Thermal Insulation – Part of the “Total Solution” for Sustainable Buildings

During the design and construction of buildings that require improved thermal protection and energy efficiency, it has become essential for architects and developers to recognise that they are required by law to handover sustainably energy efficient buildings.

What is Driving the Need for Sustainable Buildings?

The global energy crisis, which becomes glaringly obvious for South Africans when power outages occur each winter, has forced legislators, property developers and home owners to become aware of innovative and practical ways to reduce the use of electricity. The realities of the unpredictable and increasing cost of energy, concerns for negative and costly impacts on the environment, as well as the reality of ensuring comfortable and healthy conditions for building occupants, are the main elements that drive the need for sustainable buildings.

When the Department of Minerals and Energy made SANS204 a mandatory element of the National Building Regulations, it was in part a need to acknowledge the importance of reducing the nation’s final energy demand – the target is a 15% reduction by 2015 and a 34% reduction by 2020.   

It was also in part to commit to a belief that the current state of energy consumption and carbon emissions cannot continue along its historical path of ever-increasing demands on energy.

The Green Building Council of South Africa highlights the fact that buildings can account for up to 40% of all energy consumed, and emphasises that the design and construction of buildings needs to undergo a radical change. Unnecessary or excessive use of energy required to cool or heat a building will carry increasingly high costs for both building owners and the occupants and therefore needs careful consideration of how a building is designed.


Buildings that can ensure better thermal protection and energy performance are a critical part of the solution for reducing future energy demands. Architects and building developers have no choice but to accept that the buildings of the future will need to incorporate roofing and insulation materials that contribute to the reduction of the energy used by buildings. Consideration of the energy usage required by buildings has undoubtedly become a permanent element of the building landscape.

Design Elements of Sustainable Buildings

Sustainable buildings do not necessarily require specific construction methods, but rather refer to an approach that brings together elements of design, building materials, technologies and construction techniques. When these elements are integrated effectively, a building realistically has a better chance of improved performance in terms of energy usage. An important element that architects and building developers need to consider is how the thermal resistance (R-value) of insulation and roofing products will impact on the energy that a building requires. 

In South Africa, with climatic zones that record high summer temperatures, architects are required to carefully balance the need to create comfortable living and work spaces with regulations that limit the energy usage of a building.

Click on the link to access TIASA's site where you can view the recommended levels of insulation for your area.


TIASA - Climatic Zones of South Africa

Acknowledging that the temperature of the roof cavity of a building is inevitably transferred to the living and working space, it is becoming increasingly important for the design and development of the roofing space to incorporate materials that offer heat reduction and resistance properties.

ATI’s signature product – Alububble® – a radiant heat barrier insulation solution that has been endorsed by the Thermal Insulation Association of Southern Africa, is designed to resist, or reflect, up to 97% of radiant heat. This thermal insulation solution works differently to conventional bulk insulation like foam boards or fibrous blankets, and guarantees the reduction of heating and air-conditioner costs that are usually incurred while trying to create comfortable climates for building occupants. The product is essentially a reflective foil coupled with a layer of adjoining airspaces.  

With only 3 – 5% of the heat being transferred into the roof cavity, it becomes easier to provide a stable roof temperature. The ability to reflect heat away from the building envelope, and thereby minimise the heat load is the real work which is performed by reflective foil insulation products.

Importantly, for architects and building developers, by incorporating radiant barrier products with bulk insulation, the design elements that need to be considered for sustainable buildings is now made easier. Ultimately, architects and developers now have an opportunity to design and construct sustainable buildings that will have future economic advantages in that they will providing buildings that can maximise opportunities to lower energy consumption, secure better occupancy rates and therefore have an increased market value.

Sustainable Buildings are the Future

The past few years has seen a huge need to measure and manage the energy usage of buildings, not just for individual households, but also for businesses and institutions wanting to reduce costs and become more responsible with their use of valuable energy resources. By understanding how the insulation of the building envelope can immediately impact on the cost effectiveness of running a building, it becomes obvious that decisions around the types of insulation materials required for a building are critical during the design and construction phases.

The design and construction of sustainable or “green” buildings is no longer a simple label that can be tagged onto a project to make it sound environmentally friendly. A range of new technologies, such as thermal insulation, can be applied to old and new buildings and they have the capability of reducing energy demands and decreasing the environmental impact of the built environment. Although many developers may not be very committed to sustainable development practices in the current economic climate, going as far to either use inferior insulation products or none at all, sustainable buildings will become an industry and world standard in the long term.