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How to beat the heat with better thermal comfort

By Knauf Insulation
June 11, 2021

It is the start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and the perfect moment to reflect on why we need to focus on improving the thermal comfort of our buildings.

Once upon on time, in most countries, summers signified holidays and the luxury of longer days. Today, the start of summer has become a prelude to extreme weather events, punctuated by headline news about wildfires, heatwaves and a depressing reminder of the impact of climate change.

In 2020, the Northern Hemisphere experienced its hottest year ever at 1.28ºC above the 20th century average with June to August recording the hottest summer on record.

Air-conditioning to increase by two-thirds by 2030

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has said that cooling energy demand has more than tripled since 1990 to 8.5% of total final global electricity consumption “making it the fast-growing end use in buildings”.

In addition, it is estimated that there are two billion air-conditioning units in operation around the world, a figure that is expected to increase by another two-thirds by 2030 as more people in emerging economies invest in keeping cool.

This growth, in turn, is leading to the emergence of fuel poverty where an estimated 1.1 billion people are unable to afford access to cooling.

The health risks of heatwaves are well documented particularly among the elderly or those with pre-existing medical problems so it is vital that there is a focus on human thermal comfort. In one UK report it was estimated that up to 20% of homes in the country caused overheating for occupants with the annual average of 2,000 heat-related deaths a year projected to rise to 7,000 by 2050 as a result of climate change, increased urbanisation and an ageing population.

 

Making buildings climate resilient

So, what is the solution? How to achieve thermal comfort in buildings? We need to make our buildings climate resilient and more energy efficient, improve the building envelope, understand how to maximise thermal comfort in buildings, focus on the temperature-lowering potential of a holistic approach to buildings and we need to relentlessly campaign for energy saving policies that help us all cool down. Energy Efficiency is one of Knauf Insulation’s expertise.

“As a first measure to reduce the amount of energy needed for space cooling, proper building design can improve thermal insulation and reduce air leakage by incorporating advanced building envelope components,” says the IEA.

To be in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals all countries need to establish mandatory building energy codes. Unfortunately, almost two-thirds of countries lacked these codes in 2019 “meaning more than five billion square metres were built without mandatory performance requirements”, says the IEA.

Improving the building envelope, focusing on thermal comfort in buildings, campaigning for environmentally responsible building performance regulation and making buildings more climate resilient is at the heart of everything Knauf Insulation does. Our solutions, which range from Rock Mineral Wool and Glass Mineral Wool to Blowing Wool and our Urbanscape Green Roof and Wall solutions are particularly effective at cooling buildings.

Through higher insulation levels and an effective air tightness envelope, an insulated building envelope assumes the role of a thermal shield which in winter reduces energy loss, and in summer, blocks hot air masses. The effect? Inside the building, the temperature is balanced which is conductive to maintaining the well-being of building users.
Magdalena Pyszkowski - Group Market Manager and Head of Non-Residential

Importance of a holistic approach

We also recognise the complexities of creating an energy effective building. We have dedicated research to improving every aspect of thermal comfort through our new company Knauf Energy Solutions, where we are pioneering techniques to ensure building renovations deliver what is promised — a warm home in winter and a cool comfortable home in summer — and introducing the technology to audit measure and demonstrate genuine effectiveness.

Using our building physics expertise over the years we have also developed specific complementary accessories — such as vapour control layers and weather membranes — that are needed to achieve an effective air tightness envelope and allow buildings to breathe better in any climate while maintaining comfortable interior temperatures.

We also continue to recommend the importance of taking a holistic approach to the cooling of buildings from night-time ventilation, window shading and screens to how buildings interact with their surroundings such as orientation to the sun or the use of strategic trees and other vegetation.

 

Renovating 35 million buildings by 2030

Regulation is also a powerful tool, and when it comes to energy efficiency and building comfort. Knauf Insulation has embedded a commitment to Create Better Buildings  in our sustainability strategy and consistently campaigned government policymakers for an effective approach to deep energy efficient renovation that combines quality of performance and an ambitious approach to the quantity of buildings to be refurbished.

In Europe, for example, the European Commission has produced a strategy that aims to renovate 35 million buildings by the year 2030 to tackle climate change, create jobs and improve the living conditions of millions.

It is an ambitious approach that could be replicated across countries that are seeing demand for air-conditioning soar. Global temperatures are rising, air-conditioning use is accelerating and the number of people being left behind by energy poverty is soaring. We need to cool these statistics down. And we need to start by making the building envelope more energy efficient and focus on thermal comfort in buildings.

 

To see how Knauf Insulation is working to introduce better energy efficiency regulation for buildings in Europe explore our work here. To understand how our solutions can improve the envelope of your building click here.