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).