner with them and become part of the research and development process and the development cycle,” he said, “so as they’re tweaking and changing different components in hopes of improving the product, we can be part of this very important feedback process.”
IAPMO IBT recently conducted the ASTM C518 testing for Sacramento-based StyTek’s DripWave insulation.
Rather than being flat like conventional foam boards, the insulation has a look similar to that of corrugated roofing and is designed to allow water that gets behind the wall either to drain or simply dry out because of the additional air space.
With a background as a restoration contractor, StyTek owner Dave Dahlin said he was looking for someone who could guide his company’s flagship product through the testing and evaluation process.
“I’m new to this industry, trying to figure out where to go and who is helpful,” he said. “Jay [Mishra] has been tremendous, kind of leading me down the right path, trying to figure out what’s first. ASTM C518 is the first test that needed to be done, and now we’re looking at [IAPMO Uniform Evaluation Service] to do the evaluation report. You guys have been great.”
Relationships such as those with StyTek are an example of how IAPMO IBT is geared for more than the standard practice of simply performing a test for a manufacturer, providing the results, and moving on.
“Our philosophy is a little bit different,” Mishra said. “We’ve always wanted to be a little bit more interactive and part of the research and development process — if the manufacturer so chooses.”