What is styrofoam good for?

Insulation with styrofoam - advantages, disadvantages, alternatives

Insulation with styrofoam - advantages, disadvantages, alternatives

Polystyrene, which is sold under the name Styrofoam, is mostly used for the insulation of residential buildings. But that doesn't mean that this is necessarily the best solution. There are alternatives, and which one you choose depends on the specific circumstances, but almost more on the client's priorities.

Here you can find out everything about the advantages and disadvantages of Styrofoam - and what alternatives there are.

  • Advantage 1: Styrofoam is inexpensive

    Styrofoam is by far the cheapest insulation material. Depending on the manufacturer, you can get by with material costs of less than 20 euros per square meter, which of course also depends on the material thickness. And that's an argument that matters when a single-family house already has a three-digit number of square meters of external wall space.

  • Advantage 2: Styrofoam is effective

    Styrofoam not only has very good insulation values. With an insulation layer of 14 centimeters you can meet the requirements of the Building Energy Act (GEG), which requires a heat transfer coefficient of 0.24 watts per meter and Kelvin for external walls. Styrofoam, which differs from other materials, does not lose its insulating effect even when it is damp. The material shouldn't get damp - but who can rule that out for a period of use over many years?

  • Advantage 3: Styrofoam is easy to work with

    Polystyrene is easy to work with, the panels can be cut with a hot wire without leaving any residue. However, for the do-it-yourselfer, this means that he has to get a suitable device. Of course you can also work with the saw, but then you produce a lot of waste in the form of small styrofoam balls. In any case, it is an advantage that you can effortlessly and without great physical exertion cut precisely fitting pieces of board.

  • Advantage 4: Styrofoam does not weigh much

    The low weight has two advantages. Firstly, the requirements for fastening to the facade are lower than with a heavier insulation material. Second, the low weight also makes it easier to transport and process the material - an advantage that should not be neglected, especially for DIY enthusiasts.

  • Advantage 5: Styrofoam is durable

    Polystyrene does not change without physical impact. It does not rot, which is of course important for the durability of insulation.

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  • Disadvantage 1: Styrofoam burns well

    Polystyrene meets the legal requirements for fire protection - otherwise it should not be installed at all. But you can easily try it out yourself and light a small piece of styrofoam in the courtyard - it catches fire quickly and the flames spread quickly. The material melts on the facade, runs down and large areas quickly catch fire. The manufacturers therefore treat the panels with fire retardants - but these are dangerous environmental toxins. In larger buildings, it is mandatory to insert incombustible fire bars, e.g. made of mineral wool, into the facade insulation at certain intervals. While this inhibits the spread of the fire, it does not completely solve the problem. It also drives up costs. And once the styrofoam burns, poisonous gases are released.

  • Disadvantage 2: You can hardly get rid of Styrofoam

    Styrofoam is not recyclable. Above all, it is often firmly bonded to the house facade by gluing; it is hardly possible to separate it when demolishing. Rather, all of the material becomes hazardous waste and it is expensive to dispose of. From an ecological point of view it is of course questionable to produce such amounts of garbage. Should the manufacturers manage to develop an economically viable method of recycling the material, this aspect would play a different role in the assessment.

  • Disadvantage 3: There is a lot of gray energy in Styrofoam

    The production of Styrofoam is associated with high energy consumption. This releases a lot of harmful carbon dioxide, which is primarily responsible for the problem of climate change.

  • Disadvantage 4: No sound insulation with styrofoam

    Soundproofing does not usually play a role in the insulation of external walls - the problematic external noise always gets more through the windows into the house than through the wall. But polystyrene is unsuitable as it has no soundproofing properties for insulating partition walls between houses or rooms.

  • Disadvantage 5: Styrofoam is not indestructible

    Polystyrene does not rot, but it is not indestructible. Direct, strong and long-lasting sunlight can make the material brittle. In addition, Styrofoam can shrink over time. This can lead to the creation of joints between the insulation panels and this considerably reduces the insulation effect. In the worst case, moisture can penetrate and into the house wall.

  • Disadvantage 6: Styrofoam is not permeable to diffusion

    Polystyrene does not absorb water vapor and is also really tight at this point. It therefore has no moisture-regulating effect, which is a clear deficit compared to insulating materials made from renewable raw materials, especially when it comes to interior insulation. For this reason, insulation with polystyrene is out of the question in half-timbered buildings - the humidity must be able to enter and exit these walls unhindered on both sides. Otherwise serious damage can also occur to the building fabric.

  • Disadvantage 7: Styrofoam is made from oil

    Polystyrene is an insulation material made from petroleum. Those who want to protect raw materials should do without polystyrene, because the petroleum reserves are not infinite. And there are some areas where oil can hardly be replaced - building insulation is definitely not one of them.

Diverse alternatives

There are numerous insulation materials that can be used in place of the polystyrene. Which one you choose depends on the client's requirements, not least on his wallet. It is not wrong to seek the help of an energy advisor before making a decision. Our brief overview provides an initial orientation.

  • Under Mineral wool one understands glass wool or rock wool, a fibrous material that can be used for many purposes. It has similarly good insulation values ​​as Styrofoam, but is a little more expensive and not that easy to process. Mineral wool can withstand fire for a long time. And is durable. There is a comparatively large amount of gray energy in it, and it is also not a renewable raw material.
  • Fibreboard are not as easy to work with as sheets made of Styrofoam. They are now offered in a wide variety for a wide variety of applications and are among the established insulating materials. Wood fiber insulation is particularly durable and made from recycled material. Wood fiber insulation materials are open-pored and have a positive effect on noise protection. But they are significantly more expensive than styrofoam.
  • Vacuum insulation panels are panels that consist of an evacuated core that insulates particularly well. The system is comparatively expensive, can only be processed by a specialist and does not forgive any damage.
  • celluloseagain, it is pure recycling material without any disposal problem. However, it is only offered as blow-in insulation, which means considerable effort due to the necessary construction of the cavities. Therefore it is also comparatively expensive, especially if you have these cavities built by craftsmen. A great advantage can turn out to be that, for example, with interior insulation in the roof, even the most angled corners or special effort can be insulated - the cellulose flakes can go anywhere.
  • Loose or in the form of mats and panels other renewable insulation materials offered - hemp, cork and reed, but also sheep's wool. All of these materials impress with their ecological advantages - little embodied energy is required for production, no raw materials that are becoming scarce are used, and there are no disposal problems. In most cases, however, these materials are one of the more expensive types of insulation, and you have to find out exactly what the specialties are when it comes to processing.

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Tags:Insulation, insulation guide