Steel Building Insulation: Options and Benefits

Published December 26, 2014 by Whirlwind Team

thermal building insulationIf you're building a steel residence, insulation is a given. But what about when you're building a commercial structure? Or one that's more industrial or agricultural in nature? Then do you need insulation?

Consider the Options and Benefits of Using Insulation in Your Steel Building Project

Technically, no. You don't need insulation, however (notice the emphasis here), while steel is one of the most cost-effective, durable and long-lasting building materials on the market, it's a super-conductor of heat and is vulnerable to moisture. In order to protect your investment, and to make for a more comfortable building year-round, we recommend using some type of insulation and/or moisture barrier system.

Here is some basic information regarding steel buildings and the various types of insulation that work best to maintain a comfortable year-round interior and prevent condensation that can lead to moisture issues, rust, corrosion or mold/mildew damage. Always work with your metal building manufacturer to ensure you install the best insulation for your building type, usage and climate.

Why Is Insulation Important to the Function of My Steel Building?

As we hinted at above, steel is incredibly strong and durable but it also has some features that can become cons if you don't protect against them. The first is its ability to conduct heat. On a hot summer day, your building will quickly transfer solar and ambient exterior heat right into the building. During the winter months, heat transfer will work in the opposite direction and any heated air inside your building will happily move out in accordance with the laws of thermodynamics.

Secondly, moisture is steel's Achilles heel. You want to guard against moisture penetration and/or the accumulation of condensation to prevent rust and erosion as well as to inhibit mold an mildew growth. Adequate ventilation and the right insulation will take care of all of the above.

What Type of Insulation Is Best?

There are several different types of insulation and your decision will ultimately be based on your budget and the type of building you are erecting. You want your insulation to have:

  • A decent R-value (thermal break); the higher the R-value the better it will insulate. Your sales rep or vendor can help you select an R-value that meets climatic needs in your geographic location.
  • Condensation elimination
  • Ability to resist humidity
  • Easy installation features
  • Resistance to rodents, birds and/or bugs
  • Is recognized/qualified by Energy Star and/or the ICCES

Here Is a Brief Overview of the Different Types of Insulation You Have to Choose From

  • Loose Fill. This insulation is often considered eco-friendly and may help you score some LEED points since it can be made largely of recycled materials. It is literally a loose material (resembling pellets) that requires a specific machine to "blow" it in to the attic, floor and interior wall spaces of your building. It can be a little pricey, but it also fills corners, niches and irregular areas that might be missed by other types of insulation. On the flip side, if your building or attic is inadequately sealed, it can be blown around by drafts and that will create uninsulated pockets if you aren't careful. If you want a higher R-value, look for loose fill insulation with cellulose fibers.
  • Batt and Blanket Insulation. Odds are this is the insulation you are most familiar with because it has been the most common type until recently. Made of rock wool or fiberglass, these blankets or batts come in sections that are installed between joists or standard 16- to 24-inch stud spaces. It's the cheapest insulation option but it can be more time consuming to install, and is not the most efficient type, so you will want to weigh the difference between its first-time and lifetime costs. Saving money now could lead to higher heating/cooling bills or repair bills that would have been avoided down the road.
  • Rigid Board Insulation. This one wins when it comes to ease of insulation. The boards are made from polyurethane, fiberglass or polystyrene and can be cut to fit a particular space or to gain a desired thickness, potentially doubling the R-value. It's an ideal application for basements as well as cathedral ceilings. If rigid board insulation is used on the interior of a building you will want to apply a fire-retardant material and it will require some sort of weather-proofing if you're using it on the exterior side.
  • Spray Foam. While this insulation is the most expensive, it's also one of the most desirable options for steel and metal buildings because the liquid foaming agent and a (typically) polyurethane polymer are sprayed to fill any space. It also forms an air barrier, which is an added bonus. The foam expands as it's sprayed and forms a solid cellular plastic consisting of air-filled cells once dried.

If you have any questions regarding insulating your metal building give us a call!





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