Building insulation: from low U-values to high standards

Building insulation: from low U-values to high standards

Reaching a low U-Value for all elements of a property is now high among the concerns for architects tackling both new and refurbishment projects, and insulation is a key consideration. So what should you be looking out for when it comes to choosing the right insulation solutions and suppliers? Neil Marshall, Chief Executive of the National Insulation Association (NIA), gives us his insights.

Telford Priory School
Insulated render blends energy efficiency with vivid colours at this school in Telford

Carbon efficiency and green architecture are established trends in the UK, with climate change and increasing fuel bills driving a new push for energy-efficient buildings.

The way a building is constructed, insulated and ventilated, as well as the types of fuel it uses, all contribute to its carbon emissions. Worryingly, a significant proportion of money spent on energy is literally being thrown out of the window. Much of this comes down to inadequate levels of insulation, with around 58% of heat being lost through the roof and walls of an uninsulated building alone.

Standard solutions to ensure better insulation include cavity wall insulation, external wall insulation and loft insulation. Usually you would want to employ a mix of all of these to achieve the best possible results, but what is right for the job will depend on the project and the standards you are trying to achieve.

Standards to strive for

Current building regulations set the levels of thermal insulation required when carrying out building work, either for new build or refurbishment projects.

These levels are expressed as a U-value which needs to be achieved for each component of the building. The lower the U-value, the less heat loss is occurring and the better the insulation.

At the NIA, we’re working with Government and other key stakeholder groups to highlight that more needs to be done to encourage the use of high-quality insulation measures. This means considering things like the use of insulation that does more than help to meet the Building Regulations standards and instead achieves U-values complying with the BREEAM “Excellent Rating”.

Meeting those low U-values is no easy task and finding the right people to work with can make all the difference.

Identifying the right suppliers

It is important to choose the right products and there are particular certifications and guarantees to look out for.

British Board of Agrément (BBA) certification is high up on the list, with the BBA conducting rigorous testing and inspection to ensure the highest possible standards. For cavity wall insulation, you can also look to the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency, and similarly there is also a Solid Wall Insulation Guarantee Agency who provide 25 year guarantees for cavity wall insulation and solid wall insulation respectively.

The NIA is the major trade association for insulation measures in the UK representing manufacturers, system designers and installers, so if you don’t want to spend a lot of time searching around you can come to us to find quality suppliers. Our members – like Aliva UK – must comply with strict membership criteria which includes appropriate levels of insurance, relevant accreditations and guarantees, health and safety, customer care policies and procedures, and statutory accounts.

In addition, they are bound by our strict codes of professional practice and last year we launched a Code of Professional Practice for our members operating in the new build and commercial markets. This is designed to provide clients and specifiers in these sectors with additional reassurance by setting out the quality, standards and professionalism they can expect from an NIA registered member.

Paying for itself

For me, the most powerful benefit of greener buildings is the long term saving on energy bills. For example, the Energy Saving Trust estimates that by insulating solid walls appropriately, savings can be achieved of up to £455 a year for a detached domestic dwelling; for larger commercial premises the savings can be considerably higher. For those homes with cavity walls, installing Cavity Wall Insulation (CWI) can save up to £275 per year and if the loft is currently uninsulated, insulation could save up to a further £240 a year – even if there is some loft insulation topping it up to 270mm could save money.

Cost is almost always the main deciding factor for clients on any building project, but I believe as professionals in the construction industry we have a responsibility to represent the benefits of investing wisely in insulation.

You can find out more about the NIA and their membership by visiting

Neil Marshall

Neil Marshall is Chief Executive of the National Insulation Association. He was appointed to the role in February 2005, having previously held a number of senior management positions in British Gas where he specialised in marketing, corporate responsibility and energy efficiency.