Does insulation make a difference?


The answer to this question is an unequivocal, yes!  Insulation does make a difference.  It reduces your need to heat or cool your home by half.  This means that your electricity bill is dramatically reduced.  By using less energy, you are also making a difference to the environment.  Insulating your home will help with fluctuating temperature on a day to day basis.  It will also regulate the big changes in temperature typically caused by seasonal changes.

What is insulation?

Insulation, more correctly thermal insulation, is the use of a product that reduces the loss of heat or the gaining of heat in a building.  It is typically placed in the ceiling of the building but can also be used in hollow walls, such as steel frame walls or indoor partitioning.

The insulation that is typically used in a home or building is called bulk insulation and its role is to reduce heat gain in the summer and reduce heat loss in the winter.  Bulk insulation comes in the following forms:

  • Batt blanket and matt insulation
    ISOTHERM is an example of this type of insulation.  It is manufactured from polyester fibres from recycled PET bottles and it comes in rolls of material that can be cut to size.   There are other similar products manufactured from glass fibres or mineral wool.
  • Loose fill insulation
    Loose fill insulation is made from recycled paper that has been shredded very finely.  This insulation is blown into the space, and is able to fill in over and around obstacles such as nails and electrical wires.  It is applied in an even layer over the area to be insulated.
  • Rigid board
    Rigid board can be made from a variety of materials including vermiculite, polystyrene, polyurethane and foam.  It typically comes in boards that can be installed into the building.
  • Spray foam insulation
    This is polyurethane foam that is sprayed.  It can be sprayed around windows and doors or throughout the building.  When it is used indoors, a material that is fire resistant such as dry walling must cover it.

Why install insulation?

It has become the responsibility of every South African to use less electricity.  The energy crises will not be solved by government initiatives alone, and each household needs to play their part in this.  This is not calling for altruistic action from everyone.  It makes economic sense to reduce our reliance on electricity.  The price of electricity continues to increase so all measures that reduce the amount of electricity should be implemented.

Apart from a requirement to meet building regulations and to save electricity, an insulated home is a pleasant environment.  It has an agreeable ambient temperature and it is comfortable to be in. Insulation also absorbs sound and this creates a cosy, enclosed feeling in the home.

When should you install insulation?

The current building regulations in South Africa require new buildings to include insulation.  These can be designed into the structure of the building to meet the prescribed specifications.   Insulation is measured by its “R-value”.  This is the extent to which the material is able to resist the flow of heat through it.  The higher the R-value, the better the material is at resisting this flow.

South Africa is divided into climatic regions.  Building regulations require that the insulation in buildings in each region have a specific R-value, appropriate to the climate in that region.  In this way the building will be warmer in winter and cooler in summer and this will be achieved without the use of electricity.

Most of the buildings built before this regulation was implemented in 2013, do not include insulation.  Homes in South Africa can be very warm in winter and very cold in summer.  Although our climate is relatively temperate, it can be unpleasantly warm or cold inside, depending on the season.

Who can install insulaton?

It is an easy task to install insulation in an existing building.  Some of the available forms of insulation can be installed by the DIY enthusiast, and others are better done by professionals.   If you are comfortable with installing the insulation yourself, you can source SABS approved products from your local hardware store. If you would prefer to have insulation installed in your home for you, there are a number of companies that provide this service.

The installation of insulation is not a particularly expensive undertaking.  The cost of installation is also set off by the amount of money that can be saved in electricity bills.  Installing insulation makes sense for the environment and it makes sense for your pocket.


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