Radiant Barriers (also known as reflective insulation) are a type of thermal (heat) insulation.

A Radiant Barrier inhibits heat transfer by thermal radiation. Thermal energy may also be transferred via conduction or convection, however, and radiant barriers do not necessarily protect against heat transfer via conduction (without airspace facing the heat source) or convection (perforated).

Radiant Barriers Defined

There are many definitions of thermal/heat insulation and it is commonly misinterpreted as “Bulk/Mass/Batt Insulation”, which is actually used to resist conduction heat transfer with certain R-values.

Heat/thermal insulation is a barrier material which resists/blocks/reflects heat energy (either one or more of conduction, convection or radiation) to prevent its transfer through the boundary between two systems which are at different temperatures. Heat transfer always occurs from a region of higher temperature to one of lower temperature.

Radiant barrier (or reflective) insulation is heat/thermal insulation which reflects radiation heat (radiant heat), preventing transfer from one side to another due to a reflective (or low emittance) surface.

As such materials reflect radiant heat with negligible “R-values” they should also be classified as thermal/heat insulation.

Reflectivity and Emissivity

All materials give off, or emit, energy by thermal radiation as a result of their temperature. The amount of energy radiated depends on the surface temperature and a property called emissivity (also called “emittance”). Emissivity is expressed as a number between zero (0) and one (1) at a given wavelength. The higher the emissivity, the greater the emitted radiation at that wavelength. A related material property is reflectivity (also called “reflectance”). This is a measure of how much energy is reflected by a material at a given wavelength. Reflectivity is also expressed as a number between 0 and 1 (or a percentage between 0 and 100). At a given wavelength and angle of incidence the emissivity and reflectivity values sum to 1 by Kirchhoff’s law.

Radiant barrier materials must have low emissivity (usually 0.1 or less) at the wavelengths at which they are expected to function. For typical building materials, the wavelengths are in the mid- and long-infrared spectrum, in the range of 3-15 micrometres.

Radiant barriers may or may not exhibit high visual reflectivity. While reflectivity and emissivity must sum to 1 at a given wavelength, reflectivity at one set of wavelengths (visible) and emissivity at a different set of wavelengths (thermal) do not necessarily sum to 1. Therefore, it is possible to create visibly dark colored surfaces with low thermal emissivity.

To perform properly, radiant barriers need to face open space (e.g., air or vacuum) through which there would otherwise be radiation.

Applications for Radiant Barriers

  • Roofs and attics

    When radiant solar energy strikes a roof, heating the shingles, felt paper and roof sheathing by conduction, it causes the underside of the sheathing and the roof framing to radiate heat downward through the attic toward the attic floor.Read More

  • Energy savings

    According to a 2010 study by the Building Envelope Research Program of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory,[12] homes with air-conditioning duct work in the attic in the hottest climate zones,Read More

  • Shingle temperature

    One common misconception regarding radiant barrier is that the heat reflecting off the radiant barrier back to the roof has the potential to increase the roof temperature and possibly damage the shingles.Read More

  • Attic dust accumulation

    When laying a radiant barrier over the insulation on the attic floor, it is possible for dust to accumulate on the top side. Many factors like dust particle size, dust composition and the amount of ventilation in the attic affect how dust accumulates and thus the ultimate performance of radiant barrier in the attic.Read More

  • Walls

    Radiant barrier may be used as a vented skin around the exterior of a wall.[9] Furring strips are applied to the sheathing to create a vented air space between the radiant barrier and the siding,Read More

  • Floors

    Radiant barriers are also quite effective in floor systems above unheated basements and crawl spaces. The radiant barrier may be either stapled below the floor joists, creating a single reflective air space,Read More

  • Additional References

    Additional information can be found by visiting the US Department of Energy’s website regarding radiant barrier benefits Here

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