BRE - Environmental impact of insulation

Organization: BRE
Publication Date: 1 January 2011
Page Count: 25


The thermal resistance provided by insulation materials used in the building fabric means that the energy savings from insulation made during the operation of the building far outweigh its embodied environmental impacts. Also, insulation products tend to have a very low density and, therefore, when reviewed in a building context, only relatively small masses of materials are used. However, if insulations are not assessed with a whole-building life-cycle approach they may not appear to be an inherently low environmental impact material, because of the resources and energy used during manufacture, the use of blowing agents and the lack of reuse/recycling at the end of life.

It is, therefore, important to take a whole-building life-cycle approach when looking at insulation materials, which is the approach that has been taken in BREEAM, where the benefits of insulation allow significant energy credits to be gained, and the use of low-embodiedimpact insulation is covered by materials credits through the use of The Green Guide.

This report has been produced as part of a series on the environmental impact of materials and The Green Guide to Specification[3]. Many of the other reports in the series focus on particular materials, and provide more specific information in each case; these may also be of value when considering the environmental impact of insulation.

This report provides a review of how insulations have been assessed within the current Green Guide, including the application of the Environmental Profiles methodology[4] which underlies The Green Guide. The way in which insulation is addressed within building level environmental assessment schemes such as BREEAM and the Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH)[5] is also explained.

This report aims to provide manufacturers and specifiers with a general understanding of the significant benefits and impacts of insulation products over their whole life cycle and to identify opportunities for improvements to the environmental performance of insulation.