What is SuperInsulation?
(Aerogel - which is the only factoid all in the profession will agree on)
Can I add it to my house?
(Your house, office building, factory, dog house, you name it, you can super insulate it)
Superinsulation might have begun in the late 1970's as a dogmatic 12 - 24 inches of fiberglass or cellulose insulation walls and roof, but we've come a long way baby since then.
What is it made from?
It's now economical to wrap top bottom and sides of a building in foam making it a modern - THERMOS tm BOTTLE (Which begs the question, would you want to live in a thermos bottle???)
In Germany they've taken it a step further, using vacuum insulated panels to turn buildings into live in commercial freezers (chilling analogies eh?).
NASA after creating the microchip that has been responsible for more societal disruption than the steam engine has now given us Aerogel, which as soon as someone figures out a flexible formula or a matrix to hold it's crushed form will turn every building into a space probe.
Rock Wool, decidedly un-geeky compared to the above, it's even made from slag, which is rock with all the good it's good stuff already used up, is the latest answer to "What is Super Insulation". Rock wool has been around LONGER than any of the space age contenders, cellulose, or even fiberglass. Cork is the only older insulation (I kid you not, worked on converting a 10 story meat processing center, all the walls, 4 inches of cork, surrealistic, so wanted to just shine it up and seal it, but a bit of an issue with soaked in blood..... So, why is Rock Wool, the dark horse of insulation now coming on strong? It is the greenest of all insulating materials! Lowest energy used to make, lowest embedded carbon, no toxic outgassing (well no more than fiberglass or treated cellulose - yes it's more than just "paper", bugs and vermin die if they eat it (it's essentially chunks of glass once they chew it up), can't get wet, self dries, retains 100% of it's insulating value over time, semi rigid for easier, trouble free, accurate, effective installation, and the ta - da, decays into sand - given a few thousand years.
Then, What is SuperInsulation?
The industry has made it a moving target. I see the point. It's always been pegged to inches, R values, neither of which take into account climate zones, so it's the same in Texas as Alaska, and multipliers of code requirements.
Which makes it a hard sell and hard to generate critical mass in the mass mind to make super insulation a buzz word for cool, green, sustainable, cool geeky, boasting rights, ego stroke, etc..
What is it going to be in the future?
Fixed R values, nope, as it's too limiting in design, no one will be able to have all glass living rooms, developers will have to go beyond their comfy 4 inch stud walls.
I'm guessing a multiplier in some of the dozens of codes across the country and world - many are based on same international code, but few local gov'ts can let that lie, they tweak it.
It should be fixed, forever, independent of codes, such as the savings attributable to insulation alone, as BTU per SF per Degree Day equal to 30% of the heating / cooling energy the building uses. Which is pretty geeky, but at least it levels out the climate zones, the different codes, and allows for all glass living rooms. Though this will favor to some extent heating heavy climates. Why 30%? About 1/3 of the heating / cooling energy is usually lost through the building's opaque envelop. So, this standard wipes it out, which, is pretty much the goal of super insulation, being able to say, heat a house using a light bulb.
How can I super - insulate my house? (or any building)
(Without going broke)
1. Attic - Positively STUFFING your attic is critical to how you can super insulate your house - which means you can't use it for storage - no, not even a little bit, NOTHING can get in the way of the 2 - 3 FEET of insulation. You'll hear that last foot hasn't much bang for the buck, will have a 20 yr pay back. Sooooooo not true. That last foot is what will keep your house super insulated forever. Hire someone to spray in cellulose - CHECK THE FINISHED DEPTHS, or DIY fiberglass batts. Why is that last foot, which is probably going to be the 24 - 36 inch layer? 1. Compression - you won't get full rated depth of insulation, it's too thick, it's not tested for these thicknesses. 2. Gravity - will keep compressing the insulation, no matter what anyone says. 3. Drips, dew, loose nuts, bolts, wood splinters, cable installers, electricians, etc. will over the decades mean that every inch of the attic will be artificially compressed by something. 4. Disturbances, no, not ghosts, cable guys, roof repairmen, etc doing their job, moving insulation to fix things and NEVER getting it back in right - that's impossible - they'd need to bring up more insulation and spray foam to get it patched up to full height and air sealed, and, that won't happen. Your extra foot provides the "extra" insulation they will tuck into the holes etc they make.
2. Basement - Two ways, Outside, insulate foundation up to siding, extend a skirt of insulation, called a "Frost Proof Shallow Foundation" or "Frost Resistant Shallow Foundation" 3 to 4 feet out from the house. This will probably be foam sheets, great for DIY"rs, covered with landscape fabric and pavers on the ground, stucco or cement board / dens glass on the foundation wall. INSIDE: 9 - 12 inch rock wool in-between new studs, floor slab to ceiling, then open the ceiling and put in 12 - 24 inches up against the outside wall / rim joist. If your basement is damp, lay down 2 inches of foam as a base for the rock wool. You don't need to install wall board, you can cover with a cheap building wrap, tape the joints!
3. Walls - If not insulated, hire someone to blow in insulation, have it tested in winter with a thermal camera. This is NOT super insulation, but it's all you'll be able to afford. After that, or if already insulated, as you refinish / paint etc rooms, add 1 inch foam or glass wool on exterior wall between HORIZONTAL strapping, so you don't thermally bridge to studs in wall. This assembly MUST be 100% AIRTIGHT!. Fill all voids with insulation, spray foam insulation, caulk, drywall compound, etc. Cover with drywall sealed to strapping with caulk and sealed to each other with sealant. Finish with at least 3 coats of a breathable latex paint. If your siding is shot and you're replacing it, cover with Tyvek, tape the seams, 4 inches of rock wool at 2 - 6 lb per sf, strapping on long stand off screws, Tyvek, tape the seams, and your siding.
4. Windows - DO NOT rip out and replace unless you hear the wind whistling through them, water leaks in, they don't hold paint, or they won't stay up without a stick, or open without a crow bar. Reasonably tight single glazing is perfectly acceptable with some good neoprene / vinyl / metal seals and a storm window, at 1/4 the price of new, or less. Thinking space age quad pane noble gas filled heat mirror MUST work, WRONG, think of this, you can save money by closing up the window and hanging a 36 inch LCD TV with built in internet and steam the web cam from Club In The Sun where the window was. It'll also double as a heater in the winter and a light all year. Win - Win - Win!
5. Toilets - If you don't have good toilet fans with timers that get the job done and get it done FAST, GET 'EM. Open windows are the bane of super insulation. An window open 6 inches in winter is like knocking out the wall of a room. Also, you house will be so air tight after all the work that smells that used to dissipate fast enough, never will again. You'll hear about air heat exchangers, which after installation costs, including ducts, patching walls, ceilings, and floors, for ducts, electrical wiring, control wiring (probably to every toilet room), will have a 10 - 20 yr pay back compared to running a toilet fan 5 min every time. Lots more maintenance too (filters (in and out), duct cleaning) and of course the room within the AC / heated envelope - nope, can't go in the attic over the insulation, one - no room, two - it will freeze or bake, depending, sending back, you guessed it, frozen or broiling air.
Pay back Times
Climates that are fairly hot or cold, 6 - 10 yrs.
Temperate climates, you probably want to halve the insulation for a 6 - 10 yr pay back.
If one element is not insulated, like basement, walls, or attic has minimal, ie, 6 inch degraded insulation, then you're looking a 2 - 6 year pay back.
Hiring out the work, you'll be at the top of the layback times. If you hire out clearing your attic or basement, you'll just make the pay back longer.