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Stranger Uses of Insulation

Uncommon uses of insulation are topic of discussion in this compelling column from Insulate’s Technical Editor Paul Forrester in the March issue of Insulate Magazine. It’s an intriguing read, if you have any examples of strange uses of insulation, then please leave them in the comments box below.

Insulation should be a reliable sector of construction in which to work – most products are made for specific applications, certified to demonstrate their suitability in those applications, and sold via a distribution network designed to see them reach building sites. But what happens when people get other ideas? by Paul Forrester

Although the construction industry’s resistance to change is frequently cited as a bad thing, it does offer one or two perks. Repeating and refining a limited number of methods or processes, for example, quickly builds a vast database of knowledge about what works and what doesn’t.

The journey of manufacturing, testing and approving products makes sure they’re used appropriately and safely, and will do what the manufacturer claims when used as part of those proven building methods. For anybody offering technical support in the use of insulation products, that predictability is a foundation for confident, accurate advice.

New tricks

There will always be projects where unusual site conditions are encountered, or where a unique detail needs treating in a different way.

In such situations, the architect or specifier might be aware of it and tackle the issue head on. Other times, the manufacturer’s technical helpdesk might spot a potential stumbling block and pass the query back for further thought.

A certain amount of common sense can be applied to questions about ‘non-standard’ uses, but sometimes requests for the unusual go beyond the comfort zone of manufacturers’ expertise. Every once in a while, somebody throws a curveball.

The next section of the article relies heavily on a background in rigid foam insulation, but sales and technical staff working for manufacturers of other insulation types undoubtedly get their fair share of strange requests for advice too.

Unusual Uses but not uncommon of Insulation

A short quiz for you: which of the following are real applications in which people wanted to use rigid insulation boards?

  • Lining the hull of an aluminium catamaran.
  • Refurbishing an oast house.
  • A hog roast cooking pit.
  • A chamber storing, and keeping warm, large pots of honey.
  • In the floor of a chimpanzee enclosure.
  • For a new building at an owl sanctuary.

It is, as you have probably guessed, a trick question. They’re all real, and a couple of them are not as detached from common practice as they might sound (the owl sanctuary, meanwhile, is both real and simply a fun reference for any Alan Partridge fans).

Where the chimpanzee enclosure was concerned, a floor is a floor regardless of what species of great ape walks on it. It was a perfectly normal floor with no unusual loads and, as such, merited no special consideration beyond its potential to one day inspire a magazine article(!).

Oast houses were buildings for drying hops as part of the brewing process, most commonly found in South East England and the West Midlands. Many are converted and refurbished, mainly for domestic use (including in this example), and are typically characterised by their unusual shape. The only way to sensibly fix rigid sheets was to a timber frame constructed internally, avoiding the need to follow the contours of the structure.

Even Stranger Uses of Insulation

The catamaran, the cooking pit and the warming chamber were all less clear cut. The conditions in which the insulation was expected to be used, the way it would be fixed, and the surrounding constructions were all unclear.

It was possible to understand why someone wanted to use insulation for these distinctly different applications, but it was difficult to understand how best to use it to achieve a good result – or even what a good result would be!

There are no clearly defined U-value targets for these situations; it is not obvious how to achieve continuous insulation, or whether vapour control measures are a necessity. The client couldn’t put into words exactly what they wanted to achieve – they just wanted to know if the insulation was ‘suitable’.

And that’s a difficult question to answer. Just because something could be used, does it mean that it should be used?

Grand Designs

Problem solving is inherent to the construction industry, finding solutions for new ideas and unfamiliar situations. But specifying insulation for unconventional applications doesn’t just mean being willing to seek advice. It means being prepared to potentially consult several different sources.

It also means being prepared to work collaboratively to try and arrive at a solution that has the best chance of succeeding. There’s a good chance the person you speak to wants to help but is simply uncertain – perhaps because the product they’re giving advice about is not well suited to your proposal, or because the information they’re being asked to make a judgement on is insufficient.

If the inclusion of insulation is not part of an holistic approach to making the chosen project and application as efficient as possible then there is little to be gained from installing it in an isolated area – because the lack of any resulting benefit will be most unexpected.

Share Your Strange Uses of Insulation

Where have you seen insulation applied in strange situations? Share your experiences via the comment box below.

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One comment

  1. Years ago, I lived in Wisconsin. I sold Industrial/Commercial fiberglass insulation. I had a neighbor who raced his stock car at local tracks. He constantly had blisters on his right heel because of the heat penetrating through the floorboard from the headers that ran directly below the gas pedal. I got some Duct Board and fabricated it to fit on the floorboard across the entire front of the car. We installed it with the fiberglass side down and the foil faced up to protect the material from damage; at least for several races. It made a huge difference by not only protecting his foot from the heat but it also lowered the inside temperature of the car while racing by 40 degrees. I also ran into a situation with a small company that manufactured heated hog troughs. They were heated so the water would not freeze in the harsh Wisconsin winters. They were looking for something to help insulate the troughs. I measured the diameter and it exactly matched the ID of a size of pipe insulation that I sold. This made for easy installation because all they needed to do was slip the pipe insulation over the inner core; the slip the outer core over it.

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