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Reflective Insulation Fact vs. Fiction

What to Believe About Reflective Insulation

  1. R-value of reflective insulation - How is it measured?
  2. Definition of reflective insulation
  3. Video of how Prodex Reflective Insulation works
  4. Parameters used by other insulation types to test R-value
  5. Inaccuracy of R-value of cellulose and fiberglass insulation
  6. History of Reflective Insulation
  7. Uses - Applications for reflective insulation

Fact: The stated R-value of a reflective insulation system is accurate.

Fiction: The stated R-value of fiberglass and cellulose insulation is accurate.

Is the Stated R-value of A Reflective Insulation System Accurate?

Yes. The R-value of reflective insulation and mass insulations is based on the same fundamental equation: The ability to stop heat transfer. The R-value of reflective insulation is measured as a system. The best system consist of two reflective surfaces surrounding an inner substance (core) plus two trapped airspaces. If you know the system measured (parameters of test), the R-value you're using is real.

The confusion about the R-value is that people fail to understand it's a system that is measured rather than just the product. It's actually a better form of measurement when you think about it. It answers the question, what will be the R-value when installed in an application (roof for example).

  • Reflective insulation R-value is measured as a system.
  • It has a center (core substance).

Example - Prodex Total Reflective insulation has an R-value of 16.

prodex insulation cross section

13/64 inch (approx. 3/16") - 5mm closed cell polyethylene foam covered on both sides with .0012 inch (0.03mm) aluminum foil facing. 

The R-value was measured under the following parameters:

24-inch on center 2" x 6" wood assembly. Roof application. Test Method ASTM 1116. Airspace of 2.64 inch on each side of product. Heat flow direction down. 

Best Definition of Reflective Insulation

An insulation system that reduces the transfer of heat across air space by the use of two surfaces having high thermal reflectance and low emittance (typically metalized film or aluminum) + plus an inner substance (mass insulation) + plus trapped airspaces.

Most definitions, even those on .org websites fail to mention the inner substance (mass insulation) that is in between the two reflective surface layers. This is the cause of much of the confusion. Without the inner substance, (foam, fiberglass, wool or mylar bubbles) it is not reflective insulation - it is only a radiant barrier. 

This bears repeating " Without the inner substance, (foam, fiberglass, wool or mylar bubbles) it is not reflective insulation - it is only a radiant barrier.

All Insulation Types Have Parameters To Their R-value Testing

Pitchmen for competing insulation types make a big deal about the air-gap required for a reflective insulation to achieve its optimal R-value. They fail to tell you that an air-gap doesn't improve their R-value. They also fail to tell you the parameters of the testing used to achieve their stated R-value. Since they won't tell you, I will. 

Is the Stated R-value for Fiberglass and Cellulose Insulation Accurate?

Only in an environment of zero humidity and zero wind. The parameters of the R-value test for fiberglass and cellulose insulation involves no moisture or wind. You might be saying, "That's ridiculous. That can't be. Those aren't the conditions of my home or building."

Even in the desert there is humidity. All buildings and houses leak air and water. Water vapor from the atmosphere, showers, cooking and even breathing move back and forth through the walls and ceiling. Those of you in humid areas may lose half of your R-value with fiberglass or cellulose insulation. 

Fiberglass is assigned an R-value of 3 to 3.5 per inch. Remember it will only achieve this number in a zero moisture and zero wind environment. Fiber insulation placed in an improperly sealed house will allow wind to blow through it as if there were no insulation at all. In the event of flooding the R-value goes to zero. Even small amounts of moisture will cause a dramatic drop in fiberglass and cellulose insulation's R-value. 

mass insulation heat flow reflective insulation heat flow

History or Reflective Insulation 

Reflective insulation is a commercial spinoff of the NASA Apollo Space Program. NASA used a reflective foil covering to create a radiant barrier for both the spacecraft and space suits to reflect the intense heat of the suns away from the astronauts by day and to reflect internal heat back inside the capsule of space suit at night for warmth. NASA estimates that "Using conventional insulation, a space suit would have required a 7-foot-thick protective layer." Prodex improved on this technology to consumers for all types of building applications.  

Today, reflective insulation has become a standard component of a total insulation system. It's designed for both new construction and retrofits. Using reflective insulation for either your house or metal building will increase the comfort level inside, protect against condensation and save on energy costs.

Uses: metal buildings (voted best), pole barnsunder concretewallsroofsatticsductscrawlspacehouse-wrap,shipping containersgaragesceilingsbasements...

Prodex Total Reflective Insulation is the standard bearer in the reflective insulation industry: Insulation + radiant barrier + vapor barrier ALL in one product.

I've been in the industry since 2002 and I must admit that for a couple years I didn't completely understand all aspects of this unique and versatile product. It's no wonder many are confused. Hopefully this article has helped you better understand reflective insulation and other insulation types - Facts vs. Fiction.

Jonathan Barber

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Updated August 2, 2015



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