Becoming cranky about magic paint

Posted March 05, 2010, at 6:07 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:28 a.m.

I wonder whether there is a certain age when one becomes a contrarian. I wonder that because I have a lot of negative feelings about a lot of stuff that is sold these days.

One thing is magic energy-saving paint. There have been a number of companies that sell paint that they say will replace insulation. It seems to have come from a number of different companies over the years. Surprisingly, the companies keep disappearing and new ones replace them.

The magic paint has ceramic spheres that make energy defy the laws of physics.

Does it work? Well, no. It is the color of paint that might help save energy in some situations. White paint reflects sunlight and keeps buildings cooler in hot weather.

That might save some energy in Florida in the summertime. It does nothing in Maine in the wintertime.

Another “amazing” product is foil-faced bubble wrap or foil-faced thin insulation. Both have been sold as another great energy-saver. I think the foil being shiny makes it seem highly technical and thus effective in matters of energy savings.

Foil does save some energy since it reflects radiant energy. But most building heat loss tends to be conductive.

People feel radiant energy from the sun or a wood stove and can reflect that energy with a mirror or foil. It seems like it could save energy. The use of foil for energy savings does have a couple of precedents. Before we had rock wool or fiberglass or cellulose insulation, some builders used sheets of foil-faced paper with spacers in between as wall insulation. It did create some insulating effect by way of creating dead air spaces in between each foil layer. It was a lot of work for not much insulation.

Years later, in Florida, energy researchers realized that if they installed foil on the inside of roof sheathing, they could reflect some solar heat away from the house and reduce the cooling load in the summer. (More years later, they realized that if they insulated the roof like we should up here in the heating belt, they saved a lot more energy year-round, not just in the summer. Duh.)

Another shiny insulation gambit is the use of foil on different kinds of thicker foam insulation. Here, the foil can help make foam that is permeable to air airtight. And it is shiny. Shiny must be good, since it looks good.

So far that is not a problem until a marketing person gets involved.

There is a company that sells 1-inch-thick expanded polystyrene foam (otherwise known as beadboard) with a foil facer and claims that it will outperform R-40 fiberglass.

One-inch expanded polystyrene has an insulation value of about R-4. The foil facer might add another R-1 in a normal installation, maybe, on a good day, with an airspace, if it is installed tightly.

The fuzzy part is the fact that they say it outperforms R-40 fiberglass.

Now, I am not a huge fan of fiberglass insulation. It is susceptible to air movement and wind can, in the right situation, wash through the fibers and derate its insulation value.

But fiberglass has a valid insulation value if installed properly, and if it is verified by Factory Mutual, a bona fide independent group that certifies the performance of all types of insulation and building materials.

Many of the insulation materials that make these extraordinary claims are tested by nondescript testing agencies that bury the real data in a lot of vague doubletalk.

So rather than have me get really cranky about these products, my great hope is that you do a little homework on materials that make claims that seem extraordinary. Use the Web to check things out.

We are always looking for new materials to help us save energy and live better, but they are still slow in coming. Aerogels and vacuum insulation will be some of these new materials, but they won’t be cheap.

Questions for Tom Gocze should be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at www.bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.html.

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