Wood-fibre insulation is effective for homes

Wood-fibre insulation panels were attached to the exterior of insulated load-bearing stud walls in the Radiance co-housing project in Saskatoon, Canada.

The last nail driven into wood-fibre panel insulation in a home in British Columbia could mark a new standard in building construction for the Canadian home construction industry.

The non-profit forestry R&D company, FPInnovations, 475 High Performance Building Supply, and the Canadian Wood Council have partnered to build three high-profile residential projects to demonstrate the suitability of wood-fibre insulation panels for use in residential buildings.

The panels are environmentally friendly and are expected to perform better than traditional rigid foam insulation.

The home in British Columbia is the last of the high-performance projects built to Passive House standards in the trial. Contractors used wood-fibre insulation panels imported from Europe to insulate exterior walls. The trio behind the initiative is certain the panels can be manufactured in Canada far less expensively than in Europe, with an R-factor rating equivalent to rigid foam panels.

Dry-process wood-fibre insulation panels are the future of building insulation in Canada because the natural resources and industry are available to produce them economically. Excess fibre from sawmills can be used for their production as they offer superior performance and insulation, in addition to being environmentally safer than rigid foam insulation.

Superior performance

FPInnovations designed tests to determine the fire safety, stability, durability, and insulation rating of the panels. Wood-fibre insulation demonstrates superior fire performance compared to polymer foam insulation types that are currently used in North America.

The panels also show superior moisture management in wall and roof systems compared to polymer foam insulation. Additionally, the panels have a greater thermal mass that controls interior temperatures.

The panels are made using a dry-processing method of refining wood chips and shavings. The resulting fibre is dried, mixed with polyurethane adhesive and paraffin, formed into a continuous fibre mat, sized to desired thickness, and cured.

The panels are then milled to different sizes and edge configurations. The manufacturing process allows for a homogeneous board from 20 to 300 millimetres thick. The panels offer R-values in the 3.5 to 3.9-per-inch-range, while polymer foams have R-values in the 4.5 to 6-per-inch-range.

Customized uses

The Collingwood renovation project adds a two-storey contemporary addition to a 150-year-old pioneer cedar log house. The Saskatoon co-housing project showcases a low cost of living through low energy use, while the B.C. single-storey prefabricated house is built to meet LEED Platinum standards. Performance monitoring instrumentation is installed onto the prefabricated wall and roof modules.

The low-cost construction methods require a thick rigid exterior insulation product and wood-fibre insulation is one of the few products that were found with negative embodied carbon. The pressed-wood fibres trap carbon and sequester it for the life of the building.

The instrumentation installed in each building consists of point moisture measurement, relative humidity and temperature sensors, data logger units, and a tactical intelligence gateway. Each home’s performance is being monitored by for at least one year and meaningful results are expected by mid-2019.

Currently, wood-insulation panels are imported construction material. They can truly transform the industry because they are environmentally friendly to make, reduce onsite labour and waste, and are recyclable as well.

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