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Insulation – A Breath of Fresher Air

Ensuring the best possible Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) has become one of the foremost considerations of manufacturers in the insulation market. Their latest products now address issues of volatile organic compounds, thermal comfort and fire retardancy, among others. Jerome Sanchez takes a closer look at the innovations in the insulation sector.

| | Feb 15, 2013 | 11:55 pm
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Ensuring the best possible Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) has become one of the foremost considerations of manufacturers in the insulation market. Their latest products now address issues of volatile organic compounds, thermal comfort and fire retardancy, among others. Jerome Sanchez takes a closer look at the innovations in the insulation sector.

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According to studies, people spend up to 90% of their time indoors. In the Middle East in particular, where surroundings can be dusty and the summers scorching, residents choose to stay indoors, close the windows and turn on their air conditioning systems. By staying inside their offices, flats or villas, people tend to breathe in re-circulated air. Even if it is filtered, it is still stale air. What this means is that all gases remain inside and the occupants run the risk of inhaling contaminated air.

The question of IAQ

As Dr Laurențiu Pestrițu, Insulation Product Manager, Middle East, India and Africa at Hira Industries, puts it, indoor air is always contaminated, not only with naturally generated pollutants like CO2, but also with man-made pollutants like volatile organic chemicals, industrial fibres, highly acidic particles of dust and spores of mould and bacteria. Inhaling these compounds, he says, might not always result in immediate signs of illness, but might potentially contribute to building related illnesses over time.

Speaking about how his company addresses this issue, he draws attention to Aerofoam XLPE polyolefin insulation manufactured by Hira. He emphasises that the product is a non-fibrous, closed cell material with built-in antimicrobial and anti-fungal protection. He says that Aerofoam XLPE is especially ideal for hospital environments where Indoor Air Quality is the top priority.

He claims that Aerofoam XLPE is dust and fibre-free and does not contribute to the aggravation of respiratory conditions, which makes the product particularly suitable for use in schools, offices and hospitals. In addition, it is formaldehyde-free and does not contribute to sick building syndrome being classified as a minimal VOC product, he says.

M. Rajkumar, CEO and Director, Best Products Trading, provides additional insights into the issue of contaminated air and IAQ. “Fibreglass, in particular, contains fine glass particles and certain phenolic compounds as binder. When they get exposed to moving indoor air, they can shred and float in the air, causing health hazards during installation as well as for the building occupants for several years,” he explains. “When the central air conditioner is in operation, moving air through the building, such fine particles are constantly inhaled by the occupants, and may cause bronchial disorders or allergic reactions.”

He also points out that stored moisture inside insulation materials can cause rusting of steel pipes and ducts, and create surfaces congenial to growth of bacteria and fungi, which could further affect the IAQ.

Where there’s fire …

Aside from Indoor Air Quality, fire retardancy is another key issue with regard to insulation, which industry players highlight.

Speaking about risks posed by “traditional” insulation materials, Rajkumar points out that rubber used as an insulation material might potentially pose a serious hazard in cases of fire. “Insulation materials using rubber compounds can be very dangerous in fire situations because of their smoke opacity,” Rajkumar explains. He adds that during an incidence of fire, people may not be able to see anything around them due to the thick black smoke that rubber may give off. “It is also a known fact that the major cause of death in fire accidents is suffocation and the inability to reach exit doors due to the prevailing blinding black smoke,” Rajkumar points out.

“Thermefirm cross-linked polyethylene foam has fire retardant properties,” he claims, speaking about how his company’s product could help address the issue. He highlights that the product is rated and tested to Part 6 and Part 7 as per the British standards and rated Class ‘0’ materials for its fire retardant properties.

Roni Thomas, Marketing Manager, CMS Group, too, lays stress on the issue of fire retardancy when he speaks about his company’s product –Thermobreak. He says that owing to the extensive fire and smoke testing done on the Thermobreak, it is fire-retardant and has self-fire extinguishing features. “It is not going to catch fire, it is non-toxic, non-flammable and it poses no hazard to health,” Thomas claims. “It has undergone extensive fire and smoke tests via BS 476 Part 6 and Part 7, Class 0.” In addition, he points out that it conforms to ISO 5659-2 smoke density and toxicity.

Absorption, strength and durability

Other issues concerning insulation that the industry players mention are water and moisture absorption, material strength and durability of the material’s insulation properties. “Rubber insulation, as can be seen in many buildings, absorbs moisture like a sponge. This means that the material loses its thermal resistance property and will work on the contrary, that is, as a thermal conducting material due to the stored water,” Rajkumar explains. “Rockwool and fibreglass look like cotton candy, and as such can absorb water. When the material absorbs water, it loses its intended, original thermal resistance. This happens more often when vapour barriers are not installed in the correct manner.”

Thermefirm, he adds, will keep its thermal properties “forever”, thanks to its impervious nature to moisture; its resistance to cuts, abrasions and cracks; to most chemicals; and to dust particles. “Thermefirm’s thermal resistance does not age with time for decades, and certainly for the lifetime of the building,” he asserts.

Pestrițu also points out the built-in water vapour barrier of Hira’s Aerofoam XLPE. He says that the product offers built-in resistance to the transmission of water vapour through the material. Thanks to this feature, mould and bacteria are inhibited, and even if the surface were to get damaged or pierced, the product will still provide resistance against microbial growth and fungi, he claims.

Market perception

The new technologies infused in the latest products in the market and the rigorous manufacturing and testing practices they are subjected to in order to ensure their quality, have, perhaps, led to the misconception that these products are far more expensive than traditional insulation materials. However, the industry players try to dispel this by highlighting the salient features of their products and by comparing the total installed cost of the insulation materials.

Rajkumar points out several advantages of Thermefirm in terms of ease of installation. “Being a wrap-around type of insulation with self-adhesive lining, Thermefirm cuts labour cost by 75% as elaborate cutting and sticking work at the site is reduced,” he says, driving home the point that, though cross-linked polyethylene insulation materials may seem expensive, the total installed cost is actually the same as that of the traditional insulation materials. “Accessories and labour make traditional insulation materials more expensive. Using the same amount of money, polyethylene will do its duty for the lifetime of the building,” he points out. He believes that the market, in fact is in favour of this. “The product is already popular, recommended by most consultants and used by several quality-conscious contractors.”

Pestrițu, on the other hand, speaks about how Hira keeps the interest of the installation personnel and end-users in mind while planning for their new products. “We are mainly thinking of our insulation solutions putting the people in the centre – the ones installing the insulation and the ones using it afterwards,” he reveals. He believes that the next generation of products Hira is developing would have benefits from installation, health and cost-saving points of view. In his opinion, these products would be easy to install and to maintain, would not emit VOCs, would not contain CFCs and would not contain dust or fibres and the products would have a long life expectancy and would provide better performance per square metre than other insulation materials.

Though Thomas endorses that Thermobreak would prove advantageous over the more traditional insulation materials because it is easy to install and requires less labour and accessories, he maintains that more than new technology, what is important is the handling and maintenance of insulation materials. “I believe that the key to addressing issues concerning insulation is professional installation according to OEM specification, irrespective of the type of insulation used. I believe that each insulation material should only be handled by professionals and should be handled properly,” he says.

In, conclusion, he observes: “The market is now going for quality. It is no longer compromising quality over the price.”


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