May 29, 2009 at 4:58 pm Leave a comment

What is superinsulation? What are its advantages? Is it cost-effective?

Superinsulation is an approach to building design, construction, and retrofitting. A superinsulated house is intended to be heated predominantly by intrinsic heat sources (waste heat generated by appliances and the body heat of the occupants) with very small amounts of backup heat. This has been demonstrated to work in very cold climates but requires close attention to construction details in addition to the insulation.

Superinsulation is one of the ancestors of the passive house approach. A related approach to efficient building design is zero energy building.

There is no set definition of superinsulation, but superinsulated buildings typically include:

  • Very thick insulation (typically R40 walls and R60 roof)
  • Detailed insulation where walls meet roofs, foundations, and other walls
  • Airtight construction, especially around doors and windows
  • a heat recovery ventilator to provide fresh air
  • No large windows facing any particular direction
  • No conventional heating system, just a small backup heater

Nisson & Dutt (1985) suggest that a house might be described as “superinsulated” if the cost of space heating is lower than the cost of water heating.

Costs and benefits

In new construction, the cost of the extra insulation and wall framing is offset by not requiring a dedicated central heating system. The cost of a superinsulation retrofit may need to be balanced against the future cost of heating fuel (which can be expected to fluctuate from year to year due to supply problems, natural disasters or geopolitical events).

A superinsulated house takes longer to cool in the event of an extended power failure during cold weather, for example after a severe ice storm disrupts electric transmission. Adverse weather may hamper efforts to restore power, leading to outages lasting a week or more. When deprived of their continuous supply of electricity (either for heat directly, or to operate gas-fired furnaces), conventional houses cool more rapidly during cold weather, and may be at greater risk of costly damage due to freezing water pipes. Residents who use supplemental heating methods without proper care during such episodes, or at any other time, may subject themselves to risk of fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.

Electric heaters are typically only used on the coldest winter nights when overall demand for electricity is low.

Passive House – Superinsulation

Example of Superinsulation


Entry filed under: Geothermal, Insulation, Sustainable Design. Tags: , , , , .

HERS Energy Rating System Home Buying Tax Credits – 2010

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