The Science behind Underfloor Insulation

Published: 23rd March 2011
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Underfloor insulation, much like any other form of insulation in a building, is a means from which the rates of heat transfer through the related element of the building, in this case the floor, is reduced considerably. The type of insulation implied here is called thermal insulation and primarily works to prevent heat loss or heat gain into the building from the three main mechanisms of heat transfer namely radiation, convection and conduction. Heat will always seek to escape towards the cooler regions adjacent to it, and whereas this phenomenon is usually inevitable, insulations drastically reduce the rate or speed at which the heat moves from a hotter region to a cooler region. That can be anything from a few minutes to several hours depending on the type and level of insulation applied.

For a building to be adequately habitable, some form of heating or cooling is done to achieve optimum temperatures. This is achieved from various forms of heating and cooling systems fitted in the building. Now maintaining these temperatures inside the building longer and more consistent will necessitate a means of preventing the building from being heated or cooled by the outside. Underfloor insulation is one such means, and it mainly deals with the floors through which heat can be lost or gained from the ground underneath, the airflow below or from moisture beneath. There are different types of underfloor insulation that work specifically on a particular mechanism of heat transfer or a combination of the three. The most common include the fiber insulation, the polystyrene insulation and the foil insulation types. Fiber underfloor insulation deals with heat conduction and convection, employing the principle of mass and insulation properties of trapped air. In heat conduction, heat is transferred from one region to another through the physical contact between them. The thicker the contact, the longer it takes for the heat to pass through. Much like the way a jacket worn keeps a person warm, this type of insulation keeps the building warm during winter by preventing heat loss with its mass and the trapped air within the fibers resist heat convection. Heat convection involves heat transfer from an object to its environment and vice versa through fluid motion.

Polystyrene underfloor insulations also work on the principle of mass and effects of trapped air. It is a kind of plastic manufactured from the petroleum product, aromatic monomer styrene. This insulation type also works partially as a vapor barrier, hence reducing heat convection. As with most forms of thermal insulations, polystyrene underfloor insulation also dampens sound vibrations, effectively insulating against noise interference and subsequently sound proofing the floor and the building.

The foil types of floor insulation are radiation barriers and also good convection retardants. Heat transfer through radiation involves movement of heat from one region to another through electromagnetic radiation. The region with the higher heat emits these radiations which are absorbed by objects or regions with relatively lower heat. Foil insulators reflect these radiations, and also provide complete vapor insulation which is crucial in the containment of convectional heat transfer via moisture.

It is becoming very popular in the colder areas of Australia to install underfloor insulation especially in the bathroom. These differ from the usual insulation batts.

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