How Does Insulation Work?

September 30, 2021

You might already know that insulation prevents heat transfer, can help with soundproofing and increases your fire resistance, but do you know how it actually works? It’s time to revisit your middle school science classes.

Read on to get a refresher course with some FAQs on insulation and heat transfer.

What is insulation?

Insulation is any material that prevents heat transfer—that is, hot air moving toward cold air. Some materials are more suitable as insulation than others. Consider the difference between sticking a cold soda can in a canvas tote versus an insulated bag. Since canvas isn’t an effective insulation material, hot air from outside can easily pass through, and the can will start warming up a lot faster. In contrast, an insulated bag usually has other materials (e.g., plastic inner liners, vinyl exteriors and polyurethane fillers) that will help keep heat away from the contents.

There are many different types of insulation. Fiberglass, spray foam, blown-in insulation and other varieties are popular in residential construction. Some are even made of specially-treated paper. Depending on the type of building you own, you might have one or more of these insulation types. Most of it fits between the walls or on attic ceilings, so hot air can’t encroach or escape your home, depending on the season.

How does insulation work?

You might recall middle school science classes—you probably learned that when hot and cold air (or objects) meet, the heat flows from one area to another until the temperature evens out. This can occur in air and buildings, but it also happens with liquids and solid objects.

Insulation works by creating a barrier against heat transfer. Just like in the example above, a canvas bag isn’t a particularly effective barrier against heat transfer, but a bag with multiple layers will help block it.

There are three types of heat transfer: conduction, convection and radiation. Conduction happens when two objects are in contact with each other, like putting a cool pan on a hot stove. Convection occurs in gases or liquids, and radiant heat transfer occurs via electromagnetic waves.

Insulation addresses heat transfer depending on what kind you’re trying to prevent. For example, radiant heat transfer in buildings often occurs due to the sun beating down on them. Radiant insulation uses aluminum panels to bounce the electromagnetic waves away from the roof, keeping the interior cool.

Convection and conduction can be prevented by adding multiple layers in walls. The hot air is trapped between the layers—just like if you’re wearing a T-shirt, sweatshirt and heavy jacket in the winter. Your body heat is trapped by the multiple layers, preventing it from leaching out into the cold air; therefore, you stay warmer even though it’s 32 degrees outside.

When you own a building, you might need to install more than one type of insulation to prevent different kinds of heat transfer. It’s best to talk to an insulation contractor about what kind you need and why.

For all your insulation needs, get in touch with Ace Insulation Inc. to learn more about what we can do for you.

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