Kathryn St. John

Did you know that the energy lost through a building's walls, roofs and windows is the largest single waste of energy in most buildings—especially in hot summer months? As a result, the energy efficiency of a building often depends on the materials that help create its envelope. With the recent LEED® 2009 minimum energy update, projects are paying even closer attention to how tight they can make their envelope to drive down energy usage and costs. The results can be staggering: use of energy-saving products and technologies in building envelopes help save enough energy annually to power, heat and cool up to 56 million households or run up to 135 million vehicles each year.

A building’s envelope consist of its walls, windows, all the insulation in between its walls, the sealants used on walls, air and vapor barriers in its walls, roofing material and much more. Product specifiers should look for envelope components that support occupant comfort, ensure clean air and keep moisture out, avoid hazardous materials and reduce heating and cooling loads—all while using resources efficiently and generating low embodied materials impact.

At the American Chemistry Council (ACC), our member companies offer marketplace solutions that project teams can use to increase the energy efficiency profile of buildings and help achieve global goals for sustainable manufacturing. According to Mahesh Ramanujam, COO of the U.S. Green Building Council, “The products and materials that ACC’s member companies offer in the market directly contribute to more sustainable outcomes for the building and construction industry. These products consistently raise the bar on how our buildings perform, especially from an energy efficiency standpoint, and help the building and construction industry to meet their sustainability goals. By continuing to provide innovative product solutions, ACC’s member companies are accelerating market transformation for the built environment.”

Material Profile: Insulation

When looking to green a building’s envelope, project teams should start by considering the insulation products they are using. Insulation reduces the exchange of heat (both heat gain and heat loss) through the many surfaces in a building—walls, ducts, roof, etc. In a well-insulated building, less warm air escapes during the winter, and less cool air escapes during the summer, reducing the amount of energy needed for heating and cooling. Insulation can actually be one of the most practical and cost-effective ways to improve a building’s energy efficiency: by improving the insulation in new and existing buildings, you can enjoy significant savings and reductions in energy usage. In addition, insulation can also keep moisture out and improve air quality, leading to significant health benefits such as increased worker productivity and a reduced risk of the spread of diseases.

Framing accounts for 25 percent of a building’s wall surface and, when left un-insulated, contributes significantly to energy loss. Dow STYROFOAM™ Brand XPS Foam Insulation is one example of a product that reduces energy flow through the walls of a building by providing a complete, solid layer of insulation. This durable rigid foam solution helps residential and commercial architects, designers, builders and contractors minimize heat transfer, increase energy efficiency, prevent moisture intrusion and withstand heavy loads. It also helps reduce air infiltration, which accounts for 25 to 40 percent of the energy used for heating and cooling a typical home.

  • Diving Deeper: According to Elena Webster, a sustainability manager at Dow Building & Construction, Dow STYROFOAM™ Brand XPS Foam Insulation offers users high-performance advantages, including more R-value with less wall thickness, reduces the potential for condensation within the wall assembly, meets continuous insulation requirements and helps meet global, national and regional energy-efficiency targets. When installed properly, it can significantly reduce fossil fuel consumption, heating and cooling costs and associated greenhouse gas emissions.

Insulation materials can also generate impressive savings. The Department of Defense (DoD) uses more than two-thirds the energy of all countries in the world and accounts for 80 percent of our government’s energy use. Because of this, DoD is committed to energy-efficiency: by switching to BASF’s spray polyurethane foam (SPF) to insulate U.S. Army tents and hospitals, DoD was able to save more than $1 billion in fuel costs annually. Products like SPF can help project teams save big. SPF are insulating air-sealing products that create air barriers within a building’s envelope by sealing and insulating difficult areas, such as windows, doors, penetrations and more. SPF lowers heating and cooling costs by preventing air leakage and maintaining comfortable temperatures indoors.

  • Diving Deeper: According to Woody Gontina, a residential marketing manager at BASF Corporation, BASF’s SPF contributes to a building’s sustainability by lowering its resource requirements. SPF makes a building more energy-efficient, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. It also can make buildings more durable, which allows them to last longer. Longer-lasting buildings mean less virgin materials required for replacement buildings. 

To learn more about chemistry’s role in building and construction, and how B&C products are making buildings more energy-efficient, project teams can also visit BuildingwithChemistry.org.