IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group III: Mitigation of Climate Change

6.4.2 Thermal envelope

The term ‘thermal envelope’ refers to the shell of the building as a barrier to unwanted heat or mass transfer between the interior of the building and the outside conditions. The effectiveness of the thermal envelope depends on (i) the insulation levels in the walls, ceiling and ground or basement floor, including factors such as moisture condensation and thermal bridges that affect insulation performance; (ii) the thermal properties of windows and doors; and (iii) the rate of exchange of inside and outside air, which in turn depends on the air-tightness of the envelope and driving forces such as wind, inside-outside temperature differences and air pressure differences due to mechanical ventilation systems or warm/cool air distribution.

Improvements in the thermal envelope can reduce heating requirements by a factor of two to four compared to standard practice, at a few percent of the total cost of residential buildings, and at little to no net incremental cost in commercial buildings when downsizing of heating and cooling systems is accounted for (Demirbilek et al., 2000; Hamada et al., 2003; Hastings, 2004). A number of advanced houses have been built in various cold-climate countries around the world that use as little as 10% of the heating energy of houses built according to the local national building code (Badescu and Sicre, 2003; Hamada et al., 2003; Hastings, 2004). Reducing the envelope and air exchange heat loss by a factor of two reduces the heating requirement by more than a factor of two because of solar gains and internal heat gains from equipment, occupants and lighting. In countries with mild winters but still requiring heating (including many developing countries), modest (and therefore less costly) amounts of insulation can readily reduce heating requirements by a factor of two or more, as well as substantially reducing indoor summer temperatures, thereby improving comfort (in the absence of air conditioning) or reducing summer cooling energy use (Taylor et al., 2000; Florides et al., 2002; Safarzadeh and Bahadori, 2005). Insulation

The choice of insulation material needs to maximize long-term thermal performance of the building element overall. As mentioned previously, this involves consideration of remaining thermal bridges and any water ingress, or other factor, which could result in deterioration of performance over time. For existing buildings, space may be at a premium and the most efficient insulation materials may be needed to minimize thicknesses required. Where upgrading of existing elements is essentially voluntary, minimization of cost and disturbance is equally important and a range of post-applied technologies can be considered, including cavity wall insulation, spray foams and rolled loft insulation. Only a few specific applications with effective control of end-of life emissions have been identified in which foams containing high GWP blowing agents will lead to lower overall climate impacts than hydrocarbon or CO2 solutions. However, where this is the case, care should still be taken to optimize life-cycle management techniques in order to minimize blowing agent emissions (see 6.4.15).