Green Building Techniques: Superinsulation

Designers are blending the best green building techniques to make better buildings, including using superinsulation such as double wall construction, Larsen truss, and thick conventional walls.

| September/October 1986

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    Superinsulation techniques can be used in new or retrofit construction.
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    Diagram: Figure 2 Larsen Truss.
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    Diagram: Figure 1 double wall construction.
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    Diagram: Figure 3 thick conventional wall.

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As Lester Brown points out in this issue's interview, the recent drop in the price of oil is a temporary situation. Eventually — certainly within the life span of a well-constructed home (and probably very much sooner) — that price is bound to rise.

The present economic breather, however, would seem to be an ideal time to build a new home. Mortgage rates are low, and building material costs are stable. Perhaps more important, though, energy-efficient green building techniques that have been in development for the last 15 years are now mature.

Green Building Techniques: Superinsulation

The next 15 years will no doubt see many more advances, but the intensive research and the trial-and-error practices of the last decade and a half have brought energy-conserving design to a remarkable position today. The basic principles and the practical methods are now established. Better yet, this understanding has brought the language of design down from lofty mathematics to everyday "rules of thumb" — guidelines to build by.

Superinsulation's Wide Application

Every truly energy-efficient home being built today employs green building techniques: a heavy layer of insulation and well sealed home. The cardinal rule of thumb is: Worry about saving the energy you've got before you spend money finding more. Consequently, insulation and air-leakage control make up the basis upon which other energy-saving schemes can be developed.

Because superinsulation is largely a matter of building technique — from wall-framing systems to outlet seals — the lessons are applicable to just about any sort of building, even one that's being retrofitted to improve its energy efficiency. Therefore, anyone who's contemplating either new construction or remodeling can benefit from a review of the methods of superinsulation.

Conservation Levels

Insulation: To be considered superinsulated, a house must have wall and window R-values roughly twice as high as those dictated by area building codes. In general, this level will also be the most cost-effective, but there are a couple of important qualifiers: Framing for thick insulation is far more expensive than the insulation itself. So, if more insulation can be installed without adding costly framing, it may be beneficial to go beyond the twice-code R-value recommendation. Also, if you're able to make use of passive solar gain through south windows, double glazing (which transmits more radiation than glazing with more layers does) may be justified. Triple or quadruple units should be used on the north, east, and west.


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