With the United States eyeing a net-zero economy by the year 2050, many commercial buildings are scrambling to find ways to curb their consumption. This begins and ends with creating an airtight, highly insulative structure that has a high R-value and no thermal bridges. Keep reading for 5 pro tips on how to effectively insulate a commercial building!
Start With the Foundation and Framing
Any competent contractor knows that the foundation and framing are paramount in ensuring the structural integrity of a building. However, it is also important to remember that they are the starting point for insulation as well.
It is a great idea to insulate basement walls and any other below grade area of the structure. Polyiso and EPS have proven to be quality materials for these applications. More ambitious efforts could include waterproofing foundation walls. This is a worthwhile measure in areas of the country that receive significant precipitation and whose foundations will face heavy hydrostatic pressure from groundwater. The concept is fairly straightforward, with a permeable drainage screen attached to the exterior wall of the foundation. Flowing groundwater is then directed down through the screen into a drainage mat, which routes the water into the pipe system and away from the building.
When insulating the framing, it is best to upgrade from structural wood panels and build with insulated concrete forms. ICF construction uses a series of double insulated steel rebar panels that lock in place at the construction site. Once erected, concrete is poured on-site to set the framing in place, giving the structure a solid, monolithic air and moisture barrier. ICF framing carries an R-value over 23.5, making it a premier framing solution for commercial buildings aiming for a net-zero construction rating.
Add a Thermal Barrier Beneath the Cladding
Many types of durable siding choices, such as steel and fiber cement, are not particularly insulative by themselves. Other siding products, such as wood and brick, are a little more insulative but must be regularly treated to prevent moisture damage that will cause cracks and unwanted air transfer.
With these factors in mind, it is critical to add high quality polyiso exterior wall insulation between the wall substrate and surface cladding. This will improve the R-value of the exterior walls, create a fortified moisture barrier, and eliminate any thermal bridging in the cladding.
Choose the Highest Quality Windows
Many commercial buildings are increasing their window area to promote the flow of natural sunlight into the interior. While this is undoubtedly a great idea to reduce the amount of electric light consumption by the building, it can create some potential weaknesses in the building envelope. The wall-to-window frame transition can create a break in a continuous insulation system, creating a thermal bridge through which air can pass. This can be magnified during times of extreme weather, when high winds and heavy precipitation put these transitions under greater stress.
To help alleviate these concerns, it is beneficial to install heavy duty hurricane grade windows to a commercial building. Fabricated with structural steel frames and sashes, top quality storm windows utilize reinforced glass that can withstand winds of 250 MPH and projectile impact up to 100 MPH. This helps ensure that the windows are not compromised during times of intense weather. To further fortify the building envelope, regularly check for any cracks in the window-to-wall transitions and repair any cracks with a silicone-based sealant.
Explore Radiant Floor Heating
Although many builders understand the importance of insulating the walls and ceilings, the fact that up to 20% of heat is lost through the floors often gets overlooked. Therefore, it is important to apply a layer of subfloor insulation prior to installing the surface material. The most ambitious buildings are using innovative radiant floor heating systems. Radiant floor heat applies a series of insulative electric mats to the floor substrate. Controlled by a thermostat, the system slowly releases heat up through the floor in a stove like manner throughout the day. This can provide a more consistently heated interior and greatly reduce reliance on the HVAC system for heating.
Ensure Decks Aren’t Acting As Thermal Bridges
Few contractors may realize it, but exterior decks can actually have an impact on a building’s insulation. Many types of attached metal decks conduct energy directly to the building’s interior, causing the HVAC system to kick into overdrive. To alleviate this concern, it is advantageous to use b decking for any attached commercial decks. Sometimes referred to as a B-Deck, b decking is commonly used in commercial roofing and flooring systems. It uses a layer of polystyrene or fiberglass insulation placed between metal decking and the roof or floor to which the deck is attached. This slows the transfer of heat energy into the building and can greatly reduce energy costs.
Go the Extra Mile to Insulate a Commercial Building
Having the proper insulation is critical in creating a net-zero commercial building. From foundation insulation to innovative b decking, consider any of the pro tips listed above to create the most airtight and insulative structure possible.