Breather membrane, Actis Insulation BoostR Hybrid

A handy guide for merchants to help customers find alternative insulation products

 Our specification manager Dan Anson-Hart, looks at how old-fashioned paper and new-fangled interactive tools can help merchants answer ‘what’s the alternative’ queries from customers.

One of the most common issues merchants struggle with, in our experience, is helping builders find alternative options to the insulation products they’ve been specified – they may want something cheaper, quicker, easier, cleaner – or just different from the one on their spec sheet.

Because it’s not as straightforward as it appears at first glance.

Indeed, it’s not unusual for those who delve into the building regulations requirements and find themselves drowning in a morass of statistics either to stick to the original plan after all, which, depending on the scenario may not be the best option, or to guess, which could lead to issues with building control a little further down the line.

But there IS light at the end of the U-value tunnel …Read on:

So, imagine you are replenishing the shelves at your store and in walks Mr A. He has been advised to use X insulation but wonders whether there is a better alternative. Now, with so many products available, all with different thermal performances, it’s not always as simple as saying that 100mm of X specified product is equivalent to 150mm of Z alternative product, because it is heavily dependent on what element is actually being insulated.

Or say Ms B, who is insulating her roof, calls in while you’re tucking into a well deserved bacon sandwich and asks for a ‘cheaper’ alternative insulation solution than the one she has been specified. Washing down your sarnie with a cup of tea, you explain that 150mm of X insulation may be suitable as a direct alternative to 100mm of Z insulation within this roof construction. BUT -  that doesn’t mean that this would be the same case if it was a wall that was being insulated. In a wall, the customer may only need 140mm as a direct alternative rather than the 150mm needed if it was a roof.

What would be useful for merchants is to have a table of the building regulation requirements for refurb and new builds AND an online U-value measurement tool at their fingertips. This way, when Mr A and Ms B come in for a solution and don’t actually know the U-value they are required to meet to achieve building regulations (which is worryingly rather common), then the merchant can advise “well if it is a loft conversion Mr A, then I know you only need to achieve a 0.18W/m2K U-value.” And other learned pieces of advice which will, of course, make them want to return to your store next time they need some advice (and products).

As luck would have it, we have created a snazzy U-value simulator tool which enables the user to input project requirements and come up with a specification and we have a building regs table in our Solutions and Systems brochure which comes in both old-fashioned printed and all singing all dancing pdf format.

The table states the ideal and the minimum allowable U-value requirements for new builds and refurbs in England, Scotland and Wales.

The new build section gives both ‘notional’ and ‘limiting’ figures. The notional figure is the ideal – and applies to a ‘standard’ house. But this can be adjusted towards the ‘limiting’ end of the scale if the SAP assessment suggests the overall build will be thermally efficient because of balancing factors such as solar panels or a heat recovery system.

When Actis psi values (rather than the government prescribed default psi values) are included in new build SAP, it can help to reduce the target U-value. The general guidance though is to make the fabric as thermally efficient as possible – rather than compensating for a lower thermal efficiency with more costly renewables.

Within the refurb section there are three or four options – depending on whether we’re looking at England, Wales or Scotland - with varying U-value requirements dictated by how much of the original element is retained. As a rule of thumb, the more that’s being replaced the more stringent the U-value, with greater relaxation for listed buildings.

‘New and Replaced’ may refer to a loft conversion with new trusses or an extension with new walls and roof, ‘retained’ could refer to a scenario in which there is an existing stone wall on a barn conversion. In this case, typically, instead of knocking this down and rebuilding, builders will install a timber frame internally and then insulate, meaning there is not so much flexibility available when it comes to insulation thicknesses.

And the ‘retained threshold’ section (for which the least impressive target U-value is required) is more likely to be applied to a listed building where there are extreme limitations and where there may be no existing insulation – thus meaning that any improvement in U-value is a bonus.

Hopefully any bamboozlement which may have existed before you started reading this has been eliminated. Have a play around with the U-value simulator and you’ll see that it really is much easier than it first appears!