Specifying insulation that lengthens a roof system’s performance life is essential, but it is not the only factor that maintenance and engineering managers must consider. When managers select roof insulation, they must account for the building’s thermal needs, meet applicable energy codes, and deliver a roof assembly satisfactory to the facility’s insurance carrier.
To work successfully, insulation has to become an integral part of the roof assembly and must perform in concert with the membrane and the structural deck. Wise insulation options result in successful roof systems that perform over the long term, while poor decisions can be detrimental to roof performance.
A variety of rigid insulation types are accessible to managers, including wood fiber, polyisocyanurate, perlite, cellular glass, expanded or extruded polystyrene, and gypsum board.
Wood fiber is an organic insulation board composed of cane, wood, or vegetable fibers mixed with fillers and binders. The insulation can be asphalt coated or asphalt impregnated to enhance moisture resistance. Managers should utilize uncoated insulation in applications where the selected roof covering is not compatible with asphalt-based coatings.
Perlite insulation board is composed of inorganic, expanded siliceous volcanic glass — perlite — combined with organic fibers and binders. The insulation board’s top surface features an asphalt coating or a proprietary coating formulated to limit adhesive — asphalt — absorption into the insulation during the roof-membrane application.
Polyisocyanurate is a kind of a closed-cell foam plastic insulating core sandwiched between organic or inorganic felt facers, glass-fiber-reinforced aluminum foil facers, or glass-fiber mat facers. A chlorine-free blowing agent expands the foam material, creating the closed-cell structure that adds the high thermal resistance to the insulation. Air diffusion into the insulation cell structure culminates in a slight reduction of thermal resistance, but its insulating performance remains higher than other rigid insulation.
Polystyrene insulation is made two ways: expanded and extruded. Expanded polystyrene is composed of the polystyrene polymer impregnated with a foaming agent. The material expands when its exposed to heat and is fashioned into a uniform, closed-cell insulating material. Expanded polystyrene is available in densities of 0.70-3 pounds per cubic foot (pcf). Most roof-covering manufacturers require a minimum density of 1.25 pcf.
Extruded polystyrene is composed of a blended polystyrene polymer heated and taken through an extrusion process. The material is taken through atmospheric conditions, which causes it to expand and create its closed-cell structure. Extruded polystyrene is available in densities of 1.3-2.2 pcf.
Cellular glass insulation consists of crushed glass combined with a foaming agent. The components are combined, placed in a mold, and heated, which melts the glass and decomposes the foaming agent. This process makes the mixture expand and create a uniform, connected closed cell to form the insulating material.
Gypsum board is a non-structural, non-combustible, water-resistant, treated gypsum core panel. The board is available with a proprietary, non-asphaltic coating on one side to enhance roof-membrane adhesion. Gypsum board typically is used as a cover board over foam-plastic insulations, as a thermal barrier over a steel deck, or as a vapor-retarder substrate.
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