Radian Barrier, Foil Insulation – Reflection on Reflective Insulation

Simply compare your 10 year old electric (hydro) bill with the recent one, and you will soon realize that we are nowhere near a global solution to the greenhouse gas emission problem. Moreover, suggestions to replace your light bulbs with the fluorescent ones or shut down your air-conditioner at summer don’t make you comfortable and don’t contribute as much as some people might think. However, reflective insulation may be one answer to at least the air conditioning part of your summer electric bill. It is simple, cost and energy efficient, but far from being well known to the general public, home owners, and even many builders.

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Are you someone who can usually be found on vacation hiding from the burning sunlight under a beach umbrella? People feel much better under the shade simply because light-colored fabric reflects the heat hotel furniture manufacturers. Simple logic suggests that the lighter the color, the better heat reflection. Moreover, protection is more effective if the surface is shiny, which explains why firefighters, for example, wear shiny reflective outfits.

In scientific terms, firefighters use a reflective insulation, or radiant barrier, to be protected from the excessive heat. Good quality reflective insulation, or what might be referred to as a radiant barrier, reflects more than 95% of infrared heat waves or radiant heat, while emitting very little heat itself – keeping those firefighters safe.

You can test this by trying a little experiment. First, put your palm 1-2″ close to a standard electric light bulb and feel the heat. Try again, with some cotton wool between the lamp and your hand. You will feel better, but in only a few minutes heat will penetrate through the wool and you’ll still get hot, even though you now have an insulation layer.

Now, place a 4×4″ piece of household aluminum foil between the lamp and your hand (just make sure that the foil does not touch your hand) – and you will feel immediate relief. A little breeze to remove air between your hand and the foil (blow gently) and this will give you a perfect imitation of the beach umbrella effect. That’s exactly the way a radiant barrier or foil insulation works.

So – what does this mean for your home? To get back to your overheated house – can you put an umbrella over the roof? In a sense, yes. You can protect your house exactly the same way; all you have to do is to put a strong, inexpensive reflective insulation or foil insulation layer under (not over) the roof of your house. When installing, make sure that you have all the things that theory suggests are in place: a radiant barrier or reflective insulation layer, vented air cavities (which is an important part of the process), moisture control etc.

Marketers of green products and technology face the same question that all businesses face: “What is the best way to encourage buyers to purchase green products?” Recent results from the real world are shedding light on the answer to this question, and it is not the answer most people expected.

Consider the results of a recent action by the city government of Washington, D.C., which has turned into an interesting experiment in social engineering. As of January 1, 2010, a five-cent tax was imposed on all disposable bags, both plastic and paper, given out in retail outlets selling food, candy, or alcoholic products across the nation’s capital. The effect of this tax was that stores now either had to ask people if they wanted to pay extra for a bag or shoppers had to ask for them specifically. This was the clincher. The five-cent tax notwithstanding, even more effective in dissuading consumers from carrying their purchases out in bags was the fact that shoppers now had to ask for them. Everyone, store employees and fellow shoppers alike, would hear the request and know that they were not being environmentally conscientious in limiting their use of plastic and paper bags.

The result was astounding. The number of bags handed out fell from about 68 million per quarter to about 12 million per quarter, a reduction of more than 80%.

These results parallel those of another experiment carried out by university researchers and published in 2008. Public service messages were hung on the door knobs of residents in San Marcos, California requesting that they use fans instead of the air conditioner when ever possible. Four different reasons were given and the responses were tabulated. The first group was told they could save an average of $54 per month on their utility bill. The second group was told that they could prevent the release of 262 pounds of greenhouse gases each month. A third group was simply told it was the environmentally responsible thing to do. The fourth was informed that 77% of their neighbors were using fans instead of air conditioners. It was the fourth group that showed the largest reduction in energy consumption, more than triple the reduction of any of the other three groups.

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