History of Radiant Barrier
The use of radiant barriers in homes and buildings as a
way to reduce utility costs is not a new concept. In fact, the history
of the use of radiant barrier and reflective foil insulation technologies
dates back to as early as the 1920's when radiant barrier was used to
insulate residential and commercial buildings.
Commercially Produced Radiant Barrier
In 1945, Alexander Schwartz, president of Infra
Insulation, Inc. out of New York City, commercially produced a radiant
barrier reflective insulation product he called INFRA Insulation designed to
keep summer heat out and winter heat in a home or building. Architects
and builders immediately embraced this solution as a way of building higher
energy efficient homes. Infra Insulation, Inc. quickly became the
largest producer of reflective foil insulation.
In the 1950's, INFRA Insulation was introduced to the
consumer market as an accordion-fold style product and was touted as easily
installed by anyone who could use a staple gun. Newspaper
advertisements even depicted women installing the radiant barrier in their
own homes. By the early 1960's, millions of square feet of radiant
barrier has been installed in homes and buildings.
Unfortunately, an unfavorable FTC ruling against Infra
Insulation Inc., coupled with the untimely death of Schwartz in the early
1960's, resulted in the INFRA Insulation radiant barrier product being taken
off the market entirely by 1965 and the business being closed.
NASA Uses Radiant Barrier
the mid 1950s, when Clark E. Beck, PE, of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base
engineered the development of radiant barrier technology for NASA
and the space program, he couldn't have envisioned the variety of
applications for which this insulation material would someday be used.
NASA was trying to find a way to protect
the astronauts during space walks from the extreme temperature shifts ranging
from -273 degrees Celsius to +238 degrees Celsius. They discovered that
they would have to have a seven-foot thick protective layer on the space suit
if they attempted to use conventional insulation. Obviously, this was
way out of the question. Instead of trying to insulate the suits, they
turned to reflective technology and used aluminum foil radiant barrier to solve
the problem. NASA reflected the heat of their own body
back at the astronauts to keep them warm, while at the same time they used the
foil to reflect the deadly direct radiation from the sun (radiant heat) out
of the space suit to keep them cool.
The material provided a reflective surface that kept more
than 95 percent of the radiant energy from reaching the interior
of the space suit. Small holes allow moisture to escape, while keeping
longer heat waves from getting through. Weighing only slightly more than
17 pounds per thousand square feet. The material maintained constant,
comfortable temperatures inside the space suit.
Radiant barrier has been in use by NASA
since the Gemini and Apollo missions. The insulation was the prime element
of the environment control system that allowed Apollo astronauts to work inside
the Command Module in shirt sleeves, rather than in bulky space suits.
Since the Gemini and Apollo missions, the radiant barrier has been used on virtually
all spacecraft, including unmanned missions where instruments required thermal
Reflective Insulation Enters the Consumer Market
Shortly after the fall of Infra Insulation, Inc., several
companies began developing their own reflective insulation products in
various forms including those that include bubble layers, single-sided
aluminum Kraft paper backed barriers, aluminum faced fiberglass, and even
aluminum faced cardboard products. But the growth of the radiant
barrier industry was faced with many challenges based on entrenched
corporate interests in various forms of traditional mass insulation products
like fiberglass, cellulose and rock wool. The traditional mass
insulation companies recognized the increasing popularity of radiant
barriers and the high competitive threat to their own products and tried to
hinder the development or acceptance of radiant barriers in the marketplace
through lobbyists and industry association campaigns.
The traditional mass insulation industry spent millions
of dollars in marketing and educating consumers on the need for an R-Value
rated insulation product and since radiant barriers do not have R-Values
(because they work entirely different than traditional insulation),
consumers were swayed from purchasing and using reflective radiant barrier
However, radiant barriers and reflective insulation
continued to gain the interests of architects and engineers who became
convinced of their effectiveness and began specifying them in their building
and design plans.
Consumer Confidence in Radiant Barriers Grow
With the confidence and support of architects and
engineers, word started spreading quickly in the insulation industry of the
benefits of radiant barrier products and very well known testing facilities
and research organizations conducted their own radiant barriers studies in
order to quantify the results builders and the like were claiming as a
result of the use of radiant barrier and reflective insulation products.
The Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Florida Solar
Energy Center, and Texas A&M University, to name a few, have proven
substantial benefits radiant barriers provide.
Today's Radiant Barrier
While radiant barriers have been around for longer than
most imagined, the road to acceptance and popularity was not an easy one.
But with the determination of energy-efficiency focused engineers,
architects, builders and the reflective insulation industry itself,
scientifically supported benefits of radiant barrier have become
widely available and accepted by governmental agencies like ENERGY STAR®,
builders, and consumers alike as a cost effective way to permanently reduce
utility bills and increase the comfort of homes and buildings.