Insulation Types, Application Methods and Physical Characteristics Must Be Reviewed, Understood and Selected to Ensure Roof System Performance

Designing and constructing roof systems (see my previous articles about roof decks, substrate boards and vapor barriers) continues with the thermal insulation layer. The governing building codes will dictate the minimum R-value required and, based on the R-value of the selected insulation, the thickness of required insulation can be determined. This plays into the design of the roof edge, which will be the subject of future articles. For now, let’s focus on insulation.

Photo 1: Polyisocyanurate (ISO) with organic facers

Photo 1: Polyisocyanurate
(ISO) with organic facers

Thermal insulation has multiple purposes, including to:

    ▪▪ Provide an appropriate surface on which the roof cover can be placed.
    ▪▪ Assist in providing interior user comfort.
    ▪▪ Assist in uplift performance of the roof system.
    ▪▪ Provide support for rooftop activities.
    ▪▪ Keep the cool air in during the summer and out during the winter, resulting in energy savings.

INSULATION OPTIONS

For the designer, there are numerous insulation material choices, each with its own positive and negative characteristics. Today’s insulation options are:

    ▪▪ Polyisocyanurate (ISO)

  • »» Varying densities
  • »» Organic facers (see photos 1 and 2)
  • »» Double-coated fiberglass facers (see photo 3)
  • ▪▪ Expanded polystyrene (XPS) (see photo 4)

  • »» Varying densities
  • ▪▪ Extruded polystyrene (EPS) (see photo 5)

  • »» Varying densities
  • ▪▪ Mineral wool (see photo 6)

  • »» Varying densities
  • ▪▪ Perlite
    ▪▪ High-density wood fiber

With today’s codes, the use of perlite and high-density wood fiber as primary roof insulation is very limited. The R-value per inch and overall cost is prohibitive.

Some attributes of the more commonly used insulation types are:
POLYISOCYANURATE

Photo 2: Polyisocyanurate (ISO) with organic facers

Photo 2: Polyisocyanurate
(ISO) with organic facers

    ▪▪ Predominate roof insulation in the market
    ▪▪ Organic and double-coated fiberglass facers (mold-resistant)
    ▪▪ Varying densities available: 18 to 25 psi, nominal and minimum, as well as 80 to 125 psi high-density cover boards
    ▪▪ Has an allowable dimensional change, per the ASTM standard, that needs to be understood and designed for
    ▪▪ Can be secured via mechanical fasteners or installed in hot asphalt and/or polyurethane foam adhesive: bead and full-coverage spray foam
    ▪▪ Has an R-value just under 6.0 per inch but has some downward drifting over time

EXPANDED POLYSTYRENE (EPS)

    ▪▪ Has good moisture resistance but can accumulate moisture
    ▪▪ Direct application to steel decks is often a concern with fire resistance
    ▪▪ Has varying densities: 1.0 to 3.0 pound per cubic foot
    ▪▪ Very difficult to install in hot asphalt; basically not appropriate
    ▪▪ Certain products can be secured with mechanical fasteners or lowrise foam adhesive
    ▪▪ Has stable R-values: 3.1 to 4.3 per inch based upon classification type

EXTRUDED POLYSTYRENE (XPS)

    ▪▪ Has good moisture resistance and is often used in protected roof membrane systems and plaza deck applications
    ▪▪ Direct application to steel decks is often a concern with fire resistance
    ▪▪ Has varying compressive strengths: 20 to 100 psi
    ▪▪ Not appropriate to be installed in hot asphalt
    ▪▪ Has stable R-values: 3.9 to 5 per inch based on classification type

MINERAL WOOL

    ▪▪ Outstanding fire resistance
    ▪▪ Stable thermal R-value: 4.0 per inch
    ▪▪ No dimensional change in thickness or width over time
    ▪▪ Available in differing densities
    ▪▪ May absorb and release moisture
    ▪▪ Can be installed in hot asphalt or mechanically attached

PHOTOS: HUTCHINSON DESIGN GROUP LTD.

Pages: 1 2 3

About Thomas W. Hutchinson, AIA, FRCI, RRC, CSI, RRP

Thomas W. Hutchinson, AIA,FRCI, RRC, is principal of Hutchinson Design Group Ltd., Barrington, Ill., and a member of Roofing’s editorial advisory board.

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