Insulate for heat, the environment and your wallet

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Floris with Susanne and Connie at Rockwool

The boat is our home, all year long. When it gets colder, we light a fire to keep ourselves warm. We’ll certainly do that when we go to rough and windy regions, like Patagonia. Like a home, our boat loses valuable heat through the exterior walls. So we figured it would be a good idea to insulate the boat with rockwool. But what exactly is that stuff? Now that we’re close to where it’s produced, we decide to do some research at the source: Rockwool, the manufacturer of this warm and wondrous material.

Experts say insulation is the key to making our society more sustainable. Ivar Smits Ivar Smits Skipper

Invest to save

It’s immediately clear on board that insulation works: we are using half as much energy to heat the ship. But is insulation really a sustainable solution? We set out to get answers. Rockwool’s head office is a thirty-minute train ride from Copenhagen. Sustainability Manager Connie Enghus-Theisen and Head of Public Affairs Susanne Kuehn tell us that the firm is global market leader in internal, external and roof insulation, and focuses solely on rockwool produced from ordinary rocks.

‘But those rocks first have to be mined, transported and processed, right? Doesn’t that use a lot of energy?’ we ask Connie and Susanne. ‘Sure, but that is very quickly recouped by the savings yielded by the final product.’ In other words, investing in insulation means you will save on the energy used to heat your home within six to twelve months. After a year, rockwool starts to have a positive effect on your energy consumption.

This stuff rocks!

Why doesn’t Rockwool process other types of insulation material, like foam or glass wool? ‘Rocks are available everywhere. What’s more, used rockwool is fully recyclable and is fire and water-resistant. It is also safe to use and is a superior insulation material, making it a very versatile product.’ In short, Rockwool is confident that it sells the very best product. 

We get to test it ourselves, in a separate part of the building that feels like a mini science museum. We are given a slab of rockwool and hold it over a gas burner, and… nothing happens. The slab remains cold. Now that’s good protection against fire. Plus no toxic gases are released – perhaps an even more important benefit, as most fire victims fall down due to asphyxiation. We then pour water over the slab, and it drips off effortlessly. The fact that this material is water-repellent is very important to us. The last thing we want is for the rockwool to retain moisture, which would erode the steel hull of the boat.

Lastly, we are taken to a sound room. Outside we hear the recording of a group of children playing. Inside? Dead silence. Rockwool absorbs sound. The demonstration has convinced us: this stuff was a great choice for the renovation of our boat, Lucipara.

Legislator as business partner

Since the 1960s new buildings constructed in Denmark must be energy-efficient – and over the years the requirements have become increasingly strict. For instance, in 2015 buildings were allowed to consume a maximum of 30 kWh per square metre a year. This includes, among other things, heating, ventilation and hot water.

Denmark imposes the strictest requirements in the world on new buildings. Rockwool is taking advantage of this – many contractors use rockwool to stay below the limits. The rules are less strict for existing buildings. But a quick calculation shows that effective insulation is not only good for the environment; it’s also good for your wallet. Plus there are plenty of existing buildings that could benefit from insulation.

Rockwool sets a good example

Besides being a mini science museum, the building we were received in is a good example of successful transformation: from an old, poorly insulated industrial building to a state-of-the-art reception and exhibition space. The walls and ceilings are insulated, and sensors automatically regulate the dimming and air circulation systems. Rockwool is keen to demonstrate that existing buildings can be made ultra-energy-efficient; there’s no need to construct new (energy- and material-intensive) buildings.

Insulation as a source of energy

Experts say that insulation is the key to making our society more sustainable. Above all, we need to reduce our energy consumption and widen our efforts beyond solely making our energy sources more sustainable. In this way, insulation is becoming a sustainable source of energy itself. The better the insulation, the lower the energy consumption. Greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced, and a smaller, more sustainable energy infrastructure will ultimately be born.

This is a good thing, as creating an infrastructure of this kind is expensive and time-consuming; just think of the costs and time involved in installing solar panels, heat pumps and wind turbines. Besides, we would no longer be dependent on finite materials and non-sustainable energy sources, such as metals, coatings, oil and gas.

Good work?

Back on board, we take a good look around. Are we energy-efficient enough? The rockwool takes up space on board, but it insulates well. The double-glazing windows keep the cold out and the heat provided by the wood-burning stove in. The renovation has made a palpable difference. Take a walk around your own home. Do you see any opportunities for saving energy?

Next time: the right of public access (allemansrecht) and how this relates to Sweden’s nature conservation.

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