See also – How much insulation?
With increasing levels of insulation, the total thickness of a wall becomes an issue in relation to land values, especially in densely built urban areas where space is restricted. The total footprint of the external walls of a house can easily be around 15 – 20% of the ground floor area and this becomes significant.
Even with present insulation standards walls can be very thick.
If you work to the latest building regulationsThese are the mass of regulations that cover safety, health, welfare, convenience, energy efficiency etc. in the way buildings are constructed. Not to be confused with Planning consent (which is more to do with whether you can put up the building in the first place). See more on the regulations using a traditional cavity wall you will probably end up with something like the following:
- 112m m outer skin of brick (or 200 of stone)
- 50 mm cavity
- 75mm of insulation
- 100mm insulating breeze block inner wall
- 25 mm plaster
A total thickness of about 360mm if you include plaster. Although this is better insulation than was the case till recent changes to the building regulations, it is hardly eco-house standard.
To bring this up to PassivhausSee more on the Passivhaus standard. The PassivHaus Institute has pioneered a standard for low energy buildings. It includes very low energy usage and ways of achieving this. The word is derived from the idea of buildings which are fundamentally low energy and passive solar heated rather than using extra gadgets to heat them. See Passivhaus for the UK branch of the organisation. standard would require about another 225 mm of insulation, giving a total thickness of 585mm. This is a very thick wall.
The minimum standards required by the Building Regulations for new dwellings are in Approved DocumentsApproved documents (England) are detailed publications which come under the English Building Regulations. They are based on tried and tested methods of building and if you follow them you are assured of complying with the Regs. The equivalents for Scotland are the Technical HandbookUnder the Scottish Building Regulations, the Technical Handbook gives construction principles, which, if you follow them guarantee compliance with the Regulations, for Wales: the Approved documents (Wales), and for N.I. the Technical BookletsUnder the Northern Ireland Building Regulations, the Technical Booklets give construction principles, which, if you follow them guarantee compliance with the Regulations part L1AThe Approved documents, (England) part L1A, deals with Conservation of fuel and power in new dwellings.
Compare this with a timber framed wall using an outer rain screenthis is a (usually thin) outer cladding on a wall which prevents rain, snow, etc getting at the structure of the wall behind. see more on rain screen .
- Rain screen of about 45mm
- insulation of 300mm
- internal lining 50mm. (allowing for services cavity behind an internal lining board)
A total of 395mm. This is 190mm thinner than a (stone) masonry wall to achieve Passivhaus standard. And of course this applies to all the external walls on all storeys so there is a considerable effective increase in usable floor area. There is also the issue of windows being less effective in very thick walls in terms of light and views.
There is a peculiar and not instantly obvious relationship between wall insulation, population density and planning regulations.
Cost of land
The density of the UK population combined with recent decisions to increase the density of housing on brownfield sites (to preserve the greenbelt) means that building land is at a huge premium. Typically the cost of a building plot may be roughly the same as the cost of the building materials. When planning permissionthe legal basis for being allowed to do some form of development such as building a house. (not to be confused with Building Regulations which are all about whether the building is properly constructed). see more on Planning the legal basis for being allowed to do some form of development such as building a house. (not to be confused with Building Regulations which is all about whether the building is properly constructed). see more on Planning is given there are very tight restrictions on how much of the site can be built on (this includes the building line at the front and how far you can extend back along with how close you can build to the side boundaries). The result is that the outside perimeter line of a house is restricted and if you want thicker wall insulation you have to make the rooms smaller. This reduces the floor area considerably.
Loss of floor space
Taking the example of a detached three storey[for the purposes of part B (fire) of the Approved Documents to the Building Regulations] this includes - (a) any gallery[for the purposes of part B of the Approved Documents] - A raised area or platform around the sides or at the back of a room which provides extra space. if its area is more than half that of the space into which it projects; and (b) a roof, unless it is accessible only for maintenance and repair. 150 sq. m. house on a square plan. The loss of internal floor[for the purposes of part E of the Approved Documents] - Any floor that is not a separating floor (see separating floor). space (due to thicker insulation in order to achieve Zero Carbonbit of a slippery fish. It tends to mean that a building uses no carbon (oil, coal, etc) to heat it (meaning in a 'net' way). It usually ignores the carbon which goes into building it (the embodied energy). See the page on Zero Carbon? or Passivhaus or AECBthe Sustainable Building Association gold standard) would be about 7.5 sq. m. or 5%. This would represent wastage of about £7,500 in terms of how much space you end up with. (This is assuming a plot value of £150,000. which might not be untypical for much of the UK but could be much higher in the South East).
Obviously if you have a cavity wall in an existing house (which became fairly standard after the 1950s) you can have insulation blown into the cavity and there are grants to help with this which you can get through your energy supplier.
However this is only going to provide 50 mm. of insulation which would not bring you up to present day building regulation standards, never mind any kind of eco house standards. If you want to go further then you may want to consider external wall insulation or internal lining.
Whichever route you take it is important to make sure that you don’t create conditions which could cause interstitial condensation where moisture travelling through the wall condenses out within the thickness of the wall and creates damp patches or rot.
The other important thing is to consider the junctions between elements such as at the eaves. The insulation should carry on continuously at these places and any potential drafts should be sealed. This can get quite complicated if several types of building materials meet at complicated angles and configurations. It is often difficult to get good information on how best to handle this kind of thing and you may need professional help. A nice example of upgrading internal insulation at an eaves and a window on an old stone building can be seen on a study of Gibson Mill