Energy effiency retrofit: external insulation or new doors and windows?

Ventoso - Emu Architetti
example of polystyrene thermal insulation with graphite

The future of the construction industry in Italy is in the energy efficiency improvement of our existing building stock.

We are often asked whether you should invest in external insulation or in new windows for the highest return of investment, as far as comfort and energy savings. The short answer is neither or both. Allow us to explain…

Energy efficiency improvements must be addressed in a comprehensive manner, so as to ensure that the building envelope is uniform, has no thermal bridges, and is properly ventilated. If the problem is not addressed in an integrated way, you risk making a large investment but still coming home to mold and poor air quality.

With this in mind, anyone considering an energy renovation should be prepared to discuss any of the following interventions as part of an integrated plan to increase efficiency in the building envelope:

  • insulation of the entire structure (external walls, external floors, and roofs) for both winter and summer scenarios
  • resolution of any thermal bridges, to ensure comfort in every season
  • replacement of windows and doors, installed with air-tightness and exterior shading for summer
  • controlled mechanical ventilation
  • air-tightness of the entire building envelope
  • possible work on any existing heating system

Lastly, we’d like to emphasize that our focus is primarily on obtaining health and comfort for the occupants of a house. Energy efficiency is simply a consequence of a higher performing building envelope.

Many clients are interested in considering renewable energy sources, such as Photovoltaic Panels, as a way to reduce electric consumption. Fantastic. PV’s are a wonderful way to balance some of the energy consumption of a building.

But remember that, in order to be healthy and comfortable in your home, you must address the building envelope as a whole. No number of photovoltaic panels will eliminate mold.

Because of the novelty and complexity of this subject, there is unfortunately much room for error in the current Italian market, giving way to incomplete and approximate renovations. New materials and products are being injected into the industry without proper studies of their impacts… yet another subject that we will write about in the future.

For more information about deep energy retrofits, please visit our FAQ page or some of our other articles on energy and the environment:

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