Steel Building Insulation: What Kind of Insulation Will My Steel Building Need?

Steel Building Insulation
Steel Building Insulation

Steel buildings are incredibly durable, but they also create challenges when it comes to picking which insulation to use. Insulation is a must when it comes to buildings because it helps reduce energy consumption and, in some states, there are tax incentives to using insulation in your buildings because of how much energy consumption it reduces. Plus, insulation can help reduce the amount of sound that comes through the walls of your building.

So, why is it important to use insulation in your steel building? Steel panels alone offer little to no protection from the outside temperatures, which means that you have no barrier from the natural heat and cold. By adding the right insulation to the building helps control the conduction of the inside temperatures – which means that less of your cold air will be escaping to the hot outside air. Overall, your building will say cooler in the warmer months and warmer in the colder months, and help you reduce how much money you’re spending each month on energy bills.

In fact, many types of insulation come with an energy star rating because they work so well to promote energy efficiency. So, when you’re looking for insulation, you might want to find one that has the energy star rating to promote energy efficiency in your steel building.

How Can Insulation Protect a Steel Building?

Steel Building Insulation

Insulation can protect your building from moisture build-up, which can help reduce your risk of mold and deteriorating materials. You also need to consider the fact that steel conducts heat, so a building that is made out of steel will transfer heat energy in and out of the building. Therefore, when there is a temperature difference between the inside and outside of the building, condensation can form inside the building.

While this might not seem like a big deal, you need to consider that moisture can lead to mold growth and rusting of the metal. In order to protect your steel building and the equipment that you have inside it, you need insulation. Plus, if it means that you’re spending less money each month on electricity for heating and cooling purposes, wouldn’t it be worth it?

How Is Insulation Installed in My Building?

In normal buildings, insulation is usually installed between the studs of the building. With steel buildings, since there are now studs, the insulation is installed over the framing to provide continuous coverage. It can easily be done and will look very similar to the insulation on normal buildings, the process itself is just completely different.

You also should note that different types of insulation will be installed in different ways. As you’ll learn later on in this article, some insulation types are laid inside the walls to install it, and others are sprayed into the walls. It all depends on which type of insulation you choose to use in your steel building, how your building is designed, and what the requirements are.

What Type of Insulation Should I Use for My Steel Building?

Steel Building Insulation

There are quite a few different options available to you and your steel building. However, your choice depends on your building type, your budget, and your unique specifications.

One of the most important things you need to consider when looking for insulation is the R-Value of the material. The R-Value is a measurement of the overall effectiveness of insulation to retain or impede the loss of, heat flow. You want your insulation to have a high R-Value because this means that it’s a better insulator.

You’ll need to work with your project manager to figure out what R-Value you should be looking for based on the location of your steel building and the climate conditions it will have to put up with.

Finally, when picking out the insulation that you’re going to choose for your building, you need to consider the vapor retarder of the insulation. The vapor retarder is a facing on the insulation that helps prevent or slow the flow of moisture through the insulation. A low “permeance” level indicates that the vapor retarder is superior.

There are six common types of insulation used in steel buildings, in this next section we’re going to list and discuss each option available.

Loose-Fill Insulation

Loose-fill insulation is as it sounds – it’s insulation that is made up of tiny free-flowing fibers or fiber pellets. To install this insulation, the fibers are blown into buildings wall, floor, and ceiling cavities with special equipment. While this type of insulation is a bit more expensive than other types, it does do a better job of getting into all the corners of the building and reducing air leakage. Plus, it does a much better job of creating a sound barrier.

Another big perk to this type of insulation is that loose-fill insulation is a greener construction option. This is because the cellulose fibers that make up the insulation is usually made out of recycled newspapers that have been chemically treated so that they will be flame retardant and moisture resistant.

This type of insulation is mostly used in walls, attics, and floors because it can be applied through a spray technique or, sometimes, a dry-pack process. For steel buildings, it is recommended to use fiberglass or rock wool if you decide to go with loose-fill insulation for your building. This is because rock wool or fiberglass provides a fuller coverage in these types of buildings.

Loose-fill insulation has an R-Value around R-3 to R-4 per inch of insulation.

Blanket (Batt) Insulation

Blanket, or more commonly called batt insulation, is the type of insulation most people are familiar with. This type of insulation is usually made out of mineral fibers that consist of rock wool or processed fiberglass. The batt insulation is typically used for floor, ceilings, and walls and is usually the least expensive insulation available for walls. However, this type of insulation requires quite a bit of care when it’s being installed in order for it to be effective.

A huge plus with batt insulation is that some forms include radiant barrier backing, which is incredibly effective in steel buildings because of the lack of natural insulation.

Batt insulation usually comes in lengths of 4-8 feet lengths, while blanket insulation comes in rolls that are cut to the specific lengths you need. So, both types of insulation work perfectly for steel buildings, especially with the radiant barrier backing that comes in most forms.

Both batt and blanket insulation has an R-Value of R-3 per inch of insulation.

Rigid Board Insulation

Rigid board insulation typically consists of polyurethane, fiberglass, or polystyrene. This type of insulation comes in the form of boards that are then installed inside the walls of the building – which makes this type of insulation one of the easiest types to install. Each board can be cut to the correct thickness and size for the area that it’s being installed into. Another huge plus to using this type of insulation is that it is able to withstand high temperatures.

Rigid board insulation is best for reroofing on flat roofs, but it’s also great to use in basement walls or as perimeter insulation. However, this insulation needs to be covered with ½-inch gypsum board or other flame-retardant materials when they are used in interior spaces. It will also need a weather-proof face material in addition to it if the insulation is being used for exterior applications.

Depending on how thick the rigid board insulation that you use is, it can have an R-Value of around R-4 all the way to R-8 per inch.

Spray Foam Insulation

Spray foam insulation is another type of insulation that works as its name suggests: it is sprayed into walls, floors, and ceilings. It is usually a liquid that contains a foaming agent and a polymer, such as polyurethane. As the insulation is sprayed into the walls, it expands and turns into a solid cellular plastic that consists of air-filled cells.

Spray foam insulation is another great choice for steel buildings because it fills every space, even the little crevices that are hard to find. It is also ideal for unusually shaped designs or getting around any sort of obstructions that might be found in the walls.

While spray foam is one of the more expensive options, but it does provide a better air barrier and thus is an overall better insulator. Additionally, it doesn’t require any caulking or additional barriers around it because it is designed to be airtight already.

There isn’t a formal R-Value for spray foam insulation. However, it does tend to have twice the R-Value per inch of traditional blanket insulation. So, the R-Value of spray foam insulation can be around R-6 per inch, but this depends on the type of spray foam used and how it’s installed.

Insulated Panels

Insulated panels are made up of an insulating foam core that is sandwiched between two metal panels. This type of insulated panel eliminates the need to purchase blanket insulation or rigid board insulation.

The downside to this type of insulation is that it is more expensive than traditional insulation types. However, insulated panels do offer better insulating properties, they’re easier and faster to install, and they are designed to fit in with the rest of the architectural appearance of the building.

The R-Value of insulated panels can range from R-16 to R-52 per inch depending on the type of foam core used in the panel and the thickness of it. This makes insulated panels the most effective type of reducing heat loss in your building, even though it is much more expensive.

Reflected Foil

Reflected foil, also known as foil bubble, is waterproof insulation and is named after its’ reflective surface. That same reflective surface can brighten up the inside of your steel building, especially when the sun is out and shining.

This type of insulation can be more expensive to purchase, but it’s easy and safe to install. Why? Because all it requires is staples, nails, or glue to install into your building. It doesn’t require masks or any other protective gear like other types of insulation would.

However, the R-Value of reflected foil is incredibly low: its R-Value is around 1.0 per inch. This means that while it is a safer option, it does mean that it won’t do a great job preventing heat loss, so you might want to stay away from this type of insulation for your steel building.

Final Thoughts

The type of insulation that you choose to use for your steel building depends on how you plan to use the building and how much you want to spend on the insulation. While we listed only six types of insulation that you can use, there are probably more out there – however, these are the some of the options available to you if you’re building a steel building.

The best thing to do when you’re looking for insulation is to compare each type and see which one comes out with the most pros. For example, if you were to compare batt insulation and spray foam insulation, you would probably notice that batt insulation is the least expensive option of the two. You would also note that, while it’s more expensive, spray foam insulation tends to be a lot easier to install and provides more airtight insulation. Finally, you would probably look at the R-Value of each type and figure out which one has the highest value. In this case, spray foam has the highest R-Value. So, if you can afford it and are willing to do it, spray foam would be the best choice between those two options.

As you do this, you’ll start to notice that your list of insulation will decrease until you’re able to make the right decision for you and your steel building. But before you choose any insulation for your building, you should consult with your project manager to determine what type of insulation would work best for your location, plan, and budget.

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