Thermal breaking in cladding and modern construction

With the European Commission for Energy stating that buildings are responsible for 40% of energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions in Europe, it has never been more important for architects to look for energy efficient solutions when designing buildings. This is particularly true for isolating temperatures within cladded façades, an issue that can often be overlooked. Jonathan Shaw, managing director of thermal break specialists, Armadillo, discusses the importance of thermal breaking within cladding and modern construction projects and how architects can make savings by investing in a thermal bridging solution.

Although cladding is imperative to protecting commercial buildings from outside elements and offering structural support, if the steel cladding framework is used to bridge the insulation envelope, it will conduct heat straight out of the building. Inserting a non-metallic thermal break to support cladding structures can eliminate this heat transfer, with the additional benefit of preventing condensation and temperature changes when extending into the building envelope.

Looking at condensation, this can occur in buildings that do not incorporate an effective thermal break. A lack of thermal bridging can cause cold temperatures to be transferred into the interior structure, creating cooler spots on the interior walls. This is where condensation can occur, leading to wider issues such as damp and mould, in turn causing potential health issues such as asthma. This was seen in the 1980s, where many buildings in the UK were developed with external fixtures that were not correctly isolated. Eventually, the cooler outside temperature was conducted indoors, causing incredibly damaging problems that were too expensive to repair. Consequently, the buildings were completely demolished. If an effective thermal break was specified, this would not have been the case.

Fortunately, times have moved on, and buildings today do not need to face the bulldozer to correct thermal bridging oversights. The solutions that Armadillo develop can reduce this energy transfer by more than half, preventing both condensation and energy loss.

It’s not only cladding projects that make use of thermal breaks, bridging solutions are also used within structures that extend into the building envelope. Armadillo’s product, Armatherm™ Grade, offers excellent thermal isolation properties as well as exhibiting exceptional load carrying capacity. This was seen in a recent project the specialist undertook for Aldi, to insulate the distribution centre’s 1000 sqm cold store room, used to stock thousands of frozen and chilled products before distribution to UK Aldi stores. Armatherm™ Grade 500, was installed directly under steel column bases which bridged the floor slab insulation. Support columns passed through the non-load bearing slab insulation to warm ground beneath, short circuiting the insulation barrier. This worked perfectly as Armadillo’s material is an inert, ultra-high density closed-cell polymer, and offers high load capacity coupled with outstanding thermal performance. Since the installation, Aldi has appointed Armadillo to provide thermal breaks for three more cold store distribution centres across the UK as a result.

Previously, where applications required both high-thermal insulation and structural loads, a compromise between the two had to be struck. Armadillo’s range of thermal break solutions satisfy both of these qualities making them unusual in the market. An alternative material that is often specified for base column isolation is Iroko timber. This hardwood is capable of high-load requirements and offers good insulation when dry, however, over time the timber will absorb moisture making it damp, at which point the thermal insulation is dramatically reduced. There is also a risk of the timber rotting. Due to its closed-cell structure, Armadillo’s thermal bridging solutions do not absorb water, giving repeatable performance for the lifetime of the building, helping architects to feel confident in specifying Armatherm for a foundation structure.

Armatherm_cladding_imageBuildings that do not incorporate effective thermal breaks will suffer the consequences, particularly when it comes to energy loss. As heat is lost through structures that are poorly insulated, this affects the energy efficiency of the entire building, making the structure incredibly uneconomical. Using a thermal break can cut down energy loss by 80% for commercial properties, making massive savings on the running costs of these buildings.

As architects continue to work with developers to create sustainable, energy efficient buildings, understanding the latest technologies available on the market has never been more important. A detail that is commonly overlooked, a simple yet effective thermal break, can save hundreds of thousands on the overall energy costs of a building, making thermal solutions one of the most important elements an architect can invest in when working on major construction projects.

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