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Insulation Innovations

Two new building products offer improved insulating properties—and the potential for greater energy efficiency and cost savings.

Figuring out better ways to insulate buildings—to keep in heat during the winter and cool air in the summer—saves on energy costs two ways. First, lower monthly utility bills help the budget-conscious consumer. Second, using energy efficiently means that utility companies can better match existing generating and transmitting capacity with demand without having to build new facilities. That saves money on a much larger scale.

Joel Anderson, owner of Pine Ridge Builders in Jamestown, North Dakota, says, “I’ve been building energy-efficient homes since 1982. I’ve used many innovative products for wall insulation, but one of the areas we’ve consistently had a problem with is making electrical boxes airtight. In 2002, I invented the Energy Block.

“Energy Block is a simple piece of molded styrofoam, the same material used in lightweight ice chests,” Anderson explains. “The product comes in three sizes, one that will fit a standard single electrical box for walls, another size that adapts to gang boxes, that is, multi-outlet or multi-switch boxes for walls, and one the proper size and shape for a ceiling box for light fixtures or fans. Energy Block can be installed around an electrical box in less than two minutes.”

Energy Block is meant for use during a major remodeling project or new construction. Although designed for highly insulated 2×6-inch walls, Energy Block products can be easily modified to fit more common 2×4-inch walls. For a typical 1,500-square-foot home, a kit containing an assortment of Energy Block sizes costs about $150. Rated R-10, the product provides excellent insulation, near-zero air infiltration, and has the added bonus of helping prevent moisture buildup that can lead to mold in unseen areas of a building.

For now, Energy Block is sold through the company’s Web site. Anderson’s company hopes to soon have the product available at merchandisers such as Lowe’s and The Home Depot. Anderson says, “We’d like to make it easy for builders to simply pick up a box of Energy Block at the same store he or she buys the rest of the electrical and insulation supplies needed for a particular project.”

Anderson’s also begun the process of having Energy Block certified with the Energy Star logo, so builders and consumers will know that it meets strict energy-efficiency standards.

While Energy Block does its energy-saving work hidden within walls, another new product is easy to see—windows with fiberglass frames.

Kenny Smith, vice president of sales for Progressive Fiberglass in Simpsonville, Kentucky, says, “Since about 1985, insulated glass has been the way to make windows more efficient. But if you put a great pane of glass in a lousy frame, you still have a lousy window. Our products, which combine insulated glass with a fiberglass frame, make the entire window assembly very energy efficient.”

Smith points out several advantages to using fiberglass instead of wood or vinyl. Fiberglass itself is thermally efficient. That means that heat, or cold, does not travel through it as rapidly as through some other materials. Fiberglass is strong and rigid. That means it holds its shape. Fiberglass does not expand or contract much with temperature changes. Since fiberglass does not warp or twist, seals with the glass and weatherstripping remain stable.

Smith and his business partners are gradually expanding the number of window styles offered. The first windows were rated for commercial use, but now Progressive Fiberglass offers several windows suitable for new home construction as well as replacement windows for existing homes.

“Fiberglass windows are well-known in Canada,” Smith says, “We need to broaden that base to include more of the general population. Our goal is to make fiberglass windows a mainstream product in the United States.”


WEB INFO ON INSULATION PRODUCTS

To find out about the companies mentioned in this column, as well as more on windows and insulation, visit these Web sites:

• For info on the Energy Block:
www.energyblock.com

• For info on window frames from Progressive Fiberglass of Simpsonville:
www.progressivefiberglass.com

• For info describing many kinds of windows:
www.efficientwindows.org

• For general info in insulation:
www.eere.energy.gov/consumer/tips
Next month: Outdoor lighting—keeping the sky dark

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